(© Getty Images)
Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot ran 2:05:52 to demolish the course record at the venerable B.A.A. Boston Marathon in that event's 114th running on Monday (19). Cheruiyot took a staggering minute and twenty-two seconds off the previous record of 2:07:14 set by Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot (no relation) in 2006.
Teyba Erkesso followed the pattern of 2008 women's champion Dire Tune by winning in Boston after setting a course record in Houston. Erkesso ran 2:26:11, holding off charging Russian Tatyana Pushkareva in the closing steps.
Perfect conditions allowed Cheruiyot to silence years of conventional wisdom suggesting that fast times weren't possible on the Boston course. With halfway splits of 1:03:24 and 1:02:28, however, Cheruiyot underlined long-standing wisdom that the best way to run the Boston course is to run the second, hillier half faster than the first, largely downhill half.
Runners started from the suburban town of Hopkinton in temperatures around 10 degrees C, with little or no wind. Though the field was visibly antsy from the beginning and professional pacemakers are not hired in Boston, the elite men were content to leave the lead to American Ryan Hall, who led the pack down from Hopkinton. Hall and his pursuers ran the course as the incline allowed, pushing hard on the downhill sections and relaxing on the uphills or whenever they felt a wisp of a headwind.
The course record was in sight for much of the race despite this variable pace. Because the previous course record was run with a very fast start, most of the early splits were well off the checkpoint records, and the athletes remained well within themselves. Cheruiyot was seldom visible in the front of this pack. "I had a hamstring problem when I arrived in Boston a week ago," reported Cheruiyot afterward. "I've been getting massage for a week. I wasn't worried about the hills; I was worried about my hamstring."
The pack reached the halfway mark on pace to run slightly under 2:07, then began racing in earnest as they entered the series of four hills, culminating in the infamous Heartbreak Hill, which mark the course's passage through the town of Newton.
It was defending champion Deriba Merga who shattered the pack with a hard move around the eighteenth mile, where the course makes its biggest turn. Cheruiyot followed cautiously, allowing Merga to lead up the hills. Cheruiyot attributed this strategy to a discussion he had with four-time Boston champion (and previous course-record holder) Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot. "He told me if the pace was too slow, I should move, but if anyone went with me, I should stay behind them."
At the crest of the hills, Cheruiyot felt out of the woods with his hamstrings and pushed again, dropping Merga immediately. "I stayed with him until that seemed like a bad idea," said Cheruiyot. Merga added, ruefully, "I'm in good shape, and I was going for the win. I'm very disappointed."
Cheruiyot became the first man under 2:07, not to mention 2:06, on the Boston course. Tekeste Kebede passed a fast-fading Merga to take second in 2:07:23, now the 5th fastest ever on the Boston course; Merga ran 2:08:39, and Hall finished fourth in 2:08:41.
"This will change my life," said Cheruiyot, whose previous best was a 2:06:23 last year in Frankfurt. Cheruiyot is trained by William Kiplagat, and is only 21. The similarity between his name and that of the former course record holder is likely to confuse Boston Marathon reporters and statisticians for decades.
Close finish for Erkesso
Unlike the men's race, the women's winner broke away before the halfway mark. Young Ethiopian Erkesso broke away from a pack of eight women before the pack reached the all-women's Wellesley College, and thus got the loudest cheers on the course all to herself. Erkesso, like Cheruiyot, ran a faster second half, eventually building a lead which grew past two minutes, but unlike Cheruiyot she ran most of the second half alone, and struggled to hold on to her lead.
Coming down out of the Newton Hills, Erkesso found herself in the sights of young Russian Tatyana Pushkareva, who chipped away at Erkesso's lead throughout the closing miles. Erkesso, who was suffering from the effort of breaking away, looked back often and knew she was being pursued. At the end, she won by a bare three seconds (2:26:11 to 2:26:14), the third-smallest winning margin in Boston history. (The smallest two, one and two seconds, came in 2009 and 2008 respectively.)
"I didn't believe I had won, in the last minute. I thought she would catch me before I crossed the line."
Defending champion Salina Kosgei was third in 2:28:35, just a second ahead of Waynishet Girma. 2008 champion Dire Tune dropped out before the 30km mark.
Parker Morse for the IAAF
Leading Results -
1. Robert Cheruiyot (Ken) 2:05:52 (Course Record)
2. Tekeste Kebede (Eth) 2:07:23
3. Deribe Merga (Eth) 2:08:39
4. Ryan Hall (USA) 2:08:41
5. Meb Keflezighi (USA) 2:09:26
6. Gashaw Asfaw (Eth) 2:10:53
7. John Komen (Ken) 2:11:48
8. Moses Kigen Kipkosgei (Ken) 2:12:04
9. Jason Lehmkuhle (USA) 2:12:24,
10. Alejandro Suarez (Mex) 2:12:33
11. Cutbert Nyasango (Zim) 2:12:40
12. Antonio Vega (USA) 2:13:47
13. Elijah Keitany (Ken) 2:14:48
14. Stephen Kiogora (Ken) 2:14:50
15. Chala Dechase (Eth) 2:14:57
16. Drew Polley (USA) 2:16:36
17. Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukr) 2:17:15
18. James Koskei (Ken) 2:17.28
19. Chad Johnson (USA) 2:17:41
20. Jason Delaney (USA) 2:19.17
1. Teyba Erkesso (Eth) 2:26:11
2. Tatyana Pushkareva (Rus) 2:26:14
3. Salina Kosgei (Ken) 2:28:35
4. Waynishet Girma (Eth) 2:28:36
5. Bruna Genovese (Ita) 2:29:12
6. Lidiya Grigoryeva (Rus) 2:30:31
7. Yurika Nakamura (Jpn) 2:30:40
8. Weiwei Sun (Chn) 2:31:14
9. Nailya Yulamanova (Rus) 2:31:48
10. Albina Mayorova-Ivanova (Rus) 2:31:55
11. Agnes Kiprop (Ken) 2:33:21
12. Koren Yal (Eth) 2:33:48
13. Paige Higgins (USA) 2:36:00
14. Madai Perez (Mex) 2:36:04
15. Meseret Legese (Eth) 2:37:00
16. Mary Akor (USA) 2:38:12
17. Jennifer Houck (USA) 2:39.02
18. Heidi Westover (USA) 2:39:14
19. Loretta Kilmer (USA) 2:40:07
20. Catherine Mullen (USA) 2:40:16