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Cheruiyot Demolishes Boston Marathon Course Record

21-year-old Kenyan lops 1 minute 22 seconds off four-year-old mark. Erkesso wins women’s race.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

It was a race for the ages in Boston Monday as Kenya’s Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot – not the Robert Cheruiyot who won four past Boston Marathons – broke free of one of the strongest Boston Marathon fields in history to win in a course record time of 2:05:52. American Ryan Hall recorded the fastest American time ever at Boston – 2:08:41 – for fourth place. Ethiopia’s Teyba Erkesso won a thrilling women’s race by three seconds ahead of Russia’s Tatyana Pushkareva (2:26:11 to 2:26:14).

The day dawned unexpectedly sunny, but the cold air of the preceding days remained stubbornly settled over the Boston area. The temperature was a brisk but ideal 47 degrees at the start line in Hopkinton when the women’s elite race started at 9:32 am. Strong breezes out of the northwest acted primarily as left-to-right crosswinds on the runners as they made their easterly trek toward Boston.

“The climate was very nice today,” said men’s winner Cheruiyot. “The wind was not a problem.”

The Women’s Race

It was widely hoped that the women’s race would not be the dawdling affair it had been the previous year, and Japan’s Yurika Nakamura did her part to ensure that it was not by leading a tightly formed elite pack through the first mile in an honest 5:29. Despite a modest slowing over the next couple of miles, the lead group had shrunk down to just a dozen runners by the time it reached 5 km in 17:10.

The consensus strongest contenders—defending champion Salina Kosgei of Kenya, 27-year-old Erkesso and her countrywoman Dire Tune (second last year, first in 2008), and Madai Perez of Mexico—were content to follow as Nakamura took turns at the front over the next several miles with China’s Weiwei Sun, a veteran of 22 marathons already at age 25.

Approaching 10 miles the lead group began to show some impatience and the lead rotated. Russia’s Tatyana Pushkareva took a turn in front, Nakamura briefly reclaimed it, and then Tune took it from her. When Erkesso took the reigns she did so with a major increase of speed that caused all but Tune and fellow Ethiopian Koren Yal to drop away behind.

As Erkesso continued to force the pace, Tune found it to be a bit too much and dropped off, making it a two-woman race. The inevitable happened as the pair climbed the hills of Newton. Erkesso threw down a mean surge in the 17th mile that Yal was completely unable to respond to. Over the next five miles she built a lead of more than one minute over Pushkareva, who patiently ran her own race and overtook the fading Yal and Tune. But in the 22nd mile, shortly after taking fluid, Erkesso put a hand to her stomach and grimaced. As her pace slackened, a smiling Pushkareva held steady and ate into Erkesso’s advantage.

“My strategy for this race was to hang back a little bit in the first half and run the second half a little faster,” Pushkareva said through a translator.

With 5 km left to run, Erkesso became visible ahead of Pushkareva, and she stopped smiling to focus on the chase. Another mile down the road Erkesso began to hear the cheers for Pushkareva behind her, causing her to look back in panic. The combination of that panic and the welcome sight of the 25-mile mark gave her new energy and she rallied as best she could, the lead now down to 10 seconds. Pushkareva did not relent. She continued to close the gap on the long final stretch on Boylston Street. Delirious with fatigue, Erkesso failed to see the finish tape right in front of her and almost veered off course with only steps to go. Alert race staff pointed her back on track and she broke the tape at 2:06:11, just three seconds ahead of Pushkareva.

“I didn’t believe I would win the race until I crossed the finish line, because I saw the Russian coming to me,” Erkesso said through a translator.

A couple of minutes after Erkesso sealed her hard-fought win, Kosgei found herself having to sprint down Boylston Street for the second time in two years, this time for third place (2:28:35), nipping Girma Waynishet of Ethiopia by one second. “I did my level best,” said the defending champion, who was slowed by a lingering hamstring injury suffered during last year’s New York City Marathon. Bruna Genovese of Italy was fifth in 2:29:12.

The Men’s Race

As he did in 2009, Ryan Hall went straight to the front on the steeply downhill opening stretch of the race, but not at the same self-sabotaging world-record pace. He hit the mile mark in 4:52, a full 15 seconds slower than the year before, and followed that with a 4:48 second mile, defending champion Deriba Merga of Ethiopia closely shadowing him.

Hall drifted to the back of the lead group at the first fluid station, located ahead of the 5 km point, reached in 14:57, but soon thereafter returned to the front. “My two words for this race were joy and freedom,” Hall said. “I wanted to feel free to take the lead and go out of the lead when I wanted to, and not feel pressure to follow every move.” Hall continued to lead on course-record pace through 10 km (33:05). Fellow American Meb Keflezighi, whose training was compromised by a knee injury, remained with the lead pack but looked uncomfortable.

Entering Wellesley, Cheruiyot surged aggressively, suddenly breaking into a seeming near-sprint and splintering the lead pack. Merga covered the move and then upped the ante, driving away from the rest with only Kenya’s Moses Kigen shadowing as the pair completed a 4:34 10th mile. The wind went out of the surge, however, and a large pack of front runners reformed. A 5:02 11th mile by that group allowed Hall, who had dropped as much as 15 seconds back, to recapture the lead, taking the group past the halfway mark at 1:03:24.

Cheruiyot surged again in mile 14. Only six others were able to match his 4:37-4:42 pace over the next two miles. The survivors were Merga, Keflezighi, Ethiopian Tekeste Kebede, Kenyans David Mandago, Gilbert Yegon and Moses Kipkosge, and the man most widely picked as the pre-race favorite, Morocco’s Abderrahim Goumri. Not among them was Hall.

Another 4:42 mile in the 18th mile of the race was more than five of the seven could handle. The defending champion was matched stride for stride by Cheruiyot but no one else. Goumri not only fell off but dropped out. Merga briefly clawed ahead of Cheruiyot in one of the brutal hills of Newton, but Cheruiyot clawed right back and the two resumed their shoulder-to-shoulder battle. Incredibly, they continued to blast through sub-4:40 miles over Heartbreak Hill and beyond.

At 40 km, Cheruiyot took advantage of a slight slackening of the pace and broke away from Merga, who let the young Kenyan go without a fight. “I was feeling pain in my legs at that point and I couldn’t run any faster,” Merga said through a translator. The dream of a repeat victory now shattered, Merga slowly faded as a steady Ryan Hall picked off former members of the big surge, overtaking a clearly pained Keflezighi just ahead of the 40 km point.

“When I saw him coming back I wasn’t too excited about that,” Hall said. “He definitely wasn’t the guy I was looking to pass at that point.”

Although he won big, Cheruiyot did not win easy. The pain of a reaggravated hamstring injury caused him to drop his mouth wide open in agony as he sprinted down Boylston Street to break the finish tape at 2:05:52, the fastest Boston Marathon time ever by 1 minute, 22 seconds. Having overtaken Merga, Kebede followed 91 seconds behind (2:07:23).

“For a long time I dreamed of finishing top three in the Boston Marathon,” said Kebede, who finished fourth behind Ryan Hall last year.

An animated and delighted Hall was dramatically reeling in third-place Merga on the homestretch when he ran out of real estate. Merga hit the line at 2:08:39, two seconds ahead of Hall. Keflezighi gutsily limped to the finish in fifth at 2:09:26. He won’t be running again any time soon.”I felt like it was a great race for both Meb and I today,” Ryan said.

Jason Lehmkuhle made it three Americans in the top 10 with a personal best time of 2:12:33. And just two spots behind him was American Antonio Vega, also PR’ing at 2:13:47.