April 18, 2011

Boston Marathon: Elite Race Recap

I was gearing up to post a weekend recap of all the neat stuff I did, but then I got distracted. It’s Marathon Monday! While I hadn’t made any concrete plans to watch, I ended up catching CBS Boston’s live feed online, and tweeting out updates for those who aren’t in the Northeast and couldn’t watch the video.

It was really odd for me not to be in Boston running. I’ve only done one Boston Marathon before, true, but it just felt so strange to be on the outside looking in when so many of my friends and blog buddies were there to either run or spectate.

For two years, marathoning was my life, and now I’m so out of the loop that I hadn’t even gotten everyone’s bib numbers to track them during the race! What a terrible example I am. In good news, I will be pacing the New Jersey Marathon in just under 2 weeks, so that will help me get back to the running scene.

And boy, what a running scene it was today! Japanese racers won both of the wheelchair divisions, with Masazami Soejima taking the men’s race and Wakako Tsuchida winning the women’s race and breaking the wheelchair course record AND the wheelchair world record! Fantastic. Also of note in the wheelchair race was the fact that Kurt Fearnley, who took second place, was reportedly wearing his lucky underwear. See, even the elites have their superstitious race rituals! 🙂

At first, I thought that was the big excitement we would see for the day… until I turned my attention to the women’s footrace and realized that frontrunner Kim Smith, who was leading the pack by almost a full minute, could be the first to ever win a major marathon with such an early lead! She had zoomed ahead right from the start, and her lead was absolutely unprecedented – usually, the runners stay in a pack until at least midway through, where people start dropping off.

My excitement mounted as I wondered what would happen. Smith’s form didn’t look great to me – she had kind of the Paula Radcliffe headbob thing going on, even early in the race – but in fairness, I had never seen her run before, so I had no idea if this was typical of her form. But then she bobbled, with something seemingly wrong with her ankle. I would have thought I imagined it, except for the commentary, because she kept going strong… but then a few minutes later, she peeled off to the side of the road to knead her calf and flex her foot. Was she done?? Smith bravely headed back out onto the course, but her pace was definitely a little bit slower than before – as evidenced by the fact that you could start seeing the pack catching up, and eventually overtaking her. For a little while, Smith hung in there, running in the middle of the pack and making us wonder if she was going to make a move… but then she started dropping back. Soon it was down to three: Desiree Davila of the US, and Caroline Kilel and Sharon Cherop from Kenya. Go USA!

The three of them stayed close together and were running strong, at an extremely fast pace (thanks in part to the tailwind and in part to Kim Smith’s aggressive pacesetting that the rest of the pack eventually had to match). However, while Kilel and Cherop looked they were working for it, Davila looked cool, calm, and collected. Her stride was smooth, her face was placid, and if there hadn’t been a clock on the screen and scenery whizzing by, you never would have guessed that she was running about a 5 minute mile – she looked like she was out for a long slow distance run! My favorite camerawork of the event came when they switched to an overhead aerial view of the women, which let me see exactly how gorgeous and gazelle-like the elegant elite runners’ strides were. And so powerful at the same time!

Somewhere around mile 24, Cherop dropped back, and it was down to Davila and Kilel for the last ten minutes. Twitter was exploding with cheers of “Go USA!”, as were the crowds in Boston, which I could hear in the background. I was psyched to see such an educated crowd that knew who Davila was! Meanwhile, I was glad that I was working from home, because my screams, gasps, and cheers were definitely audible and would not have been kosher in the office 🙂

The race was neck and neck right down to the last 50 feet, with the two women not even running together but with first one surging forward and then the other. Each time, you thought “ah, this is it!” and that there would be no more moves… and then the other woman would respond with a surge of her own that told the crowd that both women were in it to win it. I was glued to my laptop, having never seen a race as exciting as this! My favorite part was as they approached the turn onto Hereford Street, where the course takes some brutal underpasses (you just do not want those hills so close to the end, as I remember from my own Boston Marathon!). Turns out that like me, Davila is a big hill runner – she blew right past on that little stretch. At this point, I’d like to quote my own Twitter feed, where I wrote, “I am screaming YES YES YES in my apt! Neighbors prob think I am having great sex; little do they know what #bostonmarathon does for me.” 🙂

