At the world’s prominent, flat-course, paced marathons, like the ones in Berlin, London, Tokyo, Valencia, Dubai, Rotterdam, etc., race tactics are as simple as: up and out, right now, at a high rate and steady clip. No messin’ around. But no pressing either. Just purposeful, time-based running, with efficiency and fuel conservation the paramount concern.

This is the pace the alpha wants. That’s what we’re here to do. Either you can do it or you can’t. But here it is, just the same. 

This is not to be confused with competition. This is not that. This is a fast escort out to the competitive moment. 

Normally, that towline extends to 30Km, if not a little farther. Then, let the racing begin and perhaps the records fall.

When Micah Kogo made his marathon debut in Boston in 2013 – the bombing year – before the race, I told the 2008 Olympic 10,000m silver medalist and road 10K record holder to think of the race like rounds in a Major championship. In the first round, you’re just trying to qualify for the final. No need for anything fancy. Keep in Clark Kent mode and just ride the train to work. 

Then, I suggested, at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill, look around. Those are the finalists. Those are the guys you are racing against today. When you get there, it’s glasses off, cape unfurled and “Look! Up in the sky!” 

On that Patriots Day in 2013, Micah flew to a 2:10:27, second place finish, at the 117th Boston Marathon, five seconds behind winner Lelisa Desisa.

In the world’s top paced marathons, the second starting pistol generally goes off at 35 kilometers, after the final pacer has pulled off and a kilometer or two of resettling has prepped the remaining contenders for the coming assault.

In Boston, we can back it up a little to the top Heartbreak Hill at 21 miles, about 7/10ths before the 35K mark along what 62-time Boston finisher and two-time champion, Johnny Kelley called “The Haunted Mile”. But generally, around that time is when matters get deadly serious. 

Today, Tanzania’s Gabriel Geay upped the ante a mile earlier at 19 (30.5km). Perhaps he was trying to get a jump on the other six who were still in contention, who might have been waiting for Heartbreak. And to a degree, it worked. After all, he dropped the biggest name in town, Eliud Kipchoge, who led many of the early, downhill miles at near record speed, despite the slight easterly headwind.  

Boston isn’t a paced marathon. No telling what you will be asked to do, or when. So, you have to be alert, at the ready. Not everyone is. As past master,Bill Rodgers once said, “the early leader of the Boston Marathon almost never wins, almost never.”

What he meant was that the Boston course is tricky.

Except for the initial descent out of Hopkinton, and then the long downhill from Wellesley into Newton Lower Falls between miles 15 and 16, the downhills in Boston-and there are 14 miles of them-are mostly rollers. But they still require a delicate approach.

These days, the new shoe technology performs much of that job with its near-40mm foam midsoles and carbon-plated inserts. But not all of it. The quad muscles still have to act as shock absorbers, too. 

But later, between miles 17 and 21 on the Newton uphills-and there are 10 total uphill miles along the Boston course-the quads have to assist the hip-flexors as knee lifters. But if you used them up intemperately as shock absorbers on the early downs, they won’t be there to do the lifting required on the ups, much less to return as shock absorbers on the final five-mile descent into the Back Bay.

There’s a reason they say experience plays such an important role in Boston. All three of the men on the podium in 2023 came in with experience on the course, Evans Chebet and Benson Kipruto, as past champions.

Boston 2023 podium: Benson Kipruto (3rd); Evans Chebet (1st); Gabriel Geay (2nd) Steven Senne / AP

After 15 wins in 17 starts, including two Olympic gold medals, two world records, and history’s only sub-two hour marathon exhibition, Eliud Kipchoge came to the 2023 Boston Marathon because he needed a new challenge to motivate him to keep doing the daily training that can (and does) grind every athlete to dust.

Well, he came, but he did not conquer. Nor, according to his coach, Patrick Sang, did he alter his training to accommodate the specific nature of the Boston course. The poor performance in the rain also linked Boston 2023to London 2020, which creates an unwelcomed trend line. And then he’s said to have missed an aid-station bottle at a critical time? 

Concierge bottle service

Funny how Boston makes you pick up your own bottle on a course you’ve never run against former champions who have. Remember Claus-Henning Schulke, the 56-year-old German construction engineer who became Kipchoge’s concierge for bottle service in Berlin last fall? Guy went viral!

So, there’s nothing, in and of itself, to point to. Just several enough of those nothings-to-point-to, to add up to, “not his day”. Then, when he decides not to address the press afterwards, kinda leaves a disappointing taste. Come on, man, we know it hurts, and the world is watching. But man up! Play the game. You’ve been well recompensed. Finish the job. Be a pro. 

All said, there are only so many good miles in anyone’s legs. Kipchoge‘s have to be running low at age 38 after preparing for and racing 18 marathons. Will he come again? 

2023 Boston Marathon men’s lead pack early on, Kipchoge at the point (USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con)

The great Grete Waitz of Norway only came to Boston once, in 1982. She was on world record pace until she got to Coolidge Corner at 24 miles. But she hadn’t trained specifically for Boston’s downhills, either. By the time she reached Coolidge Corner, every step felt like someone was stabbing her thighs with an ice pick. She dropped out, never to return. 

In the aftermath of today’s race, it feels a little like 1983 when Boston was the American qualifying race for the inaugural World Track and Field Championships in Helsinki, Finland. 

That Patriots Day, four-time Boston champion Bill Rodgers finished in 2:12:58, good for 10th place. He desperately wanted to make the Helsinki team because if there had been a world championship in the 1970s, the odds are Bill would’ve been at least a one time world champion if not a multiple time one. 

Later, at the awards ceremony, I asked Bill how he felt. He took a beat, rubbed his chin, in that contemplative way he does, and said, “I feel tenth.“

Perfect answer.

Today, I suspect, Eliud Kipchoge feels sixth.

(Oh, and a grand thank you to all the folks at John Hancock Financial Services who gave so much to the Boston Marathon over the last 38 years. Without them, who knows what might have been? Welcome to Bank of America.)


6 thoughts on “BOSTON 2023 AFTER-ACTION REPORT


  2. Tony I think your comments are very accurate you know the marathon very well after all you were living here in Boston in the 70s when the Boston Marathon was having a rebirth thanks to coach Billy Squires some strong leadership at the ba which was beginning to consider professionalism but it ain’t kept showing you is a proven entity however the marathon is another proven entity in the end we humans are the ones that can’t keep going at the same level it’s true for everybody he showed his great strength by continuing to finish despite not achieving his goals his number one goals perhaps but we can all think of his messages which I think are some of the best messages I’ve ever heard an athlete speak of we need more leaders like Iliad kipchogi in the sports world where we really could use them would be in the political world but oh well that might be a lost cause bill

  3. I can’t understand the negative reviews. Kipchoge with no chance of winning still finished the race, and did so with his usual grace and humility. He is the GOAT of the sport of marathon racing and today did nothing to change that.

    1. He finished honorably. But should’ve addressed the press afterwards. Despite the disappointment, he is a role model, and the sport needs his leadership, not just when things go well. Other than that, he was a wonderful addition and added enormous interest in the event. Wish him well ahead.

  4. Bill felt tenth, Kipchoge likely felt sixth, but your stories and observations never feel anything but first. No matter the location, course or conditions. Thanks again for once again making me feel like I was there.

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