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Friday, April 17, 2009

Boston Marathon crystal ball

And the winners will be...

Right, so last night I rummaged through my cupboard and in amongst the unused bicycle parts, running shoes and tennis rackets, I discovered my long-lost crystal ball and Nostradamus outfit, which I decided to put to good use. To save myself the time of having to do this post on Monday AFTER the race, I figured I would do my post-race recap and report NOW, two days earlier.

So, courtesy a look into the future, below is the report from the 113th Boston Marathon, with splits, winners and main race coverage...

Men's race

The men's race was always going to be a battle between the three Cheruiyots, one American hope in Ryan Hall, and the Ethiopian Deriba Merga. Last year, Cheruiyot threw down the gauntlet and blasted the 25 km stretch from 5km to 30km at 2:57/km pace and went unchallenged over the hilly section in the second half of the race.

However, as one of our readers (Brian) pointed out the other day, last year's Boston race was effectively a Kenyan trial for the Olympic Marathon, along with the London Marathon, which was the week before. There, Martin Lel and Sammy Wanjiru had all but assured their spots in Beijing, and other Kenyans had run sub-2:07 a few weeks before that. So the onus was squarely on Cheruiyot to send a message to the selectors, which he duly did.

This year, Boston comes before London and there's no Olympic Games anyway, so Cheruiyot's early race tactics differ substantially. Rather than take up the lead, he sits in the main group and allows the pace to drift somewhat over the first 10km. Bearing in mind that there are some downhill sections, the pace up to 15km is brisk, but not spectacular. 15km is reached in 45:01, which is marginally faster than last year's race, but without the aggressive front-running.

At this stage, it was the OTHER Robert Cheruiyot doing most of the work out front, with Evans Cheruiyot, Deriba Merga and Ryan Hall featuring at the front for short periods.

Halfway is reached in 63:10, with a group of seven men still together. Deriba Merga begins to feature more prominently, taking the lead at all the water stops in his usual front-running style. Robert Cheruiyot (the defending champ this time) is also beginning to show, with Ryan Hall having picked him as the man to mark, positioning himself on the shoulder.

The period between 25 and 35 km is decisive in Boston as the series of rolling hills (Newton Hills) sifts out the weak from the strong. And the 2009 race is no different. Here, it's Evans Cheruiyot, Ryan Hall, Deriba Merga and Robert Cheruiyot who survive longest, and early pace-setter Robert Cheruiyot (the other) is gone shortly after 30 km.

The pace has remained high, just below 3:00/km, which is searingly fast given the hilly course they're running on, and the Boston record of 2:07:14 is well and truly under threat, from all four men.

Between 35 and 40km, the pace slows, partly thanks to the brutal efforts before, but also because the main protagonists are watching each other closely now, throwing in short surges but nothing decisive. Deriba Merga looks to be struggling the most, possibly paying for his earlier moves that split the group shortly after halfway. 40km is reached in 2:00:05, still on course for a comfortable record time.

With 2km to go, Robert Cheruiyot makes his decisive move, and it's enough to gap both Merga and Hall, though only slightly. With 1km remaining, it's Cheruiyot with Evans Cheruiyot on the shoulder, and Hall and Merga involved in their own race 5 seconds further back. Robert Cheruiyot's strength however tells and he slowly, painstakingly opens a gap on Evans Cheruiyot coming up the finishing straight. He crosses the line in 2:06:32, a new Boston record, with Evans Cheruiyot four seconds behind in 2:06:36.

Hall meanwhile, spurred by the local support, holds out Merga for third, also breaking the old record comfortable - 2:06:48, while Merga is five seconds back.

So Robert K. Cheruiyot claims title number 5, in the most competitively deep and easily fastest Boston Marathon ever.

Women's race

The women's race is no less intriguing, though lacking the out-and-out quality of the men's event. With the field wide open, no clear favourite, everyone fancies their chances, and as a result, the early pace is very slow. 10 km is reached in 34:31, on course for a 2:25:39.

Predictably, all the main contenders are still there. Russia's Lidiya Grigoryeva, an experienced campaigner, is first to lose patience, perhaps deciding that a slow race doesn't suit her racing against a handful of 20-something year old Ethiopians and an American Kara Goucher with a sub-67 minute half marathon. She takes the lead shortly after 10km and the pace is lifted.

It's hardly decisive though, and the halfway mark is reached in 72:32. The slight increase in pace has done little to the main field, however, which still comprises six other athletes, including all the pre-race favourites. As in the men's race, the sifting process begins shortly after 25km, where it's Bezenesh Bekele of Ethiopia who pushes on. She has a 2:23:09 PB and is the fastest in the field on that basis, and decides that the hilly section is where she'll win the race.

Dire Tune is first to respond, inspired by the rivalry these two women possess and memories of the gun-pulling incident last year. The two Ethiopians seem, for a moment, to have made the decisive move. However, Kara Goucher and later Selinah Kosgei eventually cover the move and a group of four forms soon after the 30km mark, on a downhill section of the course. The race has become remarkably similar to the men's race. Goucher and Kosgei perhaps playing smart in the face of a very aggressive attack and equally aggressive response by the Ethiopians.

