A Latvian woman ran away from the field to win her second straight title in the New York City Marathon and later wondered why no one challenged her.

Defending champion Jelena Prokopcuka turned what was considered the toughest women’s field in the New York City Marathon history into mere spectators, pulling away from the rest of the contenders halfway through the race and was never threatened the rest of the way.

When Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia and Tatiana Hladyr of the Ukraine separated themselves from a slow-moving pack at the half-marathon mark, a cluster of professional women, including Deena Kastor, Catherine Ndereba, Rita Jeptoo, and Lidiya Grigoryeva, failed to respond.

“Tactically,” said Kastor, “it was a very strange race; I can only attribute it to the fact that there were so many accomplished women out there that nobody wanted to make a move.”

Prokopcuka and Hladyr traded the lead for a few miles before Prokopcuka broke free in the Bronx and coasted to victory in 2:25:05 to successfully defend her ING New York City Marathon title.

Blowing kisses to an adoring crowd in Central Park, Prokopcuka ran alone to the finish line, in stark contrast to last year when an upset stomach caused her to drop from first place to fourth before she summoned the energy to overtake Susan Chepkemei of Kenya for the win.

This time, Prokopcuka led boldly from the start with pacesetter Luminata Talpos before coming back to the pack. However, on Prokopcuka’s second surge, only Hladyr could stay within shouting distance—and not for long.

Hladyr finished exactly one minute behind the winner. Ndereba, the venerable Kenyan star, was third in 2:26:58, ending a remarkable streak of 15 straight marathons in which she finished first or second.

“I didn’t want to push so hard because I felt like I was going to have a mess,” said Ndereba, who regretted not taking a bathroom break before the race.

Kastor, a disappointing sixth overall despite being the top American finisher, also admitted to physical discomfort. While Ndereba tried to make a belated run at the two top runners, Kastor’s engine never fired.

“When you get sixth place, there are a lot of mistakes that add up,” said Kastor, who won marathons in London this year and Chicago in 2005. “Winning this race continues to be my dream. I’ll definitely come back to compete again.”

Weather certainly was not a problem. The race started under partly cloudy skies, with temperatures in the 40s and virtually no wind. With such ideal conditions and a record 38,368 starters, it’s likely the ING New York City Marathon will post a record-setting number of finishers as well. (This information will be available Monday, November 6.)

She became the first woman to repeat as winner of the ING New York City Marathon since Tegla Loroupe of Kenya, the 1994 and ’95 winner. Only three other women in the race’s history have won consecutive titles: Nina Kuscsik (1972, ’73), Miki Gorman (1976, ’77), and Grete Waitz (1978-80 and 1982-86, and 1988).

With the victory, Prokopcuka leads the World Marathon Majors series standings with 40 points. She earned 25 points for winning in New York and 15 for finishing second at the Boston Marathon this past April.

A record 38, 368 runners started the race.