Hopkinton-to-Boston, April 16—The 122nd running of the Boston Marathon set a new standard for level of difficulty as the brutal combination of pelting rain, 40-degree (c5C) temperatures and relentless 15-25mph (c7–11mps) headwinds cast this race as one of mere survival.
With the usual racing concerns of pace, terrain and tactics displaced by merely fighting off hypothermia, the only certain thing in this footrace was that champions would indeed be crowned.
Persevering best were Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi (2:14:01), who moved past Geoffrey Kirui in the final 5 kilometers, and Desiree Linden (2:39:54), who overcame midrace thoughts of dropping out to become the first American woman to win Boston in 33 years.
“This was hands down the best day of my running career,” the 34-year-old Linden exclaimed. “Boston is the greatest marathon in the world and it is an honor to be the champion.”
The start of the race was not very kind on Linden or any of the elite women who managed just 6:00 pace over the downhill opening 10K.
“I just felt very bad very early on,” Linden recounted. “I was way too cold, my hands were wet, my gloves were saturated, I was missing bottles, and I couldn’t squeeze the bottles as I got them because my hands were too cold.”
She admitted, “I felt pretty awful. I thought this is not my day and staying out in these conditions could be detrimental long term. Some times the wind gusts just stood us up and I was thinking, ‘I’m probably going to step off and try again next year.’ Sometimes it is better for your career to step off and save it for another day.”
She admitted that her thoughts turned to helping her rivals: “It was setting up for disaster. I had so much pride in the American field that I thought, ‘I’m going to do as much as I can to help these guys have a day since it is not going to be my day.’ ”
“I tapped Shalane [Flanagan] and said, ‘Hey, if you need anything let me know I’m probably dropping out today.’ ”
Indeed, at 12M (c20km), “Shalane nudged me and said, ‘I’m going to hit the bathroom, if it slows up great, if not I’ll try to help you back to the group.’ ”
The pair caught back up to the lead group which passed the half in 1:19:41, before Mamitu Daska surged away from the group and built a 34-second lead at 30K.
Then Linden shifted into Sherpa mode again, this time helping marathon debutante Molly Huddle close the gap on the Ethiopian.
Said Linden, “As I was trying to bridge Molly back to Daska, I looked back and I had pulled away from everybody.” Linden and Kenyan Gladys Chesire moved past the fading Daska on Heartbreak Hill and the race was on.
“When I was working with Shalane and Molly I became less aware of how awful I felt,” Linden said. “The miles were going by way quicker, and I started getting a little pop in my legs. Sometimes when you pick it up it can turn around. By that time I was in 3rd or 4th and I thought, ‘I probably shouldn’t drop out.’
“That is when it occurred to me that everyone was suffering, it wasn’t just a me thing. It was hard for everybody, and I’m actually being quite a bit tougher than everybody else now. So I just focused mile by mile and if it all blows up running is still the quickest way to get home.
“When I found myself in the lead I wasn’t sure that it was real because I was running so slow. I thought, ‘Keep pushing, persevere, and try to break the tape.’ ”
Approaching the finish she thought “It was nice to get it right down Boylston. I didn’t know how big a lead I had, if I did I probably would have slowed down because I was hurting. I remember passing the spot where I lost the race in 2011 and I thought, ‘Not today.’ ”
The race blew up behind Linden as Daska and Chesire dropped out and Flanagan and Huddle faded to finish 7th (2:46:31) and 16th (2:50:28).
Making her way through the wreckage was Sarah Sellers (née Callister)—a Weber State grad coached by formidable marathoner Paul Pilkington who finished 2nd in 2:44:04—with 41-year-old Canadian Krista Duchene taking 3rd in 2:44:20.
Linden’s sixth Boston was one to relish. She explained, “As a marathoner I grew up on this course. I’ve had every experience on this course—debut, breakthrough, heartbreak at the Trials—Boston is my story. This one was blood, sweat and tears like nobody knows. The last couple of miles I just thought, ‘I’m going to break the tape.’ ”
Said Flanagan, “I don’t know what’s next but for sure I think this was my last Boston Marathon.”
