Four of Australia's best take on the NYC Marathon
The sixth and final World Major Marathon (WMM) of 2019, the New York City Marathon races through the city's five boroughs, starting in Staten Island before winding its way through Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and into Manhattan, finishing in Central Park.
Like all of the WMM’s, New York offers its own unique challenges, with a set of infamous rolling hills throughout the second half of the course bringing the very best in the world unstuck.
As the 1950’s crooner Frank Sinatra once stated - “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere” - a mantra that runs true for NYC marathon champions. If defending champions are anything to go by, newly crowned world champion Lelisa Desisa and seven-time WMM winner Mary Keitany embody Sinatra’s claim.
Australia will be represented by four of our finest marathoners in recent years, as Brett Robinson, Jack Rayner, Sinead Diver and Ellie Pashley take to the streets of New York.
With all four Australians already having achieved the required Tokyo 2020 marathon qualifying standard (2:11:30/2:29:30) - NYC provides an opportunity for four talented individuals to take aim at the world's best.
BRETT ROBINSON (PR 2:10:55, LONDON '19)
A talented junior over 1500 metres, the now nine-time Australian representative wields a cunning tactical ability. A finalist at World indoor & outdoor level, Robinson has featured at four World Cross Country Championships.
Robinson is fearless & watchless, led onward by internal perception, “I feel as though people get away from pure racing these days. Everyone is obsessed by time and paces but ignore the feeling of running.”
Tearing through the opening ten kilometres in April’s London Marathon well ahead of schedule (29:50), Robinson reflected, “If I was wearing a watch and I knew those splits I probably would’ve scared myself into thinking I had gone too hard but instead I knew I was feeling good, I was running with the people I wanted to be running with and I remained calm.”
The 11th fastest Australian over the marathon distance, New York provides a new challenge for Robinson. Arriving in formidable shape, he's chomping at the bit for a confrontational race.
“New York is a race; no pacers, no one really cares about the time, it’s more about the place you finish which excites me. Getting into a battle and being as tough as I can is something I enjoy and I’m looking forward to.”
Respectful of the distance after failing to finish on his first marathon attempt in Fukuoka, the experience stuck with the Rio Olympian. “It really hurt, and there has probably never been a time where I hated running more, it took me a long time to get going again.”
“Outside of marathon build ups I don’t wear a GPS watch on my easy runs, I guess how long 60min is, I don’t worry about the pace I’ve run, I just run...”
Robinson heads to New York with the first hint of nervous excitement in years.
“The New York build up has been my favourite, I feel like I’m understanding the training more and knowing what to expect each day, when I can push the training and when I need to relax.”
A combat sport fan, Robinson likens his solemn preparations to those of a boxer, preferring a marathon build-up to that of his earlier track years, “I find I can lock myself away mentally and just focus for a few months and just build on each week with one goal in mind. This does cause extra pressure on that one race but that’s what I like about the marathon, it’s like a boxer going into camp before a big fight.”
JACK RAYNER (2:11:06, LONDON '19)
Whilst Robinson and Rayner make for a superb training pair, Rayner has taken a different route to marathon success. The 23-year old featured regularly at the pointy end of junior national fields, yet was often followed by comments inferring longer distance success.
Narrowly missing a berth in the 5000m at a world under-20 level, Rayner began to explore road racing, some early success suggesting a young Rayner had found his calling.
2018 signalled a road awakening of sorts, as Jack went undefeated in distances from 5km to the half-marathon, notching a 1:01:01 victory at the Commonwealth Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff. Rayner made his global intentions clear, a man of the asphalt, a force to be reckoned with.
Rayner, unsurprisingly, had taken notice of the road related comments over the years, “After having some success last year in the half marathon I knew this year would be my chance to try the marathon.”
Remaining patient, Rayner knew London would require a controlled approach, leaping head first into the unknown of the marathon, “With the Olympic qualifier of 2:11:30 in the back of my mind I knew I wanted to run a fairly even pace and not try anything too ambitious on my debut.”
Taking confidence from metronomic consistency in training blocks, Rayner is excited by the New York course, having added in a small batch of 40km runs in this build-up phase. The result, a 23-year old with an encouraging tolerance for volume at pace, gradually finding comfort in a new event space.
Rayner prefers the racing focus NYC provides, “I’m looking forward to racing without putting much pressure on the clock”, noting an affinity with downhill sections, accelerating where many attempt to recover.
Welcoming the distinct lack of pacers in NYC, Rayner is most looking forward to remaining in contention on a course that challenges many.
A parting comment indicates a level of awareness well beyond Rayner’s 23-years, “being mentally prepared for the task is half the challenge.”
With a maturity beyond his years and a rapidly growing list of road racing accolades, Rayner could prove a thorn in the side of many a top ten contender as Central Park approaches.
