For NYRR Team for Kids Ambassador and two-time Olympian Molly Huddle, it was a stellar debut at the distance. For four-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman, it was the third-fastest marathon since the first 26.2-miler of his career in New York City 12 years ago.
Put them together, and the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon was the first time two Americans have been on the podium since 1994.
The rookie (2:28:13) and the veteran (2:11:23) joined marathon champions Ghirmay Ghebreslassie of Eritrea, Mary Keitany of Kenya, Marcel Hug of Switzerland, and Tatyana McFadden of the United States, along with Darius Gordon and Rainn Sheppard, winners of Sunday’s 1.8-mile NYRR Youth Invitational, at a wrap-up press conference on Monday, to reflect on their third-place finishes.
Both earned $40,000 in open prize money, as well as $25,000 for finishing as the top Americans. But satisfaction brought its own reward.
“I was able to do all the things correctly that I was worried about,” said 32-year-old Huddle, who broke the 10,000-meter American record at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
“I didn’t miss any drinks, and I didn’t feel like I hit any major wall. It was definitely fun, especially the first eight miles or so when it was all of us together and I was just enjoying the course. Even when I was by myself, it was cool to take it in. It’s kind of surreal to own the streets for two hours. It was like, ‘I’m running right in the middle of First Avenue. This is crazy.’”
As for the morning after, she was surprised at how good she felt, citing just “a few achy places.” Huddle wondered aloud whether she would have been more sore had she not run alone for the last 17 miles, but said she “didn’t know if I would blow up at any point” if she pushed harder.
“Maybe next time I can dig a little more,” she said. “But I’m really happy.”
At 39, Abdirahman became the oldest man in the history of the event to finish in the top three, equaling his best career finish.
“If I was surprised, it was to finish third, but the time I wasn’t’ surprised by,” he said. “The work I was doing, even if I would have run 2:10 I wouldn’t have been surprised. The last 5K I was being conservative because I wanted to be sure I had something left in case someone came next to me.”
It was a chance encounter this fall on the trails of Flagstaff, AZ, with Rio 2016 Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lelisa that helped lift Abdirahman onto the podium.
“I introduced myself and said ‘I’m a marathon runner, my name is Abdi,’ and he said, ‘Oh, I know who you are, Abdi.’” he recounted, and soon they were training partners. “He told me I was capable of finishing in the top four. Coming from him, that meant a lot to me, and it motivated me.”
Also encouraging was the assessment of his longtime coach, Dave Murray, that Abdirahman was in the best shape of his life.
“When the people who are that close to you give you confidence, the sky’s the limit,” Abdirahman said. “I came to New York City relaxed. A lot of people think I’m done but hey, I’ll just prove them wrong.”
Relaxed has long been Abdirahman’s default position. As he put it: “I’m not the guy who makes things any harder than they are.”
Since making that Olympic marathon team in 2012, Abdirahman has run only one marathon, finishing 16th in the 2014 Boston Marathon. A calf injury kept him from attempting to make his fifth Olympic team earlier this year.
The rookie found inspiration in the veteran’s performance on Sunday.
“Even after a bad one, you can bounce back time and time again, like Abdi,” Huddle said. “You have to keep believing in yourself and one day it will pay off.”
By Barbara Huebner