NEW YORK (17-Mar) -- The United Airlines NYC Half came into Molly Huddle's life in 2014 and it was one of the key turning points in the now 38 year-old's storied career. Never a fan of cross country or indoor track, the 28-time national champion liked to de-camp from her Providence, R.I., home in the winter to put in her pre-season base miles in the warmth of Arizona. The NYC Half, with its mid-March date, was the perfect race to close-out her winter training block. Her long-time coach Ray Treacy, whom Huddle affectionately calls "The Guru," gave his blessing and she signed-up for the 2014 race. It would be her first-ever half-marathon.
PHOTOS: Molly Huddle in Times Square on March 16, 2023, three days before the 2023 United Airlines NYC Half (photos by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
With the temperature right at the freezing mark, Huddle ran the entire race with the leaders. She went through the first 10-K in 33:01, and the second in a much faster 32:21 as the pace heated up. Although too far behind eventual winner Sally Kipyego (1:08:31), she finished a close third to eventual 2014 Boston Marathon champion Buzunesh Deba, 1:08:59 to 1:09:04.
"It was good," a shivering Huddle told Race Results Weekly's Chris Lotsbom that day. "I think I stuck my nose in it in the beginning and the distance got to me a little in the end, but it was definitely a fun experience. I definitely want to do another one."
The rest, shall we say, is history.
For the next three years Huddle would repeat the same winter program, training in Arizona then coming to New York for the NYC Half before starting her track season*. She won in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and in the 2016 race she set the still-standing USATF record for an all-women's race: 1:07:41. During her reign at the top, she beat top athletes like Sally Kipyego, Caroline Rotich, Des Linden, Aliphine Tuliamuk, Buzunesh Deba, Emily Sisson, Edna Kiplagat, Diane Nukuri, and Amy Cragg. She also lowered her 10,000m personal best from 31:28.66 to an American record 30:13.17, a mark which would stand for more than six years until Alicia Monson broke it just 11 days ago at The Ten in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. She also collected $65,500 in prize money from the event which is organized by New York Road Runners.
Huddle returns to the NYC Half for the first time in six years on Sunday, but she's no longer focused on winning. The race comes about 11 months after she, and husband Kurt Benninger, had their first child, daughter Josephine Valerie Benninger, whom Huddle calls "JoJo." Speaking to Race Results Weekly at a press event yesterday in Times Square, she reflected on her history with the race.
"The last time I did the Half was 2017, I think, so a long time," said Huddle, wearing a warm hat and jacket on a cold, late-winter day. "Great to be back. Great to be running again seriously after having the baby in April. So, this will be a good test."
Huddle has been slowly building her fitness since giving birth to Josephine. She first returned to racing last August at the low-key Bobby Doyle Summer Classic 5 Mile in Narragansett, R.I., --very close to her home-- clocking 29:17. Since then she has run in a series of local races in New England --a pair of 10-K's, a 5-K cross country, and a half-marathon-- to regain her racing chops.
Then, in January of this year, she ran the super-competitive Aramco Houston Half-Marathon and clocked a very good 1:10:01, a mark which qualified her for the 2024 USA Olympic Team Trials Marathon. She went back to training, and the NYC Half should give her a good reading on her progress.
"I'm really happy to fit it back in the schedule," said Huddle, who is still breastfeeding and will be pumping while she is in New York (Kurt is with Josephine at home in Providence). "I feel like I'm having more baseline workouts now, less of a building phase and more back to normal. I've had a few little injury problems last month, but I'm coming around."
A well-traveled athlete, Huddle is sticking close to home for her races now. New York is a three and one-half hour drive (or train ride) from Providence.
"I love racing within a drive distance of home now because of the baby, and this is an easier race for me to get to," Huddle said. "So that's good."
Sunday's race has yet another purpose for Huddle. It will kick-off her training for her next marathon, a distance that she hasn't taken on since the 2020 Olympic Trials in Atlanta when she was forced to drop out with an injury. Although she wasn't at liberty to reveal which race it will be, she said that the timing of the NYC Half was perfect, just like it always was.
"So, I'm really focusing more on the roads now; it fits in really well with that plan now," Huddle said. She continued: "This is going to kick off a marathon build-up for me, so this will be a really good race to fit into my marathon block as we go forward the next two months."
The 2023 United Airlines NYC Half will be broadcast locally by WABC-TV channel 7 as part of their Sunday morning news broadcast. The pro races, which begin at 7:00 a.m. local time, can be streamed on both the NYRR's Facebook (https://twitter.com/nyrr) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/nyrr) pages, and will also be available via the ESPN app and the WABC website (https://abc7ny.com/)
*In 2016 she ran one indoor race, the 5000m at the Millrose Games, in order to get an Olympic Games qualifying mark