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Monday, April 19, 2010

Boston 2010 thoughts and insights

Boston 2010:  A record, a fightback and two great races

In case you missed it, check out our live coverage of the 2010 Boston Marathon from earlier today.

The men's race

The two races were, in true Boston fashion, memorable, though for very different reasons.  On the men's side, you had an incredible performance from Robert Cheruiyot the younger, who survived, and then destroyed an incredibly aggressive race on the men's side to win in 2:05:52, an improvement of almost 90 seconds on the course record.

Cheruiyot's splits are shown below.  What the table doesn't show is the unbelievable aggression in the racing which began at about 15km, when the first surges were thrown in.  Deriba Merga, the defending champ, was the main protagonist, who ran the 10th mile in 4:34 (28:23 10km pace).  That move split what had been a big group, but then it all came together as the leaders took the foot off the gas.

Ryan Hall provided the barometer for the fast-slow pace, as he was unable to respond to even small accelerations.  The result was that he spent long portions at the front of the race, then got blown off by attacks that lasted maybe one kilometer, and then he came back to the group as the pace dropped.  So in the table below, you'll think that the pace was pretty even and steady, but you're actually seeing Hall's strategy.  The real story is that many of those 14:50 intervals were made of 2:50s followed by 3:05s.  Hall clung on using what was basically an even pace until just after halfway, because that was when the attack was thrown which never came back!

Distance Time Interval time Pace for interval Projected time
5 14:53 14:53 2:59 2:05:36
10 30:07 15:14 3:03 2:07:05
15 44:48 14:51 2:58 2:06:29
20 1:00:11 15:13 3:03 2:06:58
Halfway 1:03:27 2:06:54
25 1:14:58 14:47 2:57 2:06:32
30 1:29:58 15:00 3:00 2:06:32
35 1:44:42 14:44 2:57 2:06:13
40 1:59:21 14:39 2:56 2:05:54
Finish 2:05:51
Halfway was reached in 63:27, which is well under the record pace, but with the big hills still to come, the record was anything but a certainty.  But then things got really interesting.  It was Merga who was again the aggressor, and eventually the group was cut to six, then five, and eventually two (unfortunately, we missed large parts of this attrition, because of the TV coverage).

Those two were Merga, and Robert Cheruiyot, the namesake of a man who has won this race four times.  The pace was relentless - from halfway, the pace never dropped below 3 min per kilometer, and as the table above shows, they reeled off 29:30 10km pace over the rolling Newton Hills, in what was one of the most amazing performances I've seen at Boston.

Eventually, at about 38km, Cheruiyot broke Merga's resistance, having driven up Heartbreak Hill with a grimace on his face.  It was brutal running and by this time, it was clear that the record of 2:07:14 was up for revision.

Eventually, Cheruiyot crossed the line in 2:05:52, a sub-2:06 on Boston's course, thanks to aggressive racing and an incredible 62:25 second half over the hills.  Just awesome running!

The women's race - close in the epic fightback

On the women's side, it was a tale of two runners, who had very different races.  Everything about the women's race can be gleaned from the table below.

Distance Erkesso Pushkareva Erkesso interval Pushkareva interval Gap
5 17:05 17:16 17:05 17:16 0:11
10 35:06 35:07 18:01 17:51 0:01
15 53:04 53:05 17:59 17:58 0:01
20 1:11:22 1:11:25 18:17 18:20 0:03
Halfway 1:14:52 1:15:08 0:16
25 1:27:40 1:28:32 16:18 17:07 0:58
30 1:44:31 1:45:50 16:51 17:18 1:19
35 2:01:31 2:02:36 17:00 16:46 1:05
40 2:18:52 2:19:07 17:21 16:31 0:15
Finish 2:26:11 2:26:14 0:03
Teyba Erkesso hit the front before halfway.  The pace had been slow, very slow, up to that point, projecting a 2:30 finish.

Erkesso's surge was damaging and pretty soon, she had a huge lead over everyone.  She covered the 10km from 20km to 30km in 33:09, and the "race was won".  Or so it seemed.  There were no splits coming in from the course, until, with about 7km to go, we were told that the gap to second place was 2:01.  About five minutes later, a front-on showed showed a runner in the distance, less than a minute back!  Clearly, the timing update was inaccurate, and it soon became clear that in fact, we had an almighty race on our hands.  The race went from very uneventful (apart from Erkesso's very aggressive front-running, very early in the race) to extremely intriguing.

