Boston, MA – Other than too many people and not enough time, it all went perfectly well at the John Hancock elite athlete press conference for the 123rd Boston Marathon this morning at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel.
It was like old home week. There was Rob de Castella the 1986 champion here with his indigenous running team from Australia. There was ‘83 champ Greg Meyer hanging out with fellow Grand Rapids Michigander Dathan Ritzenhein. And three time women’s champion Uta Pippig with a wave and a hug still mourning the passing of her father. Everywhere you looked was an old friend.
But this was not a day to simply chat about yesterday. This was a press conference to see who might do what on Monday from Hopkinton to Boston.
Let’s begin at the top with defending men’s champion Yuki Kawauchi of Japan.
When asked about the difference in his condition between last year and this year he said, “similar. But the big difference is I come in as defending champion. That carries a lot of responsibility and pride.“
He said he has several plans for the race and he will decide as the race goes along. What we do know is that his plan last year to go out hard to suck the Africans out faster than they wanted in the brutally cold, rainy, windy conditions played out perfectly as Yuki took the lead from 2017 champ Geoffrey Kirui in the final two kilometers and won by four minutes.
Defending women’s champion Des Linden, now 34, said her build up has left her stronger this year than in 2018. Her last marathon was New York City last fall where she finished sixth. She said she walked away from that experience realizing she waited too long before pushing.
Said her training has been super flexible with a lot more speed and gear changing mixed in, which is exactly how the Africans like to race. She said she could still run “on my own”, what she’s done in the past but working on her speed and gear changing abilities is just one more thing she can draw on to become a more versatile racer.
I usually talk to the managers as much to the athletes and so I sidled up to a Gianni Demadonna who has a handful of top athletes in the race.
His fastest guy is Ethiopia’s Sisay Lemma, whose 2:04:08 PB came in finishing fifth in the 2018 Dubai Marathon. But he won the Ljubljana Marathon in Slovenia in October 2018 in 2:04:58, too.
“He had a small problem in preparation,” Gianni admitted. “A hamstring in his last hard workout last week. I don’t know how it will effect his race.”
He also represents 2016 Boston champ Lemi Berhanu Hayley, also of Ethiopia. He has dropped out of the last two Bostons, and then again at the Dubai Marathon this January 25. But he’s run 13 marathons and won seven. In fact, the 28 year old has won a marathon for five straight years.
When I asked why he dropped out in Dubai at 30 km, his manager said, “he couldn’t stay with the lead group, which was running 2:03-2:04 pace. So he decided to drop out.
“Why finish? Dubai cut their price purse by 50% for the top three, and 70% for all other places. He didn’t want to finish fifth or sixth and spoil his body for Boston.”
Third top guy in the Demadonna camp is Kenyan Benson Kipruto, winner in Toronto last year in 2:07:11. Gianni says he’s ready for a 2:06 depending on the weather. But that’s a big depend because we know Kenyans don’t like to even train in rainy conditions. And that’s all any of them have been asking, will it rain Monday?
Gianni’s top woman is that 2:17:41 2nd place finisher from Dubai this year, Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia. That was her third straight appearance in Dubai the only marathons she’s ever run. But she recovered well, she’s ready and the idea of women running fast marathons two months apart is no longer strange.
The woman who beat Degefa in Dubai, Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya, ran 2:18:35 in mid-November in Istanbul then on January 25, 2019 she blasted 2:17: 08 in Dubai.
2012 Boston champ Sharon Cherop is back, but there isn’t much buzz about her or 2015 champ Caroline Rotich who has dropped out of three straight Bostons after her win.
Biruktayit Eshetu of Ethiopia comes in as the 2019 Houston Marathon champ. She’s run six marathons, won three, all in Houston (2016, ‘18, ‘19). People say she’s good on the hills and strong.
Americans have a real shot at causing trouble up there on Monday.
Scott Fauble from Northern Arizona Elite arrives with a lot of confidence, I saw him win the Gasparilla Half Marathon in Tampa in February. His teammate Aliphine Tuliamuk won the women’s race there and just last week came in third in the Rotterdam Marathon in a six minute personal best 2:26:48. You always get motivation when you’re training mates do well before you. Scott’s goal is a top-five finish.
Jared Ward is American with top five or higher goals, as well. The 2016 Olympian finished sixth at the Rio Olympic Marathon, and comes in off of 62 minute half marathon in New York City in March. His goals are, in order: 2:09, podium finish, or top 10 finish to get an automatic Olympic qualifying position, as any top 10 finish in an Abbott World Marathon Major accords that automatic Olympic qualifier.
