FIRST BOSTON PREVIEW BEFORE THE DELUGE

In last year’s IAAF Competition Performance Rankings for the marathon,

At number 82 Boston Marathon USA 16 APR 2018 515 3 7967 110 0 8482

Where we are headed

So, we have ourselves the first official Performance Rankings for athletics, road racing, and the marathon by the IAAF, a means, they say, to better follow the sport for we fans.  And according to those rankings, last year’s Boston Marathon ranked No. 82 in the world.  Really?

Anyone else think Boston 2018 wasn’t better than 81 other marathons worldwide?  I guess that’s the difference between a systematic ranking and an emotional expression.  Same date, same time, same competitive point standing, but none of the heart or soul.

People run Boston from the heart to the core of their being.  It’s a love affair.  Something about the place and the people, the history.  Boston isn’t a marathon, it’s The Marathon like Augusta is The Masters.

This will be Des Linden’s seventh time on the old course, first as defending women’s champion.  The two-time Olympian and Southern California native was one of the favorites going into 2018 regardless of the conditions, but her chances improved mightily in the lashing winds and stinging sheets of rain.

Yes, after initially thinking she would drop out, then deciding to help her fellow Americans Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle, somehow Des found her own rhythm instead and ran away with the race.

Yuki takes it in stride with Tommy Meagher alongside

Japan’s “Citizen Runner” Yuki Kawauchi was never, ever a favorite, even for a podium position on a normal day.  But in that cold and rain, he became master of his domain.

This year Des and Yuki will be tested the way all great events honor their champions, by facing a field ready to beat their brains out.

Again in 2019 Boston, there isn’t one odds-on men’s or women’s favorite, that’s how well-matched the fields are.  Five past men’s winners join four previous women’s champions, with rosy-cheeked maidens aplenty anxious for the opportunity to race from Hopkinton to Boston into history.

But there are some main contenders:

Kirui leading before fading in 2018

You know Kenya’s Geoffrey Kirui wants redemption.  The 2017 winner lit out of Newton last year like he had 2:15 pm flight out of Logan and no TSA PreCheck.  By Kenmore Square, the 2017 World  Champion hit the wall like Wily Coyote in a Looney Tunes cartoon. He lost by four minutes in the last mile and still held on for second place.  Carnage.

Nine out 16 invited athletes took a DNF in 2018.  They had never seen such awfulness, much less tried to race in it.  Yuki Kawauchi, on the other hand, had at least three winter-like marathons on his resume, including the one in Marshfield, Mass. on January 1, 2018, 1-degree Fahrenheit, the only finisher, and in a sub-2:20 record-breaking 2:18:59.

He just notched his 86th sub-2:20 this January at the Shizuoka Marathon, winning in 2:14:21. Then again March 10th in Lake Biwa where he ran 8th in  2:09:21, his fastest time since July 2017. It was his 13th sub-2:10, and his last marathon as a full-time worker.

Since then, Yuki has quit his position as a high school administrator (29 March), signed a contract with Aioi Nissei Dowa Insurance Group (31 March) and then with Asics (2 April), the brand of shoes he has been racing in for more than 10 years through 92 marathons and 87 sub-2:20s.

Given the long-range forecast showing a day less brutal, but perhaps one not dissimilar to last year (it all depends on wind direction, cause if it’s at their back, it could be a career day!) But if it’s an easterly blow, it is hard to put any East African on the can’t-miss list.

But then we recall that in 2015 when the temps hovered in the mid-40sF with an ESE headwind blowing at 5-11 mph, Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa won his second Boston title in 2:09:17.  And Caroline Rotich, the Santa Fe based Kenyan with a Japanese high school diploma, took the women’s title in 2:24:55. Both are back this year.

Eight years before that, when the winds howled off the gray Atlantic Ocean, coursing up Commonwealth Avenue and out Route 135 to the western burbs, the big man, Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot won his third of four Boston olive wreaths in 2:14:13 with Russia’s Lydia Grigoryeva coming up aces for women in 2:29:18.

Kenyan runners, especially, are not fond of rainy cold conditions. They will often simply skip training for the day rather than go out into the wet weather.  But as Boulder Wave agent Brendan Reilly told 2017 Boston and two-time women’s World Champion, Edna Kiplagat, last year in Hopkinton as the rain and wind pelted the bedraggled masses, “All I know is that three hours from now the Mayor of Boston is going to put an olive wreath atop somebody’s head as champion.  It might as well be you.”

Well, it wasn’t Edna who received the glory, as she grimly held on to eighth place in 2:47. It was Des Linden’s time to shine in the battleship gray of last Patriot’s Day.  Again, both will return this coming Monday, ready, willing, and more experienced.

Edna arrives off a fourth-place 2:21:18 in Berlin last fall, which she ran on a bum knee, banged on a fall before traveling to the race. It tightened up after 20 miles.  And don’t be fooled by her 11th place finish at the New York City Half Marathon in March. She did a hard session on the Tuesday before the race and realized too late that one accommodation age requires is more rest after a hard workout before a Sunday race. Even at age 39, she’s a true contender. Ask Meb.

