For the second straight year at the Boston Marathon, Americans played prominent roles in how the races played out. But, unlike last year, when Meb Keflezighi won in historic fashion, U.S. runners couldn’t quite steal the show on a cool and windy day in Boston on Monday.
Amid a day that featured temperatures in the mid-40s, breezy conditions and a light drizzle at times, Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa surged hard over the final 2 miles to outrun countryman Yemane Tsegay to win the men’s race in 2:09:17. It was second Boston win in the past three years. He also won in 2013, when he famously returned his winner’s medal to the city and dedicated it to the people of Boston and the victims of the terrorist bombings that year. Tsegay was second in 2:09:48
Dathan Ritzenhein turned in one of the surprise efforts of the race. He was the top American in the men’s race, placing seventh in 2:11:20.
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Caroline Rotich of Kenya won the women’s race in 2:24:55 in what turned out to be one of the most exciting finishes in race history. With a final sprint in the final two blocks down Boylston Street, she was able to outrun Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba (2:24:59) to secure her first Boston win. Buzunesh Deba, an Ethiopian who trained in New Mexico for part of the winter, finished third in 2:25:09. All three were running stride for stride for much of the final mile.
“I wasn’t going to drop her at mile 25, so I knew I would have to wait until the finish line to pass her,” Rotich said. “I have been training and training for this for a long time and I knew it wouldn’t be easy.”
Desi Linden turned in the best effort of American runners, finishing a strong fourth place in 2:25:39 after leading much of the race (and as late as the 22-mile mark), while Shalane Flanagan placed ninth in 2:27:47 after struggling on the Newton Hills.
“Because of the conditions, I knew it was going to be a longer day, a lot more work, but I was prepared for that,” Linden said. “To do well here, you have to be in for a long day of pain and that’s why I think I do well here. I’ll certainly keep coming back and giving it a shot.”
Keflezighi raced well again and remained with the lead pack through mile 21, but the 39-year-old couldn’t hold on to pace after a wicked surge split up the lead pack near mile 22. He finished a distant eighth place in 2:12:42.
In the women’s race, Americans Linden, Flanagan and Amy Cragg were locked into the large women’s lead back through 17 miles. The pace was moderate—much slower than last year—until a few surges before the Newton Hills started to break things apart. While Linden looked strong and smooth at the front, Cragg dropped off the lead pack before mile 18 and then Shalane Flanagan, one of the pre-race favorites, fell off in the middle of the bigger hills.
Linden continued to push the pace off the front late in the race, taking six women through mile 22 in 2:02:13. Dibaba’s surges splintered the pack, leaving only Rotich and Deba contending for the win with 3 miles to go. That trio ripped off a blazing 5:07 mile together at mile 24, the fastest of the race.
“With the conditions and the course, I knew today was going to be a war of attrition,” Linden said afterward. “My goal was to go out and make it a full marathon, grind it out and hopefully there wouldn’t be a huge pack over the last five or six miles. I knew I couldn’t settle and let the race slow. I knew I had to keep pushing it and take the speed out of their legs. There is no shame in losing to the three ladies I lost to today.”
The men’s race had a yo-yo pace through the first half of the race, thanks in part to a strong headwind at times. Etihiopians Tadese Tola and Gebre Gebremariam were among the early leaders, taking the leaders through the 5K mark in 14:42. At that point, Americans Keflezighi, Ritzenhein, Matt Tegenkamp and Nick Arciniaga were comfortably tucked in the front pack.
The men’s race got strung out a bit after Tola and Tsegay put in several surges, including a 3-mile stretch that averaged 4:44 per mile. Ritzenhein, Tegenkamp and Arciniaga fell off the lead pack, but then the pace slowed to 5:16 at mile 12 and 5:12 at mile 13. Suddenly Ritzenhein was not only back, but he took the lead just after a 1:04:01 half marathon split.
Ritz still led the pack of nine runners (which included Meb and 2012 champion Wesley Korir and 2013 champ Desisa) through the 30K mark of 1:31:58, having gone through the hilliest stretch of the course in a 15:53 5K. Ritzenhein eventually fell off the lead group for good near mile 21 at the top of the Newton Hills. From there, Desisa and Tsegay led an increasing faster pace through the rolling downhill toward the finish.
Other American contenders included Tegenkamp, who finished 11th in 2:13:52; Jeffrey Eggleston (12th in 2:13:52), Arciniaga (14th in 2:18:02) and ultrarunner Sage Canaday (16th in 2:19:12). On the women’s side Ariana Nelson placed 13th in 2:38:47.