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Kirui Shines In His Boston Marathon Debut, Third Marathon Ever

In his debut, Kenya's Geoffrey Kirui pulled away at Heartbreak Hill to win the Boston Marathon, his third marathon ever.

kirui close upPhoto: Bob Betancourt

For years, the traditional wisdom has held that running the marathon, especially successfully at the highest levels, requires several attempts at the distance and a long background in distance running. But in recent years, speedy neophytes have begun turning that dictum on its head, recording near-record times in their first or second run over 26.2 miles.

That trend continued today at the 121st running of the Boston Marathon. Kenya’s Geoffrey Kirui, running his first Boston Marathon, displayed the patience and savvy of a seasoned veteran, pulling away from American Galen Rupp, who was running his third marathon and first Boston, to record a 2:09:37 victory. It was the first Kenyan men’s win since 2012.

PHOTOS: The 2017 Boston Marathon Men’s Race

Kirui broke open the race after cresting Heartbreak Hill with a pack of six, then running a scorching 14:34 for the downhill 5K on Beacon Street to drop everyone but Rupp, who was finally out of reach for first by a 4:27 split at mile 24.

“I can’t say enough about the race Geoffrey ran today,” said Rupp. “He put in several surges I was able to cover, but at the end he was just too strong. This is a very challenging course and I was really hurting the last three miles, but I tried to stay relaxed and drive to the finish, dig deep.”

kirui leading ruppPhoto: Bob Betancourt

As the Rio Olympic marathon bronze medalist, Rupp had to be considered one of the pre-race favorites in a field that wasn’t extraordinarily deep by some Boston standards. Yet the big question leading up to the race was his health, as a flareup of plantar fasciitis hampered his buildup to Marathon Monday.

“I got a cortisone shot a few weeks ago and that knocked out all the pain,” he said. “There’s always a shred of doubt, but after the first few miles I knew it was going to be OK.”

VIDEO: Galen Rupp’s Post-Race Thoughts On His First Boston Marathon

Still, Rupp had no answer for Boston Marathon rookie Kirui over the final stretch of the course. “I was feeling good, my training was good, but I knew I would be facing my colleagues who had run many times at Boston,” said Kirui. “I felt I could challenge for the victory—we train at altitude, on hilly courses, so I felt I could run well here.”

Rupp’s runner-up 2:09:58 finish led an American resurgence at Boston. Five other countrymen cracked the top 10, including Shadrack Biwott (4th), Abdi Abdirahman (6th), Augustus Maiyo (7th), Luke Puskedra (9th) and Jared Ward (10th), the most in the prize money era which began in 1986. Perhaps most surprising of them was newly-minted masters runner Abdi Abdirahman, who was in the lead pack coming up the hills before he tangled feet with Rupp and stepped awkwardly, causing his quads to begin cramping.

“I figured I’d try to make it to 40K and then drop out, but once I got there I said, there’s only 2K more so I might as well finish,” which he did in sixth in 2:12:45, good for third American. “This is an exciting time for U.S. distance running,” said Abdirahman. “The future looks great with guys like Galen.”

rupp kirui
Photo: Bob Betancourt

“I think the sport has changed,” Rupp said about his thoughts on distance running today. “The top marathoners all have tremendous track pedigrees. You need that speed to be able to run 2:05-2:06 pace and stay relaxed. You might not run a lot of 5 and 10Ks on the track but you’ve got to have the ability to do it.”

Third-place finisher Suguru Osako also supports this trend of track runners taking over the marathon distance. The 25-year-old 10,000m runner from Japan not only ran his first Boston, but his first marathon ever in 2:10:28, just 30 seconds behind Rupp.

Certainly, on a relatively warm April day, when temperatures hovered in the low to mid-70s, it was the guys with track backgrounds and not a lot of miles and marathons in their legs who showed the way in Boston.

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