Two-time world champion Edna Kiplagat and relative unknown Geoffrey Kirui were crowned champions today at the 121st running of the Boston Marathon, the first double win for Kenya in five years. Each won the IAAF Gold Label Road Race with a single devastating move at strategic points in the race which their competition could not answer. Kiplagat ran 2:21:52, and Kirui 2:09:37.
Kiplagat, who started with the other elite women 28 minutes before the mass start, was the first to lock up victory. The women’s pack maintained a brisk pace of about 3:26 per km early on, led largely by 2011 runner-up Desiree Linden. Linden, whose best races come from an even pace, wanted to thin the pack down early, and she did, with the size of the pack shrinking to eight by halfway and five as the course crossed into Newton after the 25-kilometre mark.
“I wanted to be pushing the first 10k,” Linden said. “If it was a respectable pace I would have just tucked in, but there were so many fast women in that pack I couldn’t let them take it easy. If we made it a half-marathon I wouldn’t have as much of a chance.”
Linden was right to be wary of Kiplagat, a past winner in New York (2010) and London (2014) as well as a two-time world champion (2011 in Daegu and 2013 in Moscow). In the course of pushing the pace, though, Linden ended the hopes of defending champion Atsede Baysa and former winner Caroline Rotich. Climbing up into Newton after crossing the Charles River in Lower Falls, it was Linden, Kiplagat, Rose Chelimo, Jordan Hasay, and Valentine Kipketer in the pack, with Gladys Cherono struggling to stay in contact.
Those five mostly held together for another five kilometres, but on the second of three hills in Newton, Kiplagat abruptly accelerated, dropping from a 5:33 mile pace on the first hill to a 4:50 cresting the second. Then Kiplagat followed up with a 5:23 mile on the last and best-known of the hills, the one called “Heartbreak Hill."
“I broke away at 30k, I was feeling good and I tried to work extra hard. We knew the profile of the course so I knew I had to increase my strength.”
The race was functionally over at that point, but there was one last scare at the 35-kilometre fluid station, where Kiplagat expected to find her bottle on the second table when it was actually on the third. After mistakenly picking up another athlete’s bottle, Kiplagat actually went back to replace it on the second table before getting her own.
She continued looking over her shoulder but Rose Chelimo, the one who’d come closest to actually covering Kiplagat’s move, was almost a minute behind at the finish. Chelimo’s second-place time was 2:22:51. Hasay was third in 2:23:00, a successful debut marathon, and Linden was fourth in 2:25:06.
Kiplagat, 38, is the oldest woman to win in Boston since Michiko Gorman (42) in 1977. She brought two of her children to the awards stand to accept her traditional laurel wreath and trophy.
“I’m happy to be here with my family, my kids helped me when I was training for this race so I am glad I can share this victory with them.”
Course record holder Buzunesh Deba was seventh in 2:30:58, and Linden’s teammate Dot McMahan was the masters winner, finishing 14th in 2:36:28.
Geoffrey Kirui flew completely under the radar before the race, his best previous marathon being a third-place debut in Rotterdam last year and his PB a 2:06:27 for seventh in Amsterdam. But the 24-year-old asserted after the race, “In my mind, I was sure that one day I would win this race.”
The men’s pack stayed together much longer than the women, with former world record holder Emmanuel Mutai doing much of the pace work as the field wandered towards Boston. Unlike Linden, Mutai seemed disinterested in setting a fast pace, with the average mile hovering around 4:55 well past halfway.
Things began getting interesting in much the same part of the race as the year before, around 25 kilometres as the course descends into Lower Falls to cross the Charles from Wellesley into Newton. Olympic bronze medallist Galen Rupp moved to the front of the pack and although the pace didn’t improve, the size of the pack began to shrink. Mutai, defending champion Lemi Berhanu Hayle, and several others came off the pace.
The faces remaining, in addition to Kirui, Rupp, and Wilson Chebet, were not ones who would have been picked to be in the lead pack this late. American veteran Abdi Abdirahman, dominating the masters race; Colorado-based Augustus Maiyo, wearing the improbable bib number of 63; and Oregon-based Japanese Suguru Osako.
Eventually a duel developed between Rupp and Kirui, with the duo putting a dozen seconds on Osako coming up to 35 kilometres. After passing that marker, Kirui stomped on the accelerator, covering the 24th mile in 4:28, by far the fastest of the race. Rupp couldn’t answer the bell at that point, and the remaining two miles for Kirui were an extended victory lap.
Rupp came in second at 2:09:58, with Osako third in 2:10:28.
“I knew, coming here to Boston, I was going to face my colleagues who have run many times here,” said Kirui. “I was not aware that I was going to win, but I knew that I would challenge some of the champions who have been competing here.”
Osako was also thrilled with his performance. “I was very nervous and grateful for the Boston experience,” he said. “Once I relaxed, I started doing better.”
Although the athletes enjoyed a tailwind in many parts of the course, winds were gusty and occasionally met the runners head on. More challenging, especially for the mass participants, was the heat, with temperatures around 20 C at the start and rising slightly during the race.
Some 27,228 runners in four waves crossed the starting line in Hopkinton to make the trip in to Boston this year.