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Highlights and teasers, 2013 to 2014

As Father Time gives way to Baby New Year, it’s natural to take a look back and forward. One of the general trends we noticed is that at the end of the year, it was a different cast of characters grabbing headlines than at the start.

After an early Diamond League meet, Nick Willis tweeted:

So hard to be on your game through a whole season at the world level. Could be totally different guys going well in Moscow.

— Nick Willis (@nickwillis) June 1, 2013

This actually summed up the year for Willis himself, who struggled with an injury early in the season but dominated late season action in New York City, with convincing victories over quality competition at the 5th Avenue Mile and the Race to the Finish Line 5k.

So here are a few lists to add to the pile of year-end lists, focused primarily though not exclusively on action in the U.S.

Savviest prize money grab 2013

3. Jenny Simpson
2. Stephen Sambu
1. Kim Smith

Kim Smith nabbed the $100,000 for the best cumulative results in the BAA Distance Medley’s 5k, 10k, and half marathon. Given the fat payout, she faced surprisingly thin competition. Smith added $12,500 the hard way, with a 6th at the NYC Marathon. Stephen Sambu won the same BAA Distance Medley prize for men. Jenny Simpson won $25,000 for a single race: the 1500m at the Hy-Vee “Women’s Mile” at Drake Relays. She supplemented that with $30,000 with her silver at the Worlds 1500. Kate Grace gets honorable mention for a 5-day stretch in which she won $5,000 at the US Road Mile Champs in Des Moines and $10,000 for finishing 3rd at Drake.

Best start to the year 2013

3. Lopez Lomong
2. Galen Rupp
1. Hagos Gebrhiwet

Lopez Lomong won the Wanamaker Mile, upsetting defending champ Matt Centrowitz, then set the American indoor 5,000 record. Galen Rupp set the American indoor record in the 3,000. Hagos Gebrhiwet beat Rupp indoors and appeared unbeatable in the early Diamond League meets. The three were unable to build on their early season successes.

Best end to the year 2013

3. Laura Thweatt
2. Nick Willis
1. Molly Huddle

Molly Huddle beat Shalane Flanagan twice late in the year to take the NYRR Dash to the Finish 5k and the US National Road Racing Champ 12k races.

Breakthrough races 2013

3. Jason Hartmann 4th at Boston Marathon
2. Cheserek beats Kithuka at NCAAs
1. Sowinski beats Symmonds and Solomon at Millrose

Jason Hartmann had finished 4th at Boston in 2011, but the heat in that race made it seem an outlier. His DNF at NYC in the fall showed how fickle the sport can be.

Likely marathon PRs 2014

3. Tyler McCandless
2. Matt Tegenkamp
1. Shalane Flanagan

Tyler McCandless has set his sights on a sub-2:12 this year. That might seem audacious for a guy with a 2:16:46 PR, but the Steve Jones-coached athlete led for much of the U.S. marathon champs last year at Twin Cities and plans to look for faster courses than the hilly and humid Kauai, Hawaii, where he has won three straight years.

Matt Tegenkamp brought his impressive track and road credentials to the marathon this year and was disappointed with his 2:12:28 debut in Chicago.

Shalane Flanagan‘s track PRs of 14:44 in the 5,000 and 30:22 in the 10,000, as well a her half marathon best of 1:08:31, all point to something a minute or two quicker than her 2:25 marathon best at the 2012 Olympic Trials. She is the best woman marathoner in the U.S., and at one of these races it’s all going to come together for her.

Most dominant wins 2013

3. Nick Willis at 5th Avenue Mile
2. Jenny Simpson at Drake Women’s Mile
1. Shalane Flanagan at US Outdoor Champs 10,000

Best strategic win 2013

3. Efraimson outkicks Baxter at NXN
2. Arciniaga wins US Marathon Champs
1. Bekele beats Farah at Great North Run

In how many races late in the year did a seemingly dropped runner come back to win? Nick Arciniaga fell of the pace several times while nursing a sore achilles, but he stormed back in a dramatic finish to take his first national title. Kinenisa Bekele‘s win stands out because of the larger context. Mo Farah, coming off the 5,000/10,000 double at World’s, looked unbeatable, while Bekele, after losing his dominance on the track, had been written off by many. His whole career now has a promising second act.

Best performance by shoe
1. Adidas Adios Boost

Perhaps it’s just that many of the best marathon runners in the world are signed with Adidas, but that shoe was all over the podium in late season marathons.

Best early season matchups 2014

3. Jenny Simpson versus Shalane Flanagan at US Cross? Neither is confirmed, but Simpson has hinted at it and Shalane won it last year, even though she ran Boston.

2. Mary Cain versus Ajee Wilson versus Iceland’s Mary Cain (Anita Hinrikdottir) at the Millrose Games.

1. Mo Farah versus the field at the London Marathon, which could include Kenenisa Bekele and will likely include the world’s best.

NYC Half Preview – Women’s Race

The feature story of the women’s race at this Sunday’s NYC Half boils down to this: Will Kim Smith avoid another near-miss and nab the biggest win of her career? The 31-year-old from New Zealand was a standout at Providence College and still trains in Rhode Island. She’s put together an impressive career — especially at this distance, with wins in 9 out of the 13 half marathons she has entered. One of those wins, a 1:07:11 at the 2011 Philly Half, is the fastest half marathon ever run in the United States.

But perhaps unfairly, she may be better known for her losses. At last year’s NYC Half, Smith led nearly the entire race, taking on a headwind for several miles, until Firewhot Dado took over with about a quarter-mile left for the win. An even more painful loss occurred at the Boston Marathon in 2011, when Smith gapped the entire women’s field early and held nearly a full-minute lead at halfway before being hobbled with severe pain in her calves a few miles later. She memorably struggled onwards, but her lead quickly disintegrated and she was unable to finish the race. She has twice finished fifth in the ING New York City Marathon.

This Sunday, she’s the favorite, but by no means a lock. Dado is not entered this year, but here are a few of other possible challengers:

  • Valeria Straneo of Italy has the second best PR in the field, with a 1:07:46
  • Sabrina Mockenhaupt of Germany has a 1:08:45 best.
  • Caroline Rotich of Kenya won the 2011 NYC Half, finished third to Dado and Smith last year, and has a 1:08:52 PR.

Some longer shots include frequent NYC Half and NYC Marathon competitor Madai Perez of Mexico, and Portugal’s Sara Moreira, who specializes in the 3000 and 5000 but who has run a 1:10:08 in the half. There’s a solid crew of Americans including Janet Bawcom, Adriana Nelson, Serena Burla, Molly Pritz, Maegan Krifchin, Lindsey Scherf and Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce, any of whom could crack the podium if they have a big day.

Our picks: 1) Smith, 2) Rotich, 3) Straneo. In contrast to our predictions for the men’s race, this time we agree on the top 3. We feel that Smith’s time has finally come in New York, although she needs to keep her cool and let others do the work early on. There’s no glory in leading the pack for 90% of the race, and as long as the pace is honest she should be able to kick with anyone in this field.

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