A man I’m looking at closely will be Lawrence Cherono the Kenyan who entirely skipped the 2:10 zone in Honolulu in 2016 when he shattered the course record (2:11:12, Jimmy Muindi 2004) with a 2:09:39.  He followed that up in 2017 by chopping another minute off his mark with a 2:08:27. And last fall blitzed through Amsterdam in 2:04:06 to set a new course record. The IAAF Rankings have him in the No. 2 position worldwide. He is ready for an Abbott World Marathon Majors‘ win.

Runners who fare well in hilly Honolulu tend to race well in Boston, too. Think Ibrahim Hussein, Cosmas Ndeti, Bong Ju Lee, Wilson Chebet.  Cherono was better than any of them in Honolulu.

Then there is Mr. Reliable (generally), Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia. The 2013 & 2015 Boston champion was one of the innumerable top dogs who got thrashed like a wet mop before dropping out last year.  But he came back with a major win in New York last fall in 2:05:52, the second-fastest time ever on the bridge-linked layout.  He’s been on the podium seven times in Boston and NYC.  Can’t assume he won’t be there again on Monday next.

Moving back to the women, Des is Boston strong, no matter the weather, no matter the field, no matter the tactics.  Now living and training up near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the weather won’t bother her this year, just like it didn’t bother her last year.

Lots of Boston experience in this year’s women’s field. Four past champs, including Des (2018), Edna (2017), Caroline (2015), and Sharon Cherop (2012).  But there is also the other American star, the still youthful looking 27-year-old Jordan Hasay, who had to withdraw last year the day before the race with a stress fracture in her heel. The same injury forced her to withdraw from Chicago in the fall, too. But she seems on the mend now, has assayed two races this season to get her racing mind right. Nothing special in her Rome-Ostia Half (71:06), or Shamrock 15 km in Portland March 17th (51:34). But If she’s on form, she can run with anyone here. Her 2:20:57 in Chicago 2017 is the second-best ever by an American, and her 2:23:00 third in Boston that same year, was an American debut record.

This is a marathon runner who was hiding inside what everyone thought was a 1500-meter trackee, not unlike Ryan Hall (whose wife Sara will have her say on Monday, too).  Hasay has been racing internationally since she was a kid growing up in California. The stage won’t be too big, the competition won’t scare her off.  If she’s on (though that’s a big IF) she can win it.

Des Wins Boston 2018

While there are other well-considered internationalists like Mare Dibaba of Ethiopia, twice second in Boston and 2015 World Champion, though not much since her Olympic bronze medal in Rio 2016, and Meskerem Assefa, a two-time Ethiopian Olympian at 1500m *never a finalist* who moved up to the marathon in 2013, running 15 since, winning three, setting PBs in Nagoya & Frankfurt last year, with her first win coming in Rotterdam in 2017, and Kenya’s Betsy Saina, the 2018 Paris champion, and new American Sally Kipyego, the 2012 Olympic and 2011 World Champion silver medalist over 10,000 meters while still a Kenyan citizen who is still finding her legs in the longer distance, and 66:29, two-time World Champs half-marathon medalist Mary Wacera of Kenya making her marathon debut, the most recent marathon speed comes from Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia.

Question is, can she rebound off her second-place 2:17:41 effort in the Dubai Marathon this January 25th? It was the fastest non-winning women’s marathon of all-time and fifth quickest overall. She’s only run three marathons, all three in Dubai, finishing first, fourth, second. And though Dubai is paced and dead flat, the opposite of Boston, both Lelisa Desisa and Lemi Berhanu Hayle ran 2:04 in Dubai in January in the years they doubled back to win in Boston in April. So it can be done.

Questions.  Isn’t that what the marathon really is, a series of unending questions for which only the champions will have had the proper answers come Monday afternoon?

There will be plenty more questions asked and answered in the next five days, as well. I’ll be flying back to my one-time, long-time home tomorrow anxious to engage in one of my favorite weeks of the year.  I expect I’ll be asking a number of those questions myself.

Then, for those of you in New England, join me and Shalane Flanagan on Monday morning on WBZ TV4, as we cover the 123rd Boston Marathon with WBZ’s Lisa Hughes.  Wet, dry, or somewhere in between, you can be sure that this one will be compelling, perhaps even in the top 80 worldwide by IAAF Rankings standards.

 

END

3 thoughts on “FIRST BOSTON PREVIEW BEFORE THE DELUGE

  1. Toni, love your reviews and love Boston. Have had the privilege to be one that has qualified and run it twice, as well as been in the press room, it’s a special time. Boston is made extra-special by being on Patriot’s Day (and we need more than a few patriots in the USA right now!).

    One of the few times that I will take a day off from work just to watch TV (and I won’t be answering the phone, either), Thanks for adding to the excitement, drama, and info!

  2. You have said it all Toni Reavis. You make the best case. I think the Boston Marathon is #1.
    Its’s the oldest, it’s the most unpredictable, It’s he most loved, It can be Rain, Sun Shine, Snow or a combination of all he above. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO RANK THEM DIFFERENT. Boston is #1. It started in 1897. Feels just like Yesterday.

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