The runner in the distance was Tatyana Pushkareva (I had never heard of her until she popped up on the horizon).  Erkesso's form had fallen off slightly, and she did look far less fluid than she had done earlier.  But she wasn't slowing dramatically, as her times in the table above suggest.

But Pushkareva had a target, and she found a 33:17 10km split of her own, from 30km to 40km.  That all but cancelled out the deficit that she had at that point.  The table above shows, in the far right column, the gap between the two.  Pushkareva was 16 seconds down at halfway (just after Erkesso's first big surge).  That gap grew to 58 seconds by 25km, then 1:19 at 30km.

Then it started to fall.  Slowly at first, down to 1:05 at 35km.  Then it fell rapidly, as Pushkareva found a 16:31 interval and Erkesso started to fade (17:21 for her over the same period).  All of a sudden, it was the Russian who was looking good for the win.

But somehow, Erkesso clung on.  The way the gap was falling between 35km and 40km, she had no chance, but she found just what she needed and going into the final mile, the lead was about 10 seconds.  That proved to be enough, just.  Pushkareva closed on her all the way to the line, but Erkesso hung on for the closest 3 seconds of her life.

Boston has now produced three epic women's finishes - Tune won by 2 seconds in 2008, then lost by 1 second in 2009, but I dare say, this was the "closest", at 3 seconds.  It was an agonizing 3 seconds for the Russian who will be wondering how she failed to reel in the stubborn Ethiopian, because with 2km to go, it seemed inevitable that the catch would come.


So all in, a great 2010 Boston Marathon.  There were disappointments, of course.  Ryan Hall once again featured by didn't deliver the win many expect him to.  His tactics of running at the front were again the topic of great debate, but I don't think he raced badly.  He just doesn't run in a manner that will win one of these highly attritional, aggressive races, since he seems unable (or unwilling) to follow the 2:50/km surges in the race.  Still, his time of 2:08:41 is the fastest ever by an American, and hardly grounds for labelling his race as "failure" (though I'm sure some will).

Other big disappointments were Dire Tune on the women's side, and Abderrahim Goumri in the men's race.  Tune was involved in the initial shake-up just before halfway, but then fell off soon after, and dropped out.  And on the men's side, Goumri featured until about 25km, but the surges were too much, and he didn't make it beyond that point.

But a great race, two great races in fact, and it sets the scene nicely for London next week!  One final word - these races without rabbits certainly do produce some enthralling entertainment.  Boston never fails.

Thanks for joining our coverage!


Oliver said...

@ Anonymous..."born to run" is a bit of a cliche.
There was a comment by the commentators about >1000 youngsters in training camps. In the western countries you have this amount cricket ranks, eg in Australia almost every boy plays cricket at some stage, and the suburbs are littered with cricket fiels in use every weekend. If you had these guys all running track or cross country, what would the outcome be.
I actually think the west is doing quite well given the relative lack of emphasis on running.

Another point, and sorry to the pushers of Pose, barefoot, forefoot etc for bringing it up. You look at most of these Africans who grew up barefeet and now run with shoes and look at the style...the classical effecient midfoot/heel-high backlift- low knee lift....then you look at Hall with an 'aggressive' action , higher knees- on the balls of feet etc. Is this the result of being told that this is a better style? Yes, for track running certainly, but it is not economical for a marathoner and I am never suprised when he doesn't convert times better (there are other examples too) or fades at the back end.

So..Africans vs west...get the same amount of interest as you have in rugby, criket , soccer then just run by keeping it simple nd not trying to 'invent' new ways ...with the money in the west, the results would be the reverse.


wayfool said...

Ryan Hall picked a strategy and stuck with it. It seemed like Ryan and his coach picked a time that they thought would win the race and then tried to run a time trial by effort. I don't think he was unable to cover the surges, he was just running his own race. Although he did stay with the script, I did feel like he did a little too much pacing (breaking the wind) in the first half that wasn't necessary. In the end, his time was good enough to win last year's Boston, but Cheruiyot II just ran an ungodly race.

Anonymous said...

We know running potential is influenced by a myriad of genetic factors, and we know different populations are on different bell curves for any given allele. Acknowledging East African advantages is just plain common sense. However, there’s no reason why a European or even Asian won’t pop with that rare combination of genes and grit. Just look how close Ritzenhein is. Obviously no one thinks cultural factors aren’t important either. Africans growing up barefoot running is a classic example, an then there’s also many cultural factors.
Ryan Hall was still amazing, but that’s just not enough anymore. It shows what a huge difference a global talent pool can make – in any sport.