Tuesday after Monday’s 126th Boston Marathon and the quads may be aching, but the spirits are still soaring. Patriots Day 2022 was a day of glory, of return, of gratitude and redemption.
After a Covid-cancelled 2020 and a pandemic-delayed 2021, Boston returned to the gentle caresses of her springtime home in 2022. And what a return it was.
Today, the BAA presented its champions to the media, still basking in the glow of their hard-earned victories. Outside, in the gilded Copley Plaza lobby, others were licking their wounds and processing what went wrong after months of arduous preparation.
When I asked men’s champion Evans Chebet why he decided to move at 22 miles over the top of Heartbreak Hill – the exact same spot his training partner and defending champion Benson Kipruto (3rd, yesterday) made his winning move in 2021 – Evans said, “I had tried three times before (to go) and I decided to try the fourth time. And this time it worked.”
No kidding. Strange how successful a 13:55 split from 35-40km can be. Zoom!
The Uber confident Olympic and New York City Marathon champion Peres Jepchirchir, who is now the first athlete to win an Olympic gold medal, a New York and Boston marathon title, confided she knew she was going to win against Ethiopia’s Ababel Yeshaneh well before the stretch run down Boylston Street.
“I knew I was going to win the race at 40km when I tried the first time and she caught me. But I knew then I was stronger than her.”
It was a bold move as the two East Africans headed into Kenmore Square with 1 mile to go. They had dispatched of Joyciline Jepkosgei, their third amigo comprising the lead pack in mile 22.
At the time, Peres’s acceleration looked like it might be the winning move. But Ababel Yeshaneh not only answered but raised the stakes at Charlesgate a few blocks later. In fact, the two tiny titans exchanged the lead something like six times in the final mile in what had to be the most exciting women’s finish since 2011 when Caroline Killel outkicked Des Linden on Boylston Street. But 2011’s tussle wasn’t nearly the same kind of battle royal from a mile out.
We also asked Peres what she and Ababel were talking about in that final mile as there was obviously some communication going on between them. And she said when Ababel was behind her, she clipped Peres’s foot several times and hit her arm as well. That’s a “getaway from me” sort of conversation.
But people clanking together while racing in close order often happens and we generally say “I’m sorry” simultaneously to one another. That’s just racing.
When I asked about the Boston crowds, Peres’s face just lit up.
“Wow! I never entered a race with so many spectators. They gave me so much energy. They kept yelling, ‘ Jepchirchir! Jepchirchir! At times it was deafening.”
Since she first began racing in 2013, Ms. Jepchirchir has competed in 35 races, winning 23 from 5Km to the marathon, a remarkable rate of success in the modern competitive world. On top of which, she is self-coached! Well, give that coach a raise!
Among the biggest disappointments of the day was Geoffrey Kamworor, the two-time New York City Marathon champion, three-time world half marathon champion and two-time world cross-country champion. Also the protege and training partner of world record holder Eliud Kipchoge.
Of all the athletes, this was the man people had their eyes on, because he was the most accomplished in the glittering field. But in speaking with his manager, Valentijn Trouw, they were still trying to figure out what happened.
“He was in great shape. So we’re a bit confused why did this happen.”
Geoffrey himself told me “I felt good from the start until 22 km. And then I began having muscle cramps in my quads.”
Welcome to the Boston course, Geoffrey. He ended up stopping three times and finished 18th in 2:11:49. Of the other top Global athletes, Eric Kiptanui was a fifth place finisher which, according to Valentijn, was “OK, but he was coming for a bit more.”
And Birhanu Legese, two-time Tokyo Marathon champion, dropped out past 33K with leg problems.
For the women, the ageless Edna Kiplagat,42, the 2017 Boston champion and runner-up in the last two Bostons, finished in the top five for a remarkable 18th time in her 23 Abbott World Marathon Majors starts.
With 4 miles to go, Edna was running in a trio comprised of herself, Viola Cheptoo, the runner-up at the New York City Marathon last year, and Mary Ngugi, who was third in Boston last year.
According to Mary, Edna said, “we can still get them,” meaning front runners Peres Jepchirchir and Ababel Yeshaneh. Mary said, “I thought she was crazy, but then again this is Edna speaking.”
They closed within 25 or 30 seconds after having been gapped by as much as 73 seconds. In the end, the margin was just too big. Mary Ngugi took third for the second straight year. Edna was just a few steps back in fourth.
The critical time in the women’s race was between 10 and 15K. It was in that stretch from Framingham to Natick when the race broke down to the final threesome of Ababel Yeshaneh, third place finisher in New York City, JoycilineJepkosgei, winner of the London Marathon, and Peres Jepchirchir, the Olympic and New York City Marathon queen.
They ran a 4:57 9th mile in a 15:49 5K push that opened the gap. Edna said she ran 15:59 and still lost 10 seconds to the leaders.
2013 & 2015 Boston champ Lelisa Desisa DNFd at 25K, acknowledging, “I’m getting old.”
Top American Scott Fauble (7th in a PR 2:08:52) and second American, Elkenah Kibet (9th in 2:09:07), backed up previous top 10 Boston finishes in 2019 and 2018. Fauble did it as an unsponsored athlete running in a singlet he bought for himself. This performance should up his value, one would think.
In all, it was a glorious return to the skeletal trees of a New England spring and blossoming magnolias sprouting color and hope for a warmer time. And nobody would have it any other way.
According to the BAA, 28,506 runners registered. 25,227 crossed the start line, and 24,218 finished their journey into the Back Bay, a completion rate of 98.4%.
Great thanks was given to long time BAA CEO and past board president Tom Grilk for his years of service, during which time the BAA took complete charge of its signature event and grew its community support across a wide spectrum via the Boston Running Collaborative. And great hopes and best wishes for the future were extended to new (interim) CEO Jack Fleming, who has spent his entire career at the BAA since graduating from Boston College. No one deserves the position more than Jack.
See you all again in 2023 for what remains the granddaddy of all marathons. Now it is back to the left coast for some guaranteed warm weather.