HOPKINTON-TO-BOSTON, April 17 — “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”
The Roman philosopher Seneca probably wasn’t marathoning when he allegedly uttered that aphorism, but it perfectly describes the Boston Marathon experience of Hellen Obiri and coach Dathan Ritzenhein.
Less than a month prior to the 147th running of marathoning’s most iconic fixture, the 33-year-old Kenyan wasn’t on the elite guest list. She and Ritz had spent months analyzing what went wrong in her marathon debut (6th place in New York) last November and neither was certain where to head next.
Then Boston came calling. NYC champ Sharon Lokedi had withdrawn and an elite slot had opened up. Obiri was reluctant. “I didn’t want to come here because my heart was somewhere else,” she told ESPN. But Ritz knew preparation since the Big Apple had gone well, and this was the opportunity. He talked her into it.
The result was a command performance on a chilly, rainy Massachusetts morning. Obiri triumphed in 2:21:38, slashing more than 4:00 off her previous run. In her wake were Ethiopia’s Amane Beriso (2:21:50), Israel’s Lonah Salpeter (2:21:57), Ethiopia’s Ababel Yeshaneh (2:22:00), and the somewhat surprising American Emma Bates (2:22:10).
Clearly learning lessons from failure, for most of the race the Boulder-based Obiri patiently participated in a large lead pack without dictating to it.
That changed around mile 24, when Obiri suddenly became the aggressor. Between miles 20 and 24, the pack finally dwindled from 11 to 5 and Obiri attacked. The move was a little too much for Bates. Then Salpeter let go in front of the Hotel Buckminster.
With less than a mile remaining, Yeshaneh fell off — perhaps still feeling a literal fall a few minutes earlier — and it became a head-to-head duel with Beriso.
Obiri’s characteristic, thrashing arm action became even more pronounced. Once she turned onto Boylston Street, she flaunted the speed that brought her four world championships in track and cross country. Beriso was no match. Salpeter maintained her composure well enough to snatch 3rd back from Yeshaneh.
In our February T&FN Interview, Ritzenhein had said, “Helen’s just a grinder, she’s just so tough, super competitor, but the marathon has all these little new nuances, little things that turn into big things — and there’s so many of them.”
Clearly, she figured them out.
“I learned a lot in New York City,” Obiri said post-race. “New York helped me see how the next marathon can be.”
Although the new champion said the win was a surprise, “I was feeling like my body was ready.”
Bates came into Boston as no stranger to American marathoning fans, with a résumé including a 2nd-place finish in Chicago in ‘21 and 7th at last year’s World Championships.
But this felt like a coming-out party. She lodged herself into the pack, running smartly and taking the tangents while others stayed on the blue line.
“I think the others are so used to running in a pack and I’m really not,” Bates said. “I typically find myself [alone]. I’m kind of claustrophobic.”
She also ran with confidence. As the usual group of Africans began to melt away (including world champ Goytatom Gebreselassie), Bates stayed relaxed and made it clear she belonged in such company. She led through the checkpoints at 25 and 30K, and really asserted herself after mile 20. Even as she finally disconnected from the lead pack, she never fully let go, entering Boylston with a clear view of the 4 ahead of her.
Her time was the second-fastest ever by an American at Boston, behind only Shalane Flanagan’s 2:22:02 in ‘14.
“It was cold,” Bates reflected. “I didn’t expect it to be raining so much in the beginning portion, so I definitely took a while to warm up. But then we got into a rhythm and it’s always tough running with the top ladies just because it’s always like such a quick change of pace.
“I just trusted that I was gonna be able to maintain that pace with them and be able to be in the top 5. So I just really stuck my nose in it, hoping that I would get maybe a win.
“It was like the last 2M that they were kind of breaking it down to like 5 and I couldn’t hang that much. So maybe next time. But it was a good first Boston, so I’m very proud of myself.”
BOSTON WOMEN’S RESULTS
1. Hellen Obiri (Ken) 2:21:38 (1:11:29/1:10:09); 2. Amane Beriso (Eth) 2:21:50; 3. Lonah Chemtai Salpeter (Isr) 2:21:57; 4. Ababel Yeshaneh (Eth) 2:22:00;
5. Emma Bates (US) 2:22:10; 6. Nazret Weldu (Eri) 2:23:25; 7. Angela Tanui (Ken) 2:24:12; 8. Hiwot Gebrekidan (Eth) 2:24:30; 9. Mary Ngugi (Ken) 2:24:33;
10. Goytatom Gebreselassie (Eth) 2:24:34; 11. Aliphine Tuliamuk (US) 2:24:37;… 14. Nell Rojas (US) 2:24:51;… 17. Sara Hall (US) 2:25:48; 18. Desiree Linden (US) 2:27:18.