NEW YORK — This race and this year were all about returning to normalcy, or what passes for normalcy in a world of blisters and bunions and bumpy blacktop. In 2020 the pandemic wiped out four of the world’s six major marathons, including all three in the United States, and put off the Olympics for a year. Last year, five of them were crammed into six weeks in the fall, three of them within eight days.
So Sunday morning in Central Park was a time to exult and exhale after an elite road racing season concluded in its customary place on its customary weekend with familiar winners as the Kenyans swept the men’s and women’s titles for the third straight time and sixth in the last nine editions of the New York City Marathon.
What was decidedly abnormal was the manner of the winning of the men’s race. Evans Chebet and the rest of the men’s pack was so far behind Daniel Do Nascimento after 15 miles that you needed a telescope to locate them.
Had the morning been cool and crisp, which usually is the case here, the Brazilian might well have escaped with the laurel wreath. But conditions — mid-70s and muggy — were the warmest since 1985.
“That sticky, soupy feeling,” said Scott Fauble, who was the top American finisher in ninth.
Playing the breakaway game seemed unwise but Do Nascimento is nothing if not bold. He was hanging with Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, grinning and fist-bumping with the two-time gold medalist midway through the Games marathon, which also was run in brutal conditions. He ended up as five-ringed roadkill.
This time Do Nascimento was off with the gun on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, running ahead of both his rivals and the pace car. After 9 miles, he was under the world record (2 hours, 1 minute and 9 seconds). At the half, he was up by 2 minutes, 12 seconds, and out of sight.
“I knew how far ahead he was, but I also knew that it was hot and humid and he was going at a high pace,” said Chebet. “I know I have a lot of experience and I knew I was going to surpass him.”
Patience did it for Chebet when he won in Boston in April. He stuck with the lead mob until they came off Heartbreak Hill then busted a move on the Brookline flats and won by 30 seconds.
This time, Chebet split from the leaders on the Queensboro Bridge coming into Manhattan, knowing that he had 10 miles available to reel in the Brazilian, who was going wobbly as he approached the Bronx. Do Nascimento lost 18 seconds when he ducked into a portable toilet. He slowed to a walk around 20 miles.
And suddenly he was down and out, curled up on the pavement and surrounded by medics.
“When I saw him lying on the ground I felt bad for him,” said Chebet. “But I had to continue the race.”
By then the only man he had to worry about was Ethiopia’s Shura Kitata, the former London victor who was runner-up here four years ago. Chebet cruised down Fifth Avenue and into the park, checking behind him from time to time before breaking the tape in a prudent 2:08:41, 13 seconds ahead.
“Boston was actually harder and it prepared me well for New York,” said Chebet, the first man to win both in the same year since countryman Geoffrey Mutai in 2011.
Sharon Lokedi, who was making her 26-mile debut, had no basis for comparison. She’s a former NCAA track titlist at Kansas who’d shown promise in shorter road races.
But up against Ethiopia’s Gotytom Gebreslase and Israel’s Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, the world gold and bronze medalists, plus ageless Edna Kiplagat, the former global champion who’d won here, Boston, and London, she decided to bide her time, drink her fluids and wait for her chance.
“I came in just wanting to be in the thick of the race,” Lokedi said.
Her moment came in the park, where she used her track speed to pull away and dispatch Salpeter by seven seconds in 2:23:23.
“I am out of words,” Lokedi said. “I am just so happy that I did it here.”
All weekend there’d been a summer festival atmosphere in the Apple, the outdoor restaurants and indoor bars jammed with unmasked revelers. For the first time since 2019 there was a full 50,000-runner field at the start, ready to celebrate a hardtop season that began and ended without upheaval.
Last year COVID and the delayed Olympics played havoc with the major races, pitting them against one another to attract the sport’s top performers. This year there were plenty for everyone and the Kenyans made the most of it, winning 10 of the 12 titles.
Their men swept all six with Kipchoge setting a course record in Tokyo and destroying his own world mark in Berlin, while Chebet cashed the tough Boston-New York double. The women prevailed in Tokyo, Boston (Olympic champion Peres Jepchirchir), Chicago, and here.
That has been how normalcy has been defined at this distance for more than three decades with the Kenyans ruling and the Ethiopians becoming ever more troublesome archrivals.
That is how next year will commence with Tokyo in early March setting the stage for Boston, which will observe the passing of a peaceful decade since the horrific 2013 bombings. These days, normalcy is greeted with gratitude.
John Powers can be reached at email@example.com.