Davila and Kilel were back and forth all the way down Boylston, and I was on the edge of my seat. Finally, in the last 50 feet, Kilel pulled ahead to finish just 1.9 seconds ahead of Davila. After crossing the finish line, she laid down on the ground in a heap, her body racked with sobs as she cried in disbelief at her incredible accomplishment. I was disappointed that Davila hadn’t taken it for the USA, but all I could think was what an amazing race it had been for so many women. 1 minute PR and a win for Kilel, 4 minute PR for Davila, and while many were disappointed when US favorite Kara Goucher slipped back in the pack, she finished with a one minute PR herself – pretty impressive considering she just gave birth about 8 months ago!

But just when I thought the day couldn’t get any more exciting than what I’d already seen, I flipped back to the men’s race… and saw that they had only a mile to go, were well ahead of world record pace, and had two guys fighting for the lead. And would you believe that one of the frontrunners, Geoffrey Mutai, was self-trained, and that the other, Moses Mosop, was running his absolute first marathon? Unbelievably, this could be even more of a coup than the women’s race!

Fan favorite Ryan Hall had slipped back a few miles earlier, and it was down to Geoffrey Mutai and Moses Mosop, both of Kenya. The two had been together in the lead pack since the beginning, and now they were giving it their all. I couldn’t believe that I was about to see history being made, as not just one but two men broke the marathon world record! (Though I couldn’t help but think how much that would suck to break the old world record and still not be the winner.) I learned that the last time a world record was broken in Boston was back in 1975 – it’s not an easy course, but the lucky tailwind was certainly helping to make it an incredible day. As a result of how fast the guys were going (averaging about 4:40/mile), the winner’s pot was now up to a whopping $225,000… and you can bet these guys were going to go for it.

As with the women’s race, the men were still neck and neck at the turn onto Hereford, and then again for the final turn onto Boylston; however, they were staying together instead of wasting energy surging back and forth. In that final minute, Mutai made his move and slipped ahead… but after seeing the astonishing last minute surges in the women’s race, I wasn’t convinced that it was over and that Mosop wouldn’t respond until they actually both crossed the line, Mutai finishing in 2:03:02 and Mosop just four seconds behind him in 2:03:06. The best part, in my mind? I’d say that it was less than that four second gap in finish times before Mosop was hugging his countryman and congratulating him on a job well done. Great sportsmanship!

While it may now be 3pm Eastern time, there are still some brave runners out there on the Boston course, so I’d encourage you to think positive thoughts. Many people are quick to cheer on the elite runners, but it’s important to note that it can be just as heroic to finish slowly – so many runners are out there giving it their best for two or even three times as long as the elites! Congratulations to all Boston Marathoners – your accomplishment inspires us all to run harder.


8 thoughts on “Boston Marathon: Elite Race Recap”

  1. I bet you know two good friends of mine — Morgan C and Gary K!

    Morgan held the record before you did.

    Anyways – I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be in Boston – not cheering anyone on or running – on race day. Hmmm…. Hope you had fun cheering your buddies on!

    and have fun pacing in New Jersey!


  2. Thanks for the twitter updates. I was at work and wish I could have been watching. I doubt I will ever run Boston, but I may have to take the day off next year just so I can watch the feed.

    And yes, have fun pacing Jersey.

  3. I was doing the same thing at work, only I couldn’t get the online CBS Boston feed in DC, and I just couldn’t justify spending $4.99 to get it online from Universal Sports when I was at work and wasn’t certain I wouldn’t be pulled into a meeting and would miss the end. So I was refreshing my internet constantly to get the live updates from twitter and Marathonguide.com when it was down to the end between Davila and Kilel, trying not to scream out loud while at my desk. I so wanted Davila to take it, but it was just such an exciting finish and Patriots Day all around.

  4. Wow–you made this race sound so exciting! I wish I had actually watched it/paid attention to it while it was occurring, instead of just reading the papers after.

  5. I didn’t get to see the first part of the race because I’m in stupid pacific time…..BUT, I did get to see the end. I think the best part were all of the surges they they kept putting on! THAT is when it really gives you something to cheer about. LOVE IT.

  6. Great report! Thanks for posting…when I finished the race I started asking about who won but its nice to be able to find out about how it all went down…

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