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U.S. Women Poised for Boston Success

Kara Goucher finished third in her Boston Marathon debut in 2009. Photo by

Several American women — not just Flanagan and Goucher — could be top-10 finishers on Monday.

In the past 10 editions of the Boston Marathon, only twice have multiple U.S. women finished in the top 10. (Once was in 2007, when Boston hosted the U.S. women’s championships, and the second was in 2011, when Desire Davila was second and Kara Goucher fifth.) In 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2010, no American women managed to do so. And as you already know and will hear incessantly until Monday afternoon, no American woman has won the race since 1985.

So by historical standards the American field this year, though small with five women, is quite good. Shalane Flanagan might win. Kara Goucher, who was third in 2009 and fifth in 2011, also has a chance. And Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce, Serena Burla, (and perhaps Alissa McKaig) all ought to believe that top-10 finishes are possible.

Flanagan is getting plenty of pre-race attention, which strikes me as appropriate: she is the strongest U.S. woman to enter Boston since Deena Kastor in 2007, and she is showing all of the confidence of a hometown favorite. (To be fair, pre-race in 2011, Desiree Davila was as strong as any U.S. runner to enter, but very few people knew it.)

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Flanagan says that she has avoided overcooking herself, as she did before the London Olympics, by running 115 or so miles per week, down from 125, and working out less frequently, two times a week instead of three. She may also be ready to capture some of Renato Canova’s magic: as Flanagan told Letsrun yesterday and elaborated on today, coach Jerry Schumacher put her through a super-compensation-like workout two weeks ago, in which she completed two 13-mile runs in the same day, both times starting out at an “up-tempo” pace and then closing out the final six miles at marathon pace. And as her recent half-marathon PR (1:08:31 on Feb. ) and strong 10K at Stanford (31:03) make clear, she is fit.

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Both Flanagan and Goucher, who are training partners based in Portland, Ore., were clear that Flanagan intends to race for the win and will cover any move made early (and, presumably, late) in the race. Goucher says that she is in better shape than she was in 2011, when she ran 2:24 for fifth, but didn’t have a totally smooth build up. She is coming off a hamstring hiccup and a late start to this training cycle, and she intends to run a conservative first half, then chase people over the final six miles.

Flanagan’s and Goucher’s coach Jerry Schumacher is famously media shy, but Flanagan said that he has a bad a case of pre-race nerves. “How I know he’s getting nervous is that he’ll literally tell me the same thing ten times,” Flanagan said. “He keeps telling me, ‘Oh, you’ve got to be patient. If I see you in the lead I’ll kill you.’ He’ll be like, ‘It’s gonna be such a hard race, you’ve got to be prepared.’ He keeps telling me I have to be prepared to die a thousand deaths.”

Hearing that made me I wonder whether there’s a bit of gamesmanship at work in the interviews both Flanagan and Goucher have given. At the very least, if I were racing Flanagan, and I knew that she would cover my move, didn’t intend to lead, and was prepared to die out on the course, I’d think twice about taking the early miles out hard. And a conservative first half probably benefits both runners: certainly Goucher, who’s slightly undertrained, and maybe Flanagan, whose marathon PR, after all, is four minutes slower than the fastest woman in the field.

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Behind them, McKaig is hoping to chip away at the 2:31 PR she notched at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Houston 15 months ago and make up for a disappointing series of shorter-distance races last summer and fall. But it’s Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce and Serena Burla who seem best positioned to sneak in for a top run. Both are coming off strong runs at the New York City Half marathon on March 17 (1:10:53 for Rothstein-Bruce, and 1:11:25 for Burla); in Rothstein-Bruce’s case, that was good for a new PR by 86 seconds. When asked if she thought she could take a similarly big chunk off her 2:29:35 marathon PR, Rothstein-Bruce she said she was. “I do. I feel like, if I approach it just like any other marathon, and you have a lot of energy with 10K to go, you can really roll.”

RELATED: Rothstein-Bruce’s Pre-Boston Workout

In the event that either can take advantage of the excellent marathoning weather forecasted for Monday (cool and dry), they should be right in the mix for a top-ten or better run. If there is anything worrisome about their strong New York half performances, it is that three of the women who beat them — Sabrina Mockenhaupt, Madai Perez, and Daine Nukuri-Johnson— are also running on Monday, and that’s not counting Flanagan, Goucher, defending champion Sharon Cherop, or any of the five other sub-2:23 women in the field. But if they can run under or right around 2:28, they should be good to go: in all but one of the past ten years, 2:28 was enough for top eight, and often much better.

About The Author:

Peter Vigneron is a senior contributing editor at Competitor magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at@PeterVigneron.