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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Build-up to Boston 2009: Women's race preview

Tune returns to face a cluster of challengers in Boston's women's race

Yesterday saw our preview of the men's race, or at least, a run through of last year's race and a quick glimpse at who will race this year's 113th Boston Marathon. The real preview, along with some (precise) predictions will come tomorrow!

But first, a look at the women's race, taking the same approach as for yesterday - a look back and then a look forward.

Last year the women's race produced what the men's did not - a super-exciting race. That's not to say that Cheruiyot's win was not exciting, nor impressive, for it was both. But the women produced a sprint finish reminiscent of Tergat vs. Ramaala in NYC back in 2005.

It was Dire Tune vs Alevtina Biktimirova in a sprint finish, with Tune prevailing by the narrowest margin in the history of the race - 2 seconds. Tune of Ethiopia is back this year, though Biktimirova is not.

Last year's race was a race of two halves, - slow to start, super fast to finish. The second half was covered in 70:40, which is an incredible performance on the back of 21 km and over the Newton Hills. The table below summarizes the pacing profile of the race.

Looking at this year's field

This year's field is a little stronger than last year's, but has been something of a talking point. Apparently, Catherine Ndereba of Kenya was denied entry, because (in her words), "I talked with Boston, I wanted to run there, but they said they didn't have space for me."

Whether or not that is true, I don't know, perhaps something lost in translation. In any event, she won't line up in a field that is pretty strong anyway. LetsRun.com have, as always, done a great overview of the main contenders - to the point and accurate. They compare the London field to that of Boston, and it does reveal the gulf between the two races: London has 8 women with PBs at 2:21:34 or better, including three sub-2:20 runners. Boston has only three women with PBs under 2:25.

And admittedly, they're young runners whose times might be confounded a little by the fact that they've run "tougher" marathons, but there's still a big difference.

Another American hope

The women's race attracts more than its usual share of interest because, like the men's race, it features another hope for USA distance running in Kara Goucher. It was 1983 that the last American man won in Boston. For the women, the wait has not been quite as long - 1985 was the last American winner. Many are hoping for Goucher to do the job on Monday.

She is a bronze medallist over 10,000m at World Champs in 2007, and a couple of quick half marathons, and a second place in her debut marathon in NYC last year. Her time there was 2:25:53, which ranks her only eighth in a list of PBs going into Boston. However, as pointed out by Letsrun, that time in NYC equates to something a little faster over an easier marathon, and Goucher did beat out many women in NYC with better credentials (on paper, anyway) than her.

So she'll almost certainly feature. Whether she is quite at the level to win is another matter. Her half marathon speed is right up there, though Tune has the Ethiopian record from earlier this year to her credit at 67:18. That's faster than Goucher's recent half marathon, though that was a much debated race since she faltered at the end, while holding a large lead. Perhaps a little risky to read too much into that comparison. Goucher's best half marathon came last year, in her debut, when she ran 66:57. That suggests an exceptional marathon future, and so Goucher may be an as yet unrealized superstar over 42km.

Another potential champion is Bezenesh Bekele, who is the fastest in the field with a 2:23:03. She won Dubai this year in a shade outside 2:24, and so comes in with good credentials. A relatively disappointing race in Chicago last year (7th in 2:24) may be a once-off down-turn, it may be a sign that she's not up to the race situations she'll encounter in Boston. She's a little bit of an unknown quantity.

Draw your weapon: Ethiopian marathon rivalries add some spice

Adding some flavour to the rivalry is the story emerging from Beijing that Bekele's husband last year pulled a gun on Deriba Merga, who was Tune's training partner . This came after Tune and Bekele got into a fight on an Ethiopian team bus, after Bekele accused Tune of being undeserving of her place on the Ethiopian Olympic team. It was Bekele who missed out on Beijing when the Ethiopian selectors chose Tune to run in the Games. The confrontration, a night in prison for Bekele's husband, and a very tense period followed, which Tune describes as "really bad".

There can hardly be much in the way of "friendly" rivalry when you've been in fights and had guns pulled during arguments, so the race has a little more spice than your typical marathon!

Added to these three is Selinah Kosgei, a 2:23 runner (2006) and a consistent marathon runner. She's probably a good bet to run a mid 2:20s time. She has been fourth in London twice, second in Berlin, and fourth in New York. Consistent, but lacking the big victory. Perhaps Boston will be her day?

The only prediction I'll make today is that I suspect it will be Goucher vs the two Ethiopians, and I don't see any of the other women challenging. It's a bald assertion, but I suspect it's more likely that a 2:08 man surprises everyone by running 2:06 than it is a 2:26 woman suddenly runs a 2:23. So I think the podium will be fought out by those three, with Kosgei a dark horse, but probably fourth a minute or so down.

Quite how it will develop, well, I'll sleep on it and dig out the crystal ball tomorrow!

Join us then!