SINEAD DIVER (2:24:11, LONDON '19)
Fresh from a 14th place finish at the IAAF World Championships 10,000m (31:25.49), Sinead Diver starts New York sixth fastest in the field.
A WMM debut in London provided an exciting insight into Diver’s tactical and athletic potential, leading the race for the better part of 22 kilometres. Philosophical in her assessment of London, Diver reiterates the value of a pre-race plan, “Obviously I hadn't intended on leading the race but that’s just how it worked out. I had a goal time in mind so I started at that pace and everyone else just started a lot slower.”
A pre-race researcher, Diver was well aware of the windier second half of the race, seizing an early opportunity to lead whilst running an even pace, “I don’t like this style of racing, especially early in a marathon as it can really drain you of a lot of energy, so I decided to move to the front again and run my own race.”
Exuding a principled inner confidence, Diver explains her London rationale, “I wasn’t about to let other people's race strategy ruin everything I had worked for over the last few months no matter how uncomfortable I felt (leading).”
Olympic qualifier secured, Diver’s focus shifted to New York, with subtle changes in training, “I now incorporate hills into my training at least 1-2 times per week as opposed to avoiding them completely. I certainly feel it’s made a massive difference to my training in general so hopefully I won’t struggle too much with the hills in NYC.”
“Racing a more technical course also increases the element of chance – it’s not always the fastest runners that succeed, so it opens the race up a bit more.”
A constant - the Melbourne Track Club quartet’s understanding of NYC has heightened anticipation levels, “I’m really excited to race NYC. From all reports it should be a wonderful experience.” Diver reiterates the trust she places in a pre-race plan, thrilled by the prospect of a purer style of racing, time concerns eliminated, “It’ll be nice not to be so focused on pace and to run more by feel. I’ve done this quite a bit in races and these are usually the races I do best in, and enjoy the most, so hopefully NY will be a similar experience.”
Pre-race homework completed, Diver welcomes the seemingly ‘random’ scenarios New York can throw up. A quiet confidence echoes repeatedly, as Diver notes that it isn’t a race always won by the fastest athlete, but a course that favours the smartest athlete, ready to take a well-calculated chance.
Ellie Pashley (2:26:21, Nagoya '19)
An Aireys Inlet resident who featured recently in Tempo (read it here), Pashley’s 13th place finish at the IAAF World Championships was a pleasant surprise (10,000m, 31:18.89, PB). A performance highlighted by a bold set of moves late in the race, Pashley now sits 4th on the all-time Australian rankings list.
A careful mixture of marathon and 10,000m work has sent Pashley into previously unexplored territory, “I wasn't sure how combining marathon and 10km training would go but I think the endurance slog of marathon training got me a good base to build upon with shorter, harder intervals.”
Pashley’s confidence for NYC fluctuates day to day, but one element remains unwavering, “I love the idea of running to race, not for time. We have to focus on time so often in trying to qualify for events, that it's exciting to eliminate that altogether.”
Without hesitation, Pashley is quick to comment on the environment a major marathon creates within a city, “I'm looking forward to the crowds too! Everybody talks about how loud it is out on course, and I feel that will really help boost us at tough times throughout the race.”
The NYC marathon brings an entire city out to support those brave enough to tackle the course, an added bonus not lost on Pashley, “There's nothing better than being among fifty thousand other runners - when everybody is out there going through the exact same mental battles, there's a good sense of empathy and community.”
Commenting on a course which challenges athletes late in the race, Pashley exudes a now typical positive approach, “I like the look of the course. I do enjoy hills, but I'm sure they are going to make for a painful last 10km.”
In what has been a long season for many, Pashley is embracing the challenge of a WMM, “I'm feeling ready to have a crack and try to squeeze one more long hard run out of my body for the year!”
With Olympic qualification marks secured in the 10,000m & marathon, Pashley has the freedom to explore the upper echelons of her abilities. A course which melds a competitive field with variables less common in WMM circles, the lack of pacers and testing undulations set the scene for Pashley to leave a mark on a global marathon stage.
The Wrap Up
So, what can we expect from the Australian contingent on race day?
New York City is a battle of patience and perception, previous iterations of the race have indicated the damage that can be caused by the final 10 kilometres. Whilst both the men's and women's field feature serious hitting power at the top end, defending champions Mary Keitany & Lelisa Desisa, flanked by 2017 champion Geoffrey Kamworor and 2019 Boston winner Worknesh Degefa, NYC’s depth is often at the lower end of the WMM scale.
A tactical race requires athletes to think, react instantaneously, all whilst managing their emotions - the four Aussie’s assembled have genuine chances to take top 10 finishes. As one of the more difficult back ends of a WMM, spectators should leave room for the spectacular - were a plucky Aussie to time their bid for a top five finish perfectly, Central Park could elevate an Australian to global acclaim.