Amy Cragg poses after finishing third in the marathon at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London.
By James Rogers
If, at the start of 2017, you wished for American marathoners to deliver historic, unforgettable, tear-inducing runs on World Marathon Majors stages throughout the year, then 1) your wish-granted rate ballooned and 2) you should get paid to give wishing advice.
Who woulda thought? An article toward the end of the year ranking several noteworthy American marathon performances from major 26.2-mile races—from the same 365-day span.
TIMEOUT: Wait, what are the World Marathon Majors? Apologies for any confusion caused by “WMM” in the headline. I’ll proceed to give the abbreviated explanation of the WMM: A series of six of the best, most competitive marathons in the world (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York City) scores points to determine a male and female winner of each cycle, with the winner snatching $500,000. NOTE: Olympics and IAAF World Championships have a say, too. For example, this year, the London World Championships marathon counted as a WMM race.
Point allocation for each race:
- 1st place — 25 points
- 2nd place — 16 points
- 3rd place — 9 points
- 4th place — 4 points
- 5th place — 1 point
We are in Series XI (they officially use Roman numerals) of the WMM, which consists of the following eight races:
The current WMM series flows into 2018, but for the sake of this article and the following rankings, I’m scratching series, cycles—whatever you wanna call them—and choosing from solely 2017 WMM-labeled races. I picked the top seven from these 2017 races: Tokyo, Boston, London, IAAF World Championships, Berlin, Chicago, New York City.
TIME IN: Still with me? Good stuff ahead. The depth of American marathoning success made this an unenviable ranking task. As a fan of USA distance running, you should be exuberant about that, almost bewildered.
Arguably the best year ever for American marathoners? As Shalane Flanagan would say, “F–k yes!”
7. Laura Thweatt, London Marathon, April 23
Laura Thweatt finished more than eight minutes behind the leader, but the top two women at London—Mary Keitany and Tirunesh Dibaba, respectively—went sub-2:18 (!), with Keitany setting the women’s-only world record (2:17:01). There was plenty of noise at the front, but Thweatt’s 2:25:38 sixth-place finish didn’t wash away in silence.
The 28-year-old scratched nearly three minutes off her personal record (PR) in her second marathon attempt. Two career marathons: 2:28:23 debut at 2015 New York City; 2:25:38 at 2017 London. The Saucony-sponsored athlete and former University of Colorado star shared a note via social media post-London:
“I knew going into [London] that if everything came together and I really let myself go for it, I could run between 2:24 and 2:25,” Thweatt said, per John Meyer of the Denver Post. “I knew that’s what I was capable of running, but it’s a marathon. That’s a lot of time for mistakes to be made or for something to happen, so you’re always a little hesitant going into the race.”
Thweatt withdrew from the London World Championships marathon due to a pelvic injury—a setback that also hindered her leadup to the big April PR. Knowing this, her 2:25:38 is all the more commendable.
6. Galen Rupp, Boston Marathon, April 17
Let’s get this out of the way: The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is investigating Galen Rupp’s training group, the Nike Oregon Project, which works under the tutelage of head coach Alberto Salazar. Both Rupp and Salazar have been in hot water since 2015 when fishy stuff surfaced concerning some of Salazar’s medical tactics with his runners, but no Salazar-coached NOP athlete has tested positive. No bans, no sanctions. Yet. Rupp finds himself at the forefront of these allegations—along with ex-NOPer Mo Farah—but the 31-year-old has performed admirably on the marathon stage while living in this USADA shadow.
So…when Rupp won the 2016 Olympic Trials marathon (in his debut 26.2 attempt) and proceeded to bring home a bronze medal from the Rio Olympics marathon, fellow professional runners and distance-running fans everywhere weren’t super fond of Rupp’s success. They questioned his integrity, disregarded the historic Olympic run, incessantly blamed Salazar. And they continue to do so. To break it down: Rupp is the most polarizing American distance runner alive. Never failed a drug test, repeatedly said he supports clean sport and has abided by the rules—so let’s cheer for him! But, USADA investigation…ARGH.
Whether you’re a supporter waiting for the next eRUPPtion or an unrestrained NOP critic, Rupp undeniably wears the Best American Marathoner name tag. He earned that label with his first two marathons, and he confirmed it with his third and fourth 26.2-milers.
His third, at the Boston Marathon on April 17, resulted in a second-place finish and a sub-2:10 clocking. Did you know that only 17 Americans have broken 2:10 in the marathon? It’s rarefied air, and Rupp jumped to that elite stratosphere at 2017 Boston.
