Chicago Marathon Women — The Favorite All The Way

Ruth Chepngetich never looked back in winning by almost 2:00. {KEVIN MORRIS/BANK OF AMERICA CHICAGO MARATHON)

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, October 10 — Ruth Chepngetich toed the line of the Chicago Marathon as the prohibitive favorite and blasted away from the field and never looked back en route to a runaway 2:22:31 victory. Americans Emma Bates (2:24:21) and Sara Hall (2:27:19) rounded out the podium.

Deploying a “catch me if you can” tactic the 27-year-old Kenyan blew through the opening 15K at a boggling 2:12:55 pace. She then slowed but managed to maintain a big lead all the way home. “First and foremost, this is my first time in the United States,” she said, “and I am so excited and happy for the win today.”

Bates embraced just the opposite tactics, starting conservatively and maintaining an ever-steady pace as she worked her way up through the field to negative-split 72:27/71:54 for a 2:24:20 PR on a hot and humid day when lifetime bests and faster second halves were rare achievements.

“I knew that with the conditions, I needed to go out very conservatively,” she explained after moving to No. 9 on the all-time U.S. list. “It was definitely the hardest race I’ve ever run but to be able to not only be on the podium but to set a PR today was incredible, and I couldn’t be happier.”

Chepngetich had blitzed a 64:02 half-marathon WR last April in İstanbul, but while she subsequently lost that record, she surely hasn’t lost her speed gear and tore through the opening kilometers well under Brigid Kosgei’s 2:14:04 WR pace.

The opening 5K was covered in 15:37 with only Kenyan Vivian Kiplagat giving chase, 5 seconds back. Chepngetich pulled 27 seconds clear at 10K (31:22). By 15K (47:15) her lead was more than a minute, and at halfway (67:34) she was 76 seconds ahead of Kiplagat, and 4:04 ahead of Sara Hall in 3rd.

With the combination of high pace and humidity, the second half saw Chepngetich shifting from a speedy stride to a survival shuffle. The Kenyan was atop the T&FN Formchart heading into the Olympics with a 2:17:08 PR that ranks No. 4 on the all-time list, and her ’19 World Championships win in Doha gave her considerable hot weather credibility.

Unfortunately she had a COVID exposure that delayed her arrival in Sapporo until just a few hours before racetime and led to a subpar performance and a DNF. Preparations for Chicago were far from perfect: “After Sapporo, I was not in top shape as the last two weeks I had an injury and I was not sure that I would win.”

With a big lead, she slowed to 17:00 segments but did not break. She crossed 30K (1:38:13) at 2:18:16 pace, but subsequent 17:52 and 18:15 5K segments put away any hopes for a sub-2:20 finish.

“It was not easy,” she admitted. “I was just focusing on getting to the finishline. I had fatigue in my legs but I was confident I had the strength to finish the race.”

Unfortunately for Kiplagat, her fast start caught up to her as she faded after 30K with 19:15 and 20:36 intervals as she fell back to finish 5th in 2:29:14.

Hall, who ranks No. 2 on the all-time U.S. list with her 2:20:32 effort last December, had hopes of challenging Deena Kastor’s 2:19:36 AR. Instead, she was challenged by the humid conditions and faded over the second half with 71:37/75:42 splits, but did well to hang onto 3rd.

The 38-year-old California native surmised, “The humidity is always really shocking, especially when you live and train at altitude. I’ve really struggled with it but I thought my plan was conservative. I thought I could hold that pace, but it just kind of got exponentially harder as the race went on.”

That left the door open for the 29-year-old Bates, whose well-crafted race just kept getting better and better as she had a good plan and mantra: “Going into this race, I didn’t want to push too much, too soon. So, I went through halfway still feeling really good. Bit by bit and I caught a pacer that was pacing for 2:24, and then I started seeing women ahead of me and that just spurred me along.”

A 12-time All America — and the ’14 NCAA track 10K champ for Boise State — Bates strung together an amazing string of 5Ks that defied the challenging race conditions. You don’t get much better than 17:12, 17:15, 17:02, 17:12, 16:59, 17:00, 16:59, and 17:08.

As to her mantra, she asserted, “The whole theme of this buildup was methodical and patient, that was what [coach Joe Bosshard] was telling me every single workout, every single long run. So, I just kept those words in my head. I didn’t know quite what position I was going to place in, but I knew that it was going to be something good.”

1. Ruth Chepngetich (Ken) 2:22:31
2. Emma Bates (US) 2:24:20 (AL) (9, x A)
3. Sara Hall (US) 2:27:19
4. Keira D’Amato (US) 2:28:22
5. Vivian Kiplagat (Ken) 2:29:14
6. Maegan Krifchin (US) 2:30:17
7. Carrie Verdon (US) 2:31:51
8. Sarah Pagano (US) 2:33:11
9. Meseret Belete (Eth) 2:33:14
10. Lindsay Flanagan (US) 2:33:20