By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
NEW YORK (18-Mar) -- With the 12th running of the United Airlines NYC Half less than 12 hours away, many of the 20,000 athletes entered have been keeping a keen eye on the weather forecast. After a snow squall late this afternoon, the weather will likely be cloudy for tomorrow's early start, with temperatures just above freezing. The roadways will be wet, but not icy, according to New York Road Runners officials.
How will the weather play into race strategy?
"If the conditions are bad, I think it's going to be 61 [minutes]," said defending champion Stephen Sambu, predicting the winning time. "If good, I think it's going to be 60-low tomorrow because I know these guys are in good shape and I know they will go hard and the time will go down."
In 2016, very cold temperatures did not prevent Sambu from running 1:01:16 for the win. No matter the temperature, Sambu's times here have been remarkably consistent: in addition to his 1:01:16 last year, Sambu ran 1:01:07 for second in 2015, 1:01:08 for third in 2014; and 1:01:34 for seventh in 2013.
Aware that Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa (59:22) and rising Scottish star Callum Hawkins (60:00) are in the field, Sambu wants to push the pace whether it's cold and windy or damp and dreary.
"I think for me to defend my title, I need to go harder. For the last five miles or four miles, I need to go hard to defend my title," he told Race Results Weekly. "I need to do everything right because it's going to be hard. I know all the corners of this race. This is my fifth time running it because I started in 2013. I think experience will help because I know it. And now I'm feeling good, so I think it's going to be a good day."
Hawkins is a veteran of running in cold and wet conditions, having persevered through the notorious weather back in Scotland, cold temperatures in Indiana when attending Butler University, and the cold of his sometime training base in Boulder, Colo.
"It will [play a factor] a little bit but it's something you just have to wait on the day and see what happens," he said. "I looked at the course a little bit and assessed what's going to be affected by the weather. But you just have to go out and race. That's the main thing.
One runner who welcomes cold weather is Puerto Rico's Beverly Ramos who trains in hot weather in San Juan all year long. The cool temperatures inject a bit of adrenaline into cheerful the 29-year-old.
"It's cold, but great! I really like going from hot to cold because it feels good, I feel fresh and I can breathe," she said. "It's effortless, kind of like going from altitude to sea level, so I'd definitely love more of this. Hopefully it's not icy on Sunday. That's the only thing that worries me."
In her last three races here (the '16 United Airlines NYC Half [8th, 1:12:09], '16 NYRR New York Mini 10-K [7th, 33:17], and '15 TCS New York City Marathon [15th, 2:41:56]), Ramos established three national records. "We'll try to start 2017 with a new record," she said with excitement.
Having attended Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kans., Ramos reminisced about her collegiate days running with temperatures hovering around the zero-degree mark. She says the biggest thing weather will impact are the minute details: what to wear during warm-ups and how to keep warm before toeing the line.
Training partners Emily Sisson and Molly Huddle haven't let the prospect of inclement weather impact them in the slightest. Sisson did not know that snow was originally on the forecast, and seemed unfazed by the thought of less-than-ideal conditions. Having completed their winter training in sunny Arizona and just recently returned home to Providence, R.I. (where close to a foot of snow fell last week), Sisson plans to roll with whatever happens.
"We're all in the same boat so I'm not worrying about it," she said. "I think we'll be OK for Sunday."
Tactics-wise, Huddle noted that pack running is almost a sure guarantee here over the first 10-K, no matter the conditions. If the weather does take a turn for the worse, look for a large group racing together through Central Park, Times Square, and onto the West Side Highway through 15-K.
"I know it'll be a little more tactical if the weather is bad because people will be playing it safe if there is a little ice or some slushy stuff out there. It'll slow us down," she said. When temperatures were below freezing and strong winds greeted runners last year, Huddle won in a course record of 67:41. A year prior, when the temperature was a comfortable 42F/6C at the start, she also won in 1:08:31. "The group will be packed up I think more. It'll be interesting."
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The 12th United Airlines NYC Half will begin with the elite men and women's wheelchair division at 7:05 a.m. and 7:06 a.m., respectively, followed by the elite women at 7:18 a.m. and elite men at 7:30 a.m. The event will be televised live locally on WABC-TV, nationally on ESPN3 via WatchESPN, and streamed live on ABC7NY.com and the Watch ESPN app. Race Results Weekly will provide race coverage from tomorrow's event.