He looked excellent late in the race, when the lead pack dwindled to just him and Kenya’s Geoffrey Kirui. Boston roared for American victory (though I’m sure there were anti-Rupp folks in the crowd), but Kirui finished 21 seconds ahead of Rupp in 2:09:37. Kirui earned $150,000 for the win, with Rupp getting $75K for the runner-up showing.
The 2:09:58 begged the question: Will Rupp wear half-tights in his fourth marathon?
5. Jordan Hasay, Boston Marathon, April 17
Yes, Salazar coaches Jordan Hasay; she reps the aforementioned NOP. Unfortunately for Hasay, it’s more of a guilty-by-association situation for her. You won’t see her name in the USADA investigation mess. No failed drug tests. Nothing. Buuuut, Salazar and NOP affiliations. So, yup—you guessed it—fellow professionals didn’t douse her in praise for this incredible Boston performance.
Hasay clocked the fastest debut marathon by an American woman with her 2:23:00 third-place finish on April 17. She negative-split the thing, going 72:33 through 13.1 and eclipsing the second half in 70:27 to earn $40K. She was 10 seconds shy of a Boston silver. All at age 25.
It was a warm and emotion-filled Massachusetts day for the University of Oregon grad. Hasay’s mother died in November 2016. Priorities in the leadup and training for Boston changed. How did she maintain focus and access a sense of calm on this memorable Monday?
“I think that the marathon is a very emotional event, and I tried to stay as relaxed as possible and just breathe early on,” Hasay said post-race, per Owen Pence of the Boston Globe. “Then the crowds were very loud towards the end, just getting really excited and chanting, ‘U-S-A, U-S-A,’ so I tried to feed off that energy.
“It’s been an emotional buildup for me going into the marathon. [My mother] knew that I would be debuting in Boston and so I was just thinking about everyone out there that has lost loved ones as well and that just really lifted me up and powered me through it.”
Did you know that Hasay’s 2:23:00 debut crushed Kara Goucher’s former debut record (2:25:53) by nearly three minutes? Now you do.
4. Jordan Hasay, Chicago Marathon, October 8
How do you one-up a record-setting debut? Go out and become the second-fastest American woman marathoner in history. Hasay’s second marathon, less than six months after her 2-2-3 in Boston, was a dandy. She broke a) 2:21 and b) the Chicago Marathon course record for American women. 2:20:57. All at age 26.
Only two USA women have dipped under 2:21 in the marathon. Deena Kastor’s 2:19:36 American record from 2006 London (age 33); Hasay’s 2:20:57 from 2017 Chicago. Kastor’s AR was in jeopardy for more than 13.1 miles on October 8. Hasay blitzed through the halfway mark in 69:13, on pace for 2:18:26. Just four women were in contention for the W at that point, which speaks to the blazing clip. Hasay plus three East Africans: Eventual winner and 32-year-old Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia, 23-year-old Brigid Kosgei of Kenya and 24-year-old Kenyan Valentine Kipketer.
Air Jordan held on for a 71:44 second half, securing back-to-back third-place finishes in major marathons. Has anyone ever had two better thirds in the same year?
3. Amy Cragg, IAAF World Championships Marathon, August 6
Formerly Amy Hastings (she married Olympian Alistair Cragg in 2014), Amy Cragg put up the grittiest marathon performance of the year when she took bronze in 2:27:18 at the IAAF World Championships in London. She was in fourth place less than two minutes from the finish line and nearly snagged silver. Check out this screenshot from 2:25:29 into the race:
In the final two minutes, Cragg upended Kenya’s Flomena Daniel and almost caught two-time marathon world champion Edna Kiplagat. I mean, she kinda did catch the now-38-year-old Kenyan; she just didn’t pass her before the line. They each ended with a 2:27:18 official time. Watch how close Cragg was to silver:
Cragg, 33, became the first American woman to medal in the World Championships marathon since Marianne Dickerson won silver in 1983—before Cragg was born. The Arizona State grad won the 2016 Olympic Trials marathon and finished ninth at the Rio Olympics. A member of the Bowerman Track Club and coached by Jerry Schumacher, Cragg trains mostly with Shalane Flanagan, but the buildup to this August 6 bronze (a $20K prize) was different. From Caitlyn Pilkington of Women’s Running:
With training partner Shalane Flanagan recovering from injury—she scratched from the Boston Marathon earlier this year—Cragg had her husband pacing most of her long runs. But she did miss the social aspect of running with Flanagan, since something as intense as preparing for 26.2 miles doesn’t allow for much activity outside of running and resting.
