How the American Women Fared in the 2021 NYC Marathon

Five U.S. women runners finished in the top 10, led by Olympic marathoner Molly Seidel in fourth.

new york city marathon
Michelle Farsi

Five American women finished in the top 10 of the New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 7. Olympic bronze-medalist Molly Seidel was the top finisher, placing fourth in 2:24:42—an American course record, besting Kara Goucher’s previous record of 2:25:53, and a personal best.

“I’m so incredibly honored, there are so many good women who’ve run on this course,” Seidel said after the race, explaining that she didn’t realize she broke the record until after she crossed the finish line in Central Park. “I think it’s really a testament to the women who are in this race that I was able to kind of just hang out with that group. And obviously I fell off the main pack. But I kind of just kept pushing and trying to stay on that pace.”

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Americans Kellyn Taylor, Annie Frisbie, Laura Thweatt, and Stephanie Bruce finished sixth, seventh, eighth, and 10th, respectively.

After last year’s event was canceled due to COVID-19, a handful of the nation’s best runners came back or made their debuts this year on the course that covers five boroughs.

Seidel was among those who ran the New York City Marathon for the first time. She did it one month after breaking two of her ribs and three months after becoming the first American woman since 2004 to earn a medal at the Olympic Games.

The 27-year-old Notre Dame grad didn’t explain how the injury happened, but she worked with a team of physical therapists to be able to race on Sunday. “Frankly, I didn’t know if I was going to come out here and go as hard as I possibly could and see where I ended up,” she said.

In her first marathon ever, Frisbie, far surpassed her expectations with a seventh-place finish in 2:26:18.

“I am super pumped,” she said. “I think it was one of those races that went as well as I could have hoped for. My public goal was just to break 2:35. My secret goal was to break 2:30, and so to race to 2:26 was completely mind-blowing to me.”

new york city marathon
The elite women coming over the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge at the start of the 2021 New York City Marathon.

The American women took control of the pace in the early miles. Across the incline on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, Seidel, Taylor, and Bruce—the latter two are Northern Arizona Elite training partners—brought the lead pack through the first mile in 6:06, and increased the pace through 5K in 17:59-18:00, with an average mile pace of 5:48.

Heading into the first 10K, the top group went from 18 runners to 12 as the pace quickened with Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir leading through the split in 35:02. Behind her, Americans Taylor, Seidel, Thweatt, Annie Frisbie, and Olympian Sally Kipyego remained in the mix.

Running through mile 7, Taylor, Seidel, and Frisbie led three across; they brought the field through the 15K split in 52:04, averaging 5:36/mile pace for a then-projected finish time of 2:26:26 for the leaders. Frisbie made a bold move heading into the 20K mark, when she positioned herself a couple of paces ahead of the lead pack in her first ever 26.2.

The 24-year-old graphic designer who trains with Minnesota Distance Elite in Minneapolis made her half marathon debut at the 2020 Houston Half Marathon, where she finished 68th in 1:15:48. Prior to New York City, the Iowa State graduate collected a pair of third-place finishes at the USATF 10K Championships in Atlanta, Georgia and the Cooper River Bridge Run (10K) in Charleston, South Carolina.

For several miles, Frisbie led a group that included the reigning Olympic champion and bronze medalist, among other accomplished marathoners, a position she didn’t expect to be in during the race.

“I just kind of went with it,” she said after the race. “It felt good, I wasn’t super scared or anything. I kept trying to ask myself, is this where I want to be? And I felt like, well, you know, why not? Like I’m just gonna kind of do my own thing, zone out and not overthink it too much. And I think that’s the key. If I would’ve over-thought it and started to stress about it, I think it probably would have affected me more.”

The pace picked up considerably heading into the halfway point as Frisbie continued to lead alongside Jepchirchir. The pair brought the top group of 11 runners through mile 12 in a split of 5:21 before blazing through the half marathon in 1:12:43 for a then-projected finish time of 2:25:26. Notably, Frisbie’s split shattered her previous half marathon personal best by more than three minutes.

Jepchirchir and Ruti Aga led the group over the Queensboro Bridge. Seidel, Thweatt, Taylor, and Frisbie stayed right behind the leaders, but Kipyego fell off the pace, bringing the top group down to nine runners at the 25K split. Kipyego, who also had a quick turnaround to compete in New York City after finishing 17th in Sapporo on a “tough” day this summer, ultimately dropped out of the race after what she called a “tricky” training cycle heading into the race.

new york city marathon 2021 womens elite field
Sally Kipyego, left, dropped out of the race after what she called a “tricky” training cycle.
Jason Suarez

By mile 16, the Americans were in control up front once again; Seidel, Frisbie, and Thweatt led the charge with a 5:33 mile split. In the next mile, Seidel pushed the pace even more with a 5:26 split at mile 17, but her lead was short-lived. Jepchirchir surged ahead a few seconds later in an attempt to pull away and broke up the lead pack, leaving Seidel as the lone American in the top group of four runners, which included Jepchirchir, Aga, and Yeshaneh.

Afterwards, Seidel said she felt pain from the rib injury in the last several miles, but she attempted to focus on other elements of the race.

“I was just trying not to think about that,” she said. “I feel like I have great PTs (physical therapists) who were able to get me to a place where, like, it started hurting like later in the race badly, but I did not feel like it was messing up my stride or anything like how I ran today.”

After 30K, Seidel fell back from Jepchirchir, Yeshaneh, and Cheptoo who surged ahead across the Willis Avenue Bridge. By the 20-mile mark, Seidel was running in fifth place, about 13 seconds behind the trio up front. Meanwhile, Taylor was in the sixth-place position, about 18 seconds behind Seidel. With 6.2 miles remaining, Thweatt and Frisbie held the eighth and ninth-place spots, respectively. About three minutes behind the leader, Bruce held the 10th-place position at mile 20.

Seidel moved into fourth place, ahead of Aga, while coming through 35 kilometers in 1:59:45, 43 seconds behind Cheptoo, Jepchirchir, and Yeshaneh. Fellow Americans Taylor, Thweatt, and Frisbie maintained their respective positions through the split. By the 40K mark, Aga had fallen out of the top 10, making room for American Stephanie Bruce.

Over the last 5K, Seidel held her fourth-place position through the finish line, coming in just over two minutes behind Jepchirchir.

“I have to say I have enormous respect for Peres,” Seidel said. “She’s a world record-holder, extremely accomplished runner. But I think a big thing for me, a big confidence builder, is going up to the front and just trying to hang with it and just go as hard as I can. And so having run with Peres at the Games, I think gave me that in my mind, like, okay, you could run out there. And obviously, they broke away. But my goal was just to hang with the pack for as long as I could and know that I belong there.”

Taylor raced Namibia’s Helalia Johannes; Johannes finished fifth and Taylor finished sixth, in 2:26:09 and 2:26:10, respectively. Frisbie crossed in 2:26:18, followed by Thweatt in 2:27:00. Bruce nabbed the 10th position in 2:31:05.

After running her fastest time on the New York City course and her third-fastest marathon ever, Taylor summed up the significance of having five American women in the top 10 of Sunday’s World Marathon Major.

“It’s exciting to have that many American women competing and contending for those top spots,” she said. “You rise to the excellence of other people. … It helps to elevate us as well.”

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