Last year’s Boston Marathon was unlike any other, a celebration of healing and reclaiming the race after the horrific events of 2013. This time, it was business as usual, and keeping to the recent script, Caroline Rotich became the sixth Kenyan woman in seven years to win the race.
Rotich, who finished fourth in the 2011 Boston Marathon and DNF’d the following year, outran a pair of Ethiopians over the final four miles en route to a 2:24:55 victory, sprinting past Mare Dibaba in the final meters for a 4-second victory with last year’s runner-up, Buzuesh Deba, another 10 ticks back in third.
After a seemingly never-ending winter had pummeled Boston with a record-setting snowfall, chilly conditions had at least one more reprise with temperatures in the low 40s and intermittent showers at the start. Thus, making for a modest, tactical opening.
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Leading the race from the early going and over the Newton hills, Desiree Linden seemed intent on reprising Meb Keflezighi’s historic streak-breaker from last year as the first American woman to win in 30 years. But unlike last year when a talented and speedy pack of contenders inexplicably allowed Keflezighi to run away with a large and early enough lead that held off a late comeback by Wilson Chebet, a group of nine other women stuck closely to Linden, who seemed nonplussed by her pacesetting duties.
“I knew it was going to be a long day out there,” says Linden who finished fourth in 2:25:39, continuing her return to the top of American marathoning after missing most of the 2012 season, including the Olympic race, due to a leg injury. “I was alright with being aggressive and pushing it early, making it a full marathon and grinding it out. I think the weather played into that.”
Throughout the race, Linden occasionally relinquished the lead, but quickly moved back into the front. “Someone would creep up on me and I’d drop back on their shoulder, but then the pace would slow so I’d go back to the front,” she says. “I knew the more people were around me in the race at the end, the further back I was going to finish. I didn’t mind doing a little work to keep the pace honest.”
Linden continued to maintain pace in the 5:30 range as the women’s elite pack turned into the Newton hills. The increased effort began to have an effect, whittling the pack in half, with fellow Americans Shalane Flanagan and Amy Cragg among those dropped.
As the group rounded the turn at Cleveland Circle to begin the long downhill into Boston and the finish, Rotich and the two Ethiopians raised the ante by dropping down the pace closer to 5 minutes, shedding Linden, Sharon Cherop and Caroline Kilel, who had beat out Linden in the final meters of her win in the 2011 race.
It soon became apparent that spectators at the finish were in for a similar scene this year, as the trio stuck together past Fenway Park and through Kenmore Square. “I wanted to get between them, but they stayed together so I decided to stay behind until the last kilometer,” Rotich says.
Just before the final dip under Mass Avenue, Deba fell back, leaving Rotich and Dibaba to fight for the top honors. “When she fell back, I knew I would be top two, and then when we made the last turn and I saw the finish, I thought I had a chance to win,” Rotich says.
It was Dibaba who made the first move down the hill on Boylston Street, and opened a small but significant gap that seemed like it might suffice for the victory. However, Rotich found a last spurt of adrenaline and sprinted past Dibaba in the final 10 meters to snatch away the win. “When we got so close, I said to myself I was not going to let it go after all that,” Rotich says.
The victory was Rotich’s first, as well as first podium finish, in seven previous World Marathon Major races, and her third overall. Not the typical Kenyan runner, Rotich attended high school in Japan and spends much of the year training in Santa Fe, N.M., with her coach, American triathlete Ryan Bolton. “People ask how that can work, but my times have gotten faster since I started working with him,” she says.
It certainly proved to be a winning formula for her in Boston.
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