We can’t forget about old friend Abdi Abdirahman. The four-time Olympian has been training over in Ethiopia with the British star Mo Farah since January 1. Abdi’s top finish in Boston is sixth two years ago and he’s in better shape now, he claims. Says even at 42 years of age a top-five finish is not out of the question. And training at 9000 feet altitude then coming in to the New York City Half in March where he ran 63 minutes and sticking with the leaders till 20 km shows he isn’t talking crazy.
Someone I assume will be on the podium is a man who seven times has been on a Boston or New York City Marathon podium, including two wins in Boston and last November’s TCS New York City Marathon win, as well.
Lelisa Desisa is no smooth operator. In fact, he looks like he’s running in the shallow end of the pool, pulling himself along. But it works like the devil, 2:05:52 in NYC, for instance.
Of course, he was another one of the East Africans to drop out of the race last year. So when I asked him what the difference was between 2018 and 2015 when he won Boston in 2:09:17 when it was 44°F with east southeast headwinds, he said, “ in 2015, the weather was wet and light showers. Last year it was very hard rain and very windy and very cold. In those cold conditions, the body can’t resist.”
So he dropped out of 35km. This year if it’s just a little bit warmer he doesn’t care about the rain. If he can find his rhythm, watch out. Guy is as tough as a tick on a hemophiliac.
I’ve made a big deal about this Lawrence Cherono fellow, the two-time Honolulu course record holder, two-time Amsterdam winner and their course record holder last October in 2:04:06. He is another one of these guys who’s run a lot of marathons, 13, and come out on top six times.
I asked him on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being tops and one being the lowest, what’s your shape? He said “seven”. I said seven? Is that the same as Amsterdam when your ran 2:04? He said, “yes.”
I said, well how do you ever get the Spinal Tap’s 11? And he said, “what?”
I said, never mind.
We might find out a little bit how he’ll run Monday after his training partner Paul Lonyongata runs the Paris Marathon on Sunday.
2017 men’s champion Geoffrey Kirui can actually smile about last year now. He had a 1:31 lead at 35km (21.7 miles), and still :20 at 40km (24.8 miles) before the wheels came off.
He said he’s had good preparation in Keringat this year, his home village. He trains with 15 guys, and said no prep race, and has had the same program that has brought him victories at the world championships in 2017 and Boston 2017. He loves Boston and is anxious to prove that last year was the fluke, not the win in 2017.
Let’s move to Jordan Hasay, the American star from the Nike Oregon Project coached by Boston native and 1982 champ Alberto Salazar.
“I feel fresh,” she told me. “In fact, I’m sad (the training for Boston) is over.”
Jordan has only run two Marathons, both third place finishes, Boston and Chicago 2017. Her 2:23:00 in Boston was a debut American record, and her 2:20: 57 in Chicago was the second all-time American performance by a woman.
But then her career really hit the skids in 2018 when she suffered stress fractures in her heel bone and had to withdraw from both Boston and Chicago. So getting back to full training has been a godsend for the California native who has been an international stand-out since her teenage years.
The two races she has done in preparation for Boston have not been special by any stretch. She ran 71:07 to finish sixth at the Rome-Ostia Half Marathon March 10th and then followed that up a week later at her home in Portland, Oregon with a 51:34 win at the Shamrock 15km, which she then went on to add 14 more miles for 23 mile daily workout.
Both those races were more like tempo runs as much as races, something to pin a number on once again, lace on her racing shoes and see where they took her. It’s her experience which has changed since last we saw her in Boston.
“(Winner) Edna (Kiplagat) made a hard move at 18 miles in 2017, “said Jordan. “I said, ‘I have plenty of time’, and let her go. Now I have the training and experience where I’m ready to answer the call if somebody makes that kind a move on Monday. I’m excited. In Chicago 2017 I was all alone after halfway. This time I feel like I can race it.”
There are a lot more people to talk to. Still not much time. I will eventually get everyone, but I guess that’s a good thing about this year’s field at Boston, lots of people capable of winning. Now if only the weather would cooperate. Here’s that deal as we see it now.
There’s one weather system coming from the southwest bringing rain and warm temperatures that will collide with another front coming from the Midwest which is dumping snow out there right now. Which means one warm-weather system is going to meet a cold-weather system and they’re going to intersect on the Boston marathon course on Monday afternoon. Oh, my!
Rain and cold temperatures are not the issue, for safety purposes it’s the possible thunder and lightning. Which has never happened in the history of the Boston Marathon.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) made the decision several years ago when the weather was threatening like this to let the BAA take the buses full of runners out to Hopkinton and start the race.
Back then there were not enough public spaces available in Hopkinton to house all the runners in case there was thunder and lightning. Now, two new schools have been built so they can accommodate the runners. But there are plans in place if the weather goes seriously sideways.
More on that and the chatter around the lobby later.