NEW YORK — Last year, and the year before that, Ibrahim Hussein ran the New York City Marathon scared.
Weeks before each race, he couldn't sleep and he couldn't eat. He had no confidence. There were too many big names in the race, a fact that accelerated--rather than eased--his self-imposed pressure.
This year, however, the immensely talented Kenyan realized it was just as important to train his head as it was to train his body. Maybe even more so.
He arrived in New York last week less fit than he was in 1986, when he placed fourth, but stronger mentally. He had two Honolulu Marathon victories and a string of road race triumphs behind him--not to mention many weeks of solid rest.
And the field was open. There were no clear favorites.
"I'm not scared of anybody," he said earlier in the week. "I think somebody will steal the race. I hope that somebody is me."
One hour 8 minutes 30 seconds into Sunday's event--just past the 14th mile of the 26.2-mile race--the marathon belonged to him.
It was then that Hussein caught New Yorker Pat Petersen, who had blasted across the starting line in Staten Island at the sound of the cannon to take a commanding lead during the first mile, across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and into Brooklyn.
For 14 miles, Petersen ran alone, Hussein lurking about 20 seconds behind. The rest of the field was more than a minute back and nowhere in sight.
But Petersen was not content to be the front runner. His was a suicidal, sub-5-minute-per-mile-pace--meaning a finishing time that would have surely broken the world record time of 2 hours 7 minutes 12 seconds--until Hussein overtook him. It was a blistering pace that few runners could maintain, let alone someone who had never even broken 2:11.
About a mile before the Queensboro Bridge, the span that takes runners from Queens into Manhattan, the lead changed.
"Actually, I felt some relief," Petersen said later. "When you go out there and run by yourself, it's like the most lonely feeling in the world. Nobody's ahead of you. Nobody's behind you. I was just hoping to stay with him, but he wasn't about to hang around and run with me."
Hussein won in a time of 2:11:01.
Petersen clung to second place until the last 200 yards, when he was overtaken by Italian Gianni DeMadonna, who ran 2:11:53, and Peter Pfitzinger, top American finisher in the 1984 Olympic marathon, who finished third in 2:11:54. Petersen came in fourth in 2:12:03. Tommy Ekblom of Finland was fifth in 2:12:31.
Italian Orlando Pizzolato, who won the race in 1984 and 1985, finished sixth in 2:12:50.
The women's race was won by Priscilla Welch of England in 2:30:17. Welch, who will be 43 later this month and who holds the world record for masters women in the marathon and is the oldest New York City marathon winner, had no real competition. Norwegian Grete Waitz, who has dominated this race since 1978, is recovering from an injury and did not compete.
"Age is a social disease," Welch, who began running at the age of 35, said. "The secret is not to think 40. How are you supposed to feel at 40? I think the older you are, the better you are."
Francoise Bonnet of France was second, in 2:31:22, and Jocelyne Villeton, also of France, placed third in 2:32:03. Ria Van Landeghem, of Belgium, who placed third in last year's Boston Marathon, was fourth in 2:32:38. Karolina Szabo, of Hungary, was fifth in 2:34:58.
New Zealander Allison Roe, who set the course record of 2:25:29 in 1981--the only year Waitz did not finish--dropped out at the 10-mile mark.
Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic gold medalist in the marathon, who turned 40 on Saturday and was hoping to set a masters record, also dropped out. And four-time New York City Marathon winner Bill Rodgers finished well back in the pack "in 2:25-something," he said. "I think it was 54th place."
First-place finishers each won $25,000 and a Mercedes-Benz.
An estimated 22,600 runners lined up in Staten Island under a sunny sky with temperatures in the low 50s, which rose into the low 60s as the race progressed, conditions somewhat warm for a marathon.
Petersen went out hard--too hard, he would later say--but hung on to a sub-world-record pace past the halfway mark. He crossed the 10-kilometer mark in 29:37 and reached the halfway point in 1:03:33, almost exactly world record pace.
Hussein, about 20 seconds behind most of the way, kept Petersen in sight, letting him do all the work--wisely knowing he didn't have to catch him just yet.
This was not a day to set world records, and Hussein knew there was no reason for him to run a world record pace. "I didn't want to run that fast," Hussein said. "But I also knew Petersen was a serious runner and if I gave him a big lead, it would be hard to catch him."
Although relieved, Petersen was also surprised when Hussein appeared. "I didn't have any sense of someone coming up on me," Petersen said. "All of a sudden, he was there. I did a double take."