A Great Debut For Kawauchi
For Kawauchi his first Boston race was the charm as he racked up his 33rd and most unexpected career victory as the Japanese marathon maniac bested perhaps the best Boston field ever assembled.
Eschewing the opportunity for a fast time in Tokyo back in February, he logged four training runs on the Boston course and sped away from the start, blitzing the downhill opening mile in 4:37. “Going out in the beginning was one of several scenarios I had considered,” he explained. “I wanted to make sure that it was a challenging pace.”
The pack was attuned to his bad-weather potential and caught him by 5K (15:01). For most of the next 20 kilos a large—and talented—pack of 15 ran together as the pace bobbed up and down with the gusting winds.
Defending champ Kirui and last year’s runner-up Galen Rupp looked very comfortable and Tamirat Tola and Felix Kandie took turns at the front of a variety of drafting formations that passed halfway in 65:59.
Kawauchi made perhaps his most crucial move at 25K as he charged downhill to the Charles River bridge. This set Kirui off as the 25-year-old Kenyan looked full of run. Clad in a white windbreaker, Kirui launched a powerful attack at the base of the hills still 10M out from the finish.
Within a mile, Kirui’s radical surge had blown the race wide open. Among the first to be dispatched was Rupp, who would drop out after 30K and was one of 14 elite athletes treated for hypothermia.
As Kirui sped up the hills, Kawauchi gave chase with Shadrack Biwott and Abdi Nageeye. “When Kirui went to the front I thought that he was making a move that hard to try to get rid of Rupp,” Kawauchi said. “So I went with it but Kirui was very strong so I ran with two guys up Heartbreak and at the top I made another move and was chasing Kirui in second place.”
Kirui continued his splendid running through the buffeting wind and built a 91-second lead at 35K—and then he began to struggle. Amidst a 5:30 for mile 24 he reappeared on the road, closing fast. A 6:32 for mile 25 was Kirui’s Waterloo, as Kawauchi passed him on the opposite side of the road just before 40K—and another hellacious burst of wind and rain.
“At the Citgo sign with one mile to go I passed somebody,” the winner recalled. “I thought maybe it was Kirui but I didn’t look, I had been passing quite a few women. I didn’t really worry about it, I just focused on running as best I could and moving forward. I knew I was in the top 2, but I didn’t know if I was 2nd or 1st until right before the finish.”
A school administrator who combines fulltime work with fulltime marathoning, Kawauchi analyzed, “This was my 81st marathon and I would say it was certainly the toughest conditions I’ve run in. I have run in other marathons with tough conditions, particularly the 2013 Nagano and the 2016 Zürich Marathons, and the Marshfield Marathon on January 1 this year. Those kinds of tough conditions provided valuable experience.”
He offered one final bit of perspective: “The last Japanese runner to win Boston was Toshihiko Seko in 1987, the year that I was born. I have been running for 26 years and by far this is the best day of my life. It feels like a dream.”
BOSTON MARATHON RESULTS
World Marathon Major; Hopkinton-to-Boston, April 16 (cold & wet with strong headwinds)—
1. Yuki Kawauchi (Jpn) 2:15:58; 2. Geoffrey Kirui (Ken) 2:18:23; 3. Shadrack Biwott (US) 2:18:35; 4. Tyler Pennel (US) 2:18:57; 5. Andrew Bumbalough (US) 2:19:52; 6. Scott Smith (US) 2:21:47; 7. Abdi Nageeye (Neth) 2:23:16; 8. Elkanah Kibet (US) 2:23:37; 9. Reid Coolsaet (Can) 2:25:02; 10. Daniel Vassallo (US) 2:27:50;… 15. Abdi Abdirahman (US) 2:28:18;… dnf—Galen Rupp (US).
1. Desiree Linden (US) 2:39:54; 2. Sarah Sellers (US) 2:44:04; 3. Krista Duchene (Can) 2:44:20; 4. Rachel Hyland (US) 2:44:29; 5. Jessica Chichester (US) 2:45:23; 6. Nicole Dimercurio (US) 2:45:52; 7. Shalane Flanagan (US) 2:46:31; 8. Kimi Reed (US) 2:46:47; 9. Edna Kiplagat (Ken) 2:47:14; 10. Hiroko Yoshitomi (Jpn) 2:48:29.