David Hunter's text was prescient. The weather gods showed their might, and then, gave the 34,000 plus marathoners a glorious day to PB!
David did the features, as he has done today. Unfortunately, with a stomach bug, I attempted to watch from lovely Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, but the streaming had some issues. I followed off the Boston Marathon application, which was quite good.
But nothing filled in the picture until David's piece arrived. Another wonderful day in Boston! Thinking of my friends in the Charlesmark and the Lenox, as well as 34,000 friends of running.
April 15th, 2019
Unfurling a bold race plan, Ethiopian Worknesh Degefa - a Boston first-timer whose only prior exposure to the historic race course was limited to her viewing of last year's Patriots' Day broadcast - threw the gauntlet down shortly after the 5 kilometer mark, broke away from the lead pack, and held on over the final miles to capture the laurel wreath in the 123rd running of the B.A.A. Marathon.
Weather is always a consideration in the marathon. Fear of another meteorological nightmare similar to last year's horrid weather conditions was anticipated as late as Monday's dawn. But the rain ultimately subsided before the start as the race got under way under humid conditions and with temperatures in the low 60's.
After an opening 5K led by American Sara Hall in 17:34, Degefa dropped in a subtle but effective surge and crept away from the early lead pack of maybe two dozen athletes. It started as a sneaky tactic reminiscent of Joan Benoit's early break in the '84 Olympic Marathon. The move, unanswered by her competitors, quickly gave the Ethiopian a 35 meter lead. When Degefa crossed 10K in 33:58 the lead had increased to 50 meters ahead of the chase pack led by 2012 Boston champion Sharon Cherop and Worknesh's Ethiopian countrywoman Mare Dibaba. When Degefa, who rang up a PR of 2:17:41 in finishing 2nd in January's Dubai Marathon, continued to crank consecutive sub-5:20 miles the lead had grown to 1:24 when the leader reached 15 kilometers in 50:21.
Worknesh Degefa built a sizable lead, 5k to 15k, photo by PhotoRun.net
Clearly in command and pulling away, the frontrunner was looking strong, was on 2:21 pace, and was cheered wildly by a legion of enthusiastic young women as she passed by Wellesley College. Degefa had maintained her race pace as she hit 20 kilometers in 66:59, ballooning her advantage to nearly 2½ minutes before being greeted by the coeds. The chase pack, which at times looked confused or uninterested, was headed up by wily veteran Edna Kiplagat and included game Americans Jordan Hasay and Desi Linden. The chase pack's earlier indecisiveness had permitted this gap. When would this world-class group attempt to rectify that lapse in judgement?
When the leader's brash strategy pushed her past halfway in 1:10:40, her margin over the field remained essentially the same. The chase pack of nine - which included prior champions Kiplagat and Cherop - showed little interest in aggressively chipping away at Degefa's lead. At 25K passed by Degefa in 1:23:43, just before the steep downhill into Lower Newton Falls, the Ethiopian's lead had been pushed out to 2:43. Was the chase pack waving the white flag? Was the race for the wreath essentially over?
As the race headed toward the Newton hills, several attempts by different athletes to rally pack enthusiasm to set sail after the leader failed to get traction. In the 18th mile when the leader made the dramatic right turn at the Newton Fire Station, the question was: "Would the Boston novice conquer the hills? Or would the hills conquer her?"
Initially, Degefa seemed unfazed by the early inclines and indeed upped her lead over her pursuers to 2:59 as she passed 30K in 1:40:48. Less that eight race course miles remained. Time was running out for her challengers.
But then Edna Kiplagat - with has captured World Marathon Majors victories in Boston, London and New York as well as two World Championship marathon gold medals - started to roll. Easily leaving the chase pack behind, the 39-year-old veteran dramatically quickened her pace and the chase was underway. Could one of the most decorated marathoners of all time- down almost 3 minutes - catch Degefa? Was their enough time? Even though Kiplagat could not see Degefa, it was clear that the Kenyan was cutting into the leader's advantage. Racing by Boston College, the two athletes, still separated, flew down toward Cleveland Circle for the last 4 mile grind to the finish. Before Degefa reached Fenway Park, the long straight stretch allowed her to see the slowing athlete she was chasing.
At 40K, just before Kenmore Square, Kiplagat was only 68 seconds behind. But it was too little to late. At the finish line, and after Edna's valiant effort, Degefa crossed first in 2:23:31. Kiplagat finished 42 seconds later, crossing second in 2:24:13. USA's Jordan Hasay, showing no ill effects from the heal problems that sidelined her for all of 2018, rallied over the final miles to get up for 3rd - and earn a 2020 Olympic marathon qualifying standard - by finishing in 2:25:20.
Defending champion Linden clocked 2:27:00 to finish 5th It was the 35-year-old two-time Olympian's 5th top-5 finish on Patriots' Day and, as was the case with Hasay, her top-10 placing earned her the Olympic standard as well. 29-year-old American Lindsay Flanagan [9th in 2:30:07] also earned an Olympic qualifier and gave the USA women 3 finishers in the top 10.
After the race, the winner was asked about her early race surge which resulted in a full-blown breakaway. "My coach told me I have speed and I shouldn't be afraid to go for it. So I did," offered Workness Degefa through an interpreter. Edna Kiplagat expressed remorse of not going after the eventual winner earlier. Hasay showed joy and relief at her race today which further affirmed that her lingering heel injury is fully healed, that she's once again podium-worthy, and that she has an Olympic qualifier in hand. Desiree Linden, who was candid in the weeks leading up to the race of her goal to successfully defend her title, was gracious in defeat and even was able to inject a little humor about her 5th place finish today. Referencing her earlier Patriot Day finishes of 1st, 2nd, 4th [twice!], 8th, 18th and now 5th, Linden quipped "I was hoping to finish 3rd so I could have a complete [podium} set." / Dave Hunter /