Heartbreak Hill, which is run with 9km still to go, rises only about 30m over a 700m run, so it's not that steep, but certainly does the damage in the women's race. Here, it's Tune and Goucher who move clear. The fastest half-marathons in the field, at least in recent years, are now racing over the final 5km, with Bekele and Kosgei off the pace.

40km is reached in 2:16:12, with only Goucher and Tune still at the front. Tune has the more recent marathon in her legs, a win in Dubai in January in 2:24, and that may count against her, compared to Goucher's more sparing race schedule.

With 1km to go, Goucher starts to see a small gap open up, as Tune begins to falter and drop off the pace. It's not so much a decisive move as it is a slowing of the pace by Tune, but it's enough to see Goucher grow a lead of two strides. The massive support for the local runner, cheering on their first winner (men or women) since 1985, inspires Goucher and once that gap is created, she pushes on and grows the lead.

Eventually, it is Goucher who crosses the line for the win in a new PB for her of 2:23:34, with Tune six seconds adrift. Goucher becomes the first woman victor since 1985 and is now well positioned as one of the eminent marathon runners. She may lack the fast 2:21 time that sets the super-elite apart, but her two marathons over two relatively tough courses in NYC and Boston have proven her racing capacity.

So America gets its champion, albeit in the less expected division, but both athletes have produced great performances, and Boston is back on the map after a couple of years of relatively "lesser" races compared to those of London!

And since I've posted the race report today, I can enjoy Monday's Boston Marathon without having to post. Also, if these predictions prove to be correct, then you'll be able to find me in Las Vegas next week, before my luck runs out!

Just kidding, the proper post is on the way, I'll get the splits up as soon as the race is over. The usual tables and graphs should summarize the events, so wherever in the world you are, do join us on Monday, shortly after 12pm (Boston time, or 6pm South Africa time) for the full splits, results, and the "proper" analysis!

Enjoy the race, have a great weekend. Til monday!



vikram said...

Great post Ross. Love reading your posts. I was wondering if anyone knew if the marathon(s) (Boston and London) are going to be broadcast online. Last year, someone had posted the link in the comments. Would love to be able to watch it.


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Vikram,

Surf on over to Letsrun.com---if any race or running event is being broadcast on the web, they always have all the links!

I will be checking myself because not only will I be at work on Monday, but the local stations in Chicago will not pick it up. . .and I have not checked if it will be on cable, but then there is that work thing again!

Anyway can't wait to watch, it should be a great race!

Kind Regards,

Anonymous said...

I'll play.

Men: The runners wake up on Monday morning to 45 degrees F, a slight tailwind, and overcast skies. Evans Cheruiyot and Merga decide to reenact Beijing but with good weather (with Cheruiyot playing Wanjiru) and go out at a brutal pace. They hit the half at 62:00. RKC and Hall are about a minute and a half back, figuring that the two frontrunners won't survive the Newtons. They're half right. They pass up Merga going over Heartbreak Hill and make up about 45 seconds on Evans -- but he wins in 2:05:50. RKC finishes a little stronger than Hall (2:06:34 to 2:06:38).

Women: I'll actually disagree that this is a slow race. I do agree that Grigoryeva will figure that her only chance against the faster Africans and Goucher is to go out fast and hope that they let her go. She takes off well before the half. Sorry, that only works once. Bekela, Tune and Kiprop all go with her. Goucher et al are two minutes back at the half (which they hit in 1:11). First Grigoryeva and then Kiprop fall off the pace over the Newtons. Finally, Tune opens up 30m or so on Bekela as the turn onto Boyleston. She wins in a respectable 2:23:30. Bekela 10 seconds back, Kiprop in 2:24:30, and Goucher right at 2:25:00 for a respectable fourth.

Duff McLaren (from Toronto) said...

Hey Science of Sports fans:

Univerals Sports is covering this live
I have to work on Monday, so may have sneak the BAA reports.
And Ross; Excellent coverage, can't wait to read the real thing.


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

If those are accurate, Boston will be enthralling to watch!

I saw in an interview on LetsRun.com that Evans was nervous about the hills - you never know whether the Africans are just being cagey, or if it's a language thing, or if it's true, but if he goes out hard, it'll be interesting to see.

Thanks for playing! We'll see on Monday whether your crystal ball works better than mine!

Anonymous said...

"Tune has the more recent marathon in her legs, a win in Dubai in January in 2:24"

Dire Tune did NOT win the Dubai Marathon, she didn't even take part. The winner of the Dubai Marathon is Bezunesh Bekele. Tune won the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon a few weeks later in the same country (UAE) but that's a different race and a different distance...

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Anonymous

Yes, you're right. However, note that I did NOT say that Tune won the Dubai Marathon, but that she won a marathon in Dubai. My error is geographical - I must confess that I don't know the UAE states especially well. But thanks for pointing that out.