(22-Sep) -- Four-time TCS New York City Marathon champion and women-only marathon world record holder Mary Keitany of Kenya has announced her retirement at 39. The adidas-sponsored athlete, who also won the Virgin Money London Marathon three times, said a nagging back injury was the primary reason.
PHOTO: Mary Keitany with 200 meters to go in the 2017 Virgin Money London Marathon where she set the women-only world record of 2:17:01 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
"After my successful 2019, when I had some good results including second place in New York, I was hopeful that I could still be very competitive internationally for several more years even though I am in my late 30's," she said through a statement. "However, I'm sad to say, a back injury that I suffered in late 2019 made a decision about my retirement for me. I couldn’t get the treatment I wanted in Europe because of the pandemic-related travel restrictions last year and every time I thought I had got over the injury and started training hard, it became a problem again. So now is the time to say goodbye –-if only as an elite runner-– to the sport I love so much."
Keitany's marathon career did not have an auspicious start. Her longtime manager, Gianni Demadonna, placed her in the 2010 New York City Marathon for her debut avoiding the "speed" marathons like Berlin, Chicago and Rotterdam. That came as a surprise for many because Keitany had won the 2009 World Athletics Half-Marathon championships in a championships record 1:06:36, and in early 2010 had broken the world record for 25-K (1:19:53). Demadonna wanted her to run in a race which focused on head-to-head racing and not record-breaking so she could learn the event.
In that race in New York, Keitany was part of a three-woman breakaway with Edna Kiplagat, also of Kenya, and American Shalane Flanagan who was also making her marathon debut. Keitany only finished third in 2:29:01, was frustrated, and told race organizers she didn't want to run a marathon again.
But in February 2011, Keitany bounced back quickly and set a half-marathon world record of 1:05:50 at the RAK Half-Marathon in Ras Al Khaimah. She then ran the Virgin Money London Marathon in April and ran away from the field, clocking 2:19:19 on the strength of a 1:08:42 second half.
"I surprised myself," Keitany said after that race.
From there, Keitany became one of the sport's most dominant marathoners. She went on to win New York four times (in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018), and London three times (2011, 2012 and 2017). In 2017 she ran 2:17:01, the still-standing World Athletics record for an all-women's race. In that race the then 35 year-old fearlessly scorched through the first half in 1:06:54 and held on to win.
"I want to say it was a great day for me," she said that day. "It was really amazing."
Keitany would never win an Olympic medal, however. In 2012 she was selected for the Kenyan Olympic Team after winning London in 2:18:37. In the pouring rain she finished fourth in 2:23:56.
In her final marathon, Keitany finished second in New York in 2019 in 2:23:32. A full-time mother, Keitany isn't certain of her future plans.
"As for the future, I haven't fully decided on my plans but I'm looking forward to spending more time with my family," she said. "My children are currently 13 (son Jared) and 8 (daughter Samantha). In addition, I am involved with some local charitable enterprises."