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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Looking ahead to Boston

Boston on Monday - some thoughts and interviews of interest

The 2010 Boston Marathon is the focus of the marathon world this weekend, leading into Monday's big race.  Much of the focus ahead of the race has been on Ryan Hall, the USA's number 1 marathon runner, and Meb Keflezighi, who in New York last year did what many had hoped Hall would do - become the first American male to win a Major Marathon in many, many years!

Both line up in Boston against a field that on paper, three months ago, looked really impressive, but against which a number of question marks have now been placed.  Two withdrawals - Evans Cheruiyot, and more significantly, Robert Cheruiyot, a four-time champ who finished second in New York last year.

Added to this is the patchy or completely unknown form of many of the top contenders remaining in the race.  We usually do a detailed preview, but it's been a crazy week, and besides, LetsRun.com have beaten us to it anyway, and their previews are always very thoughtful, very detailed and with good knowledge of the runners and the nuances of race preparation.  So we're "outsourcing" this year's preview to them, and you can read it here.

Hall to win?

Where I do disagree with them is on the their pick of the winner. They have picked Abderrahim Goumri for the win - he's certainly a big threat, having finished in the top 3 of Majors on 5 occasions (in 6 races). But I think Ryan Hall will win this year's Boston race. It will mean two consecutive Major wins by US athletes, a sign of the American resurgence.

But Hall is my pick because despite his lack of racing form this year, I think he has managed the build-up to the marathon more specifically.  I met his coach, Terrence Mahon, last year in Colorado Springs, where he spoke at length about his approach to altitude training at the Mammoth Lakes base camp that Hall and Mahon have used in the past.  Mahon struck me as someone who is able to adapt and learn from the nuances of "failure" (I use the word failure selectively, because Hall has run a few marathons with great hype, and thus far, done well without making the big breakthrough.  To many, he has under-achieved).

But Mahon, and what I've read of Hall's views, suggest that they have changed the preparation quite significantly this year.  You can read quite an interesting interview with Mahon here.  He is direct and understated, and he doesn't resort to cliches when he answers questions.  I always find that a sign of someone who commands attention.  On the surface, his approach is very simple, but you always get the impression it's backed up by detail and intimate knowledge, and I think this will produce a good result for Hall on Monday.

Contrast the methodical approach of Hall with that of the defending champion, Deriba Merga.  In his own interview, he said that family difficulties back home have affected his preparation, and he even said in his press conference in Boston that he does not have confidence in his own training.  I wouldn't be betting on Merga to defend...

In fact, you'd have more chance of being right if you bet that Merga won't even finish.  Have a look at his philosophy on racing:  "I always aim to win or break a world record,” Merga explained, “but I never finish unless I will finish in the top 3. If I anticipate ahead of time that I will not be top 3, I quit. That is my philosophy."

Last week, a few of you wrote in and commended James Kwambai for hanging in to the finish at the Rotterdam Marathon, where he took about 40 minutes to cover the final 7km.  No such attitude for Merga, who is an all-or-nothing guy.  It's unlikely to endear him to running followers, though I guess one can understand the pragmatism behind it.  I wonder how it affects his appearance fee when race organizers know that he's unlikely to give them a full race unless it's a great race?


In event, here's my predication for Boston.

Fast start, because the first 5km are rapid downhill.  You can see last year's splits in our detailed race analysis here, and you'll see how the race unfolded - very fast, then fast, then slower, slower and a surge.  The course profile lends itself to some erratic pacing, and so the winner is the one who gets the timing right.

My guess (and they are guesses, because it's wide open) is that a group of six will be together at halfway, reached a little slower than last year (63:39).  But the second half will be quicker too, and I expect Hall to emerge in what is usually an attritional race, won more by a sustained pace on the hills than a surge like those we will see in London next week.  Goumri should be good for a top 3 finish, and I'll go for the other Robert Cheruiyot to claim the third podium spot.

As always, we'll do live splits on the site, some comments, and discussion after the race.  So join us on Monday for Boston!



Hendrik said...

Very thoughtful preview, and I agree with every word of it. Hall, Goumri and Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot are my top 3 picks, too.