“I was able to train with [Shalane] a little bit right before I left for altitude training. Her first couple of workouts were my last couple of workouts right before I left. So we did overlap a tiny bit,” explains Cragg. “Normally that’s the social part of my day, where I meet a friend and go run.” She laughs, adding, “She better stay healthy now because I really want her back! I really look forward to training with her again. She’s tearing it up right now.”
This isn’t the last time you’ll hear Flanagan’s name in this piece. Also, you just gotta believe Cragg will shatter that 2:27:03 marathon PR of hers in the next year or so.
2. Galen Rupp, Chicago Marathon, October 8
Rupp and Hasay each ran Boston and Chicago this year, and Rupp’s victory in Chicago was the best of their magnificent four-pack of marathons. Choosing the most remarkable from these four is like having to pick between Honey Nut Cheerios, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, Chocolate Cheerios and Frosted Cheerios. All fine choices—not a terribly easy decision.
Rupp became the first American man since 2002 Khalid Khannouchi to win Chicago and the first American-born men’s champion since 1982 Greg Meyer. Rupp’s 2:09:20 on October 8 puts him No. 10 on the USA’s all-time marathon list:
The men’s race was pedestrian (by elite standards) well through halfway, as Rupp ran a 4:57 mile pace from 30K to 35K. He was 66:11 (2:12:22 pace) through 13.1 miles and masterfully produced a back half of 63:09, pummeling a 14:25 5K from 35K to 40K and widening his lead with a 4:30 24th mile, a 4:34 25th and a 4:33 26th. Just freakin’ gnarly.
As LetsRun.com noted, the 31-year-old clocked his final 5.2188 miles in 24:02 (unofficial)—4:36.3 per mile; 2:00:45 marathon pace. Rupp won by 28 seconds, with second-place finisher Abel Kirui of Kenya crossing in 2:09:48.
Rupp now has four marathons on his resume:
Oh, and he did wear half-tights in Chicago (see: this section’s photo).
1. Shalane Flanagan, New York City Marathon, November 5
Told you there’d be more Flanagan mentions. Here we are, at No. 1. In the final WMM race of 2017, the 36-year-old Flanagan got her first major victory. FINALLY. Her win in NYC was the first gold by an American woman at this race since 1977—it’s been 40 years!
Flanagan’s tenacity through Central Park in the waning stages of the race on November 5 sealed her W. After going through halfway in 76:18 (2:32:36 pace; 5:49 per mile), Flanagan put down a 5:11 24th mile, a 5:04 25th and a 5:12 26th. She defeated three-time NYC champion and 2:17:01 ‘thoner Mary Keitany of Kenya by a full minute. Flanagan’s 2:26:53 isn’t her fastest, but New York isn’t notorious for fast times. Still, to come back with a 70:35 final 13.1 after the early dawdle…whew.
Flanagan earned $135K in prize money—$100K for the open win, $25K for first American woman, $10K for going sub-2:27. This excludes the healthy appearance fees professionals obtain from just showing up to major races. Shalane got paid.
The University of North Carolina grad made her marathon debut at NYC in 2010, and she’s the third-fastest female American marathoner thanks to her 2:21:14 from 2014 Berlin. She has four Olympic appearances to her name, including a bronze in the 10K from Beijing 2008 (upgraded to a silver after Turkey’s Elvan Abeylegesse “was disqualified in March 2017 after testing positive for a banned substance in a retest of a sample she gave at the 2007 IAAF World Championships,” per TeamUSA.org).
Flanagan finished ninth in the 2012 London Olympics marathon and sixth in the 2016 Rio Olympics 26.2-miler. 2017 NYC was her first marathon since that Rio finish. The Jerry Schumacher-coached veteran fulfilled a dream in her comeback from a pelvic injury.
“My coaches told me that it was possible—the training I put in was the best I’ve ever put in,” Flanagan said, per Zach Schonbrun of the New York Times. “These are the moments we dream of as athletes. This is going to feel good for a really long time.”
The former Tar Heel and current Bowerman Track Club member deserved this victory. Please don’t retire, Shalane. Although it would be kinda cool to have this one as your last.
More Top-10 Performances by American Marathoners at 2017 WMM Races
Good golly. What a year of major marathoning by the USA. ¶
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