The best chance to overtake Tadese Tola in the New York City Half-Marathon may have been at the 15-kilometer mark. Tola suffered a muscle cramp in his left leg and was in pain. A close competitor could have seized the moment, and perhaps the race.
But Tola's closest competitors were more than a minute behind him.
Battling the cramp and a humid New York morning for the final four miles of the race, the 21-year-old Ethiopian won the men's portion of the Half-Marathon, finishing in 1:01:07, winning by 1 minute, 26.96 seconds. Americans Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman finished in third and fourth, respectively.
"The pain was on and off, but since he had a lead at the beginning, that gave him encouragement," said a translator speaking on Tola's behalf.
The mammoth lead Tola built this year was in stark contrast to the 2008 race, which he won by a single second. Despite being nearly assured of a victory this year, Tola said that running alongside a challenger helped him.
"It is very hard to run by yourself, particularly with this kind of climate," said Tola, who opened up a 37-second lead by the seventh mile and had outdistanced his competition by 1:40 at mile 8. "You would run better if there was a bigger competitor."
Paula Radcliffe won the women's race in 1:09:45, just two seconds off the NYC Half-Marathon record. Radcliffe, from Great Britain, is only the second woman to win the NYC marathon three times, doing so in 2004, 2007 and '08. Last year's Half-Marathon winner, Catherine Nderedba from Kenya, finished in third place in 1:11:56.
"I think that it went OK," said Radcliffe, who was making her first start since bunion surgery in March. "I needed to blow out some racing cobwebs a little bit. My foot felt good throughout the race. In the park, I think conditions were pretty good, and then I felt the humidity a little bit in the last five miles."
Radcliffe had a tougher time than Tola early on, but still managed to finish 1:18.68 in front of her nearest competitor, Ethiopia's Mamitu Daska.
Daska and Radcliffe were locked in battle for the first seven miles of the race, distancing themselves from the pack. At the 8-mile mark, Radcliffe started to stride ahead of Daska, opening up a three-second lead. That lead climbed to nine seconds at the ninth mile and Radcliffe never looked back, literally.
"When I was away, actually I thought she was still running behind me for awhile," she said, "because I could hear my number flapping and it sounded like footfalls. So I kind of still thought she was there for a little bit."
Radcliffe is still deciding whether to compete in Berlin next week for the IAAF World Championships.
A total of 10,271 runners took off from Central Park for the fourth annual NYC Half-Marathon, racing around the park before taking a southbound tour of the city, through Times Square and down the Hudson River waterfront before ending on West Street. All but 100 runners completed the course.
Tola and Radcliffe each rake in $10,000 for their victory.