Same Time Next Year?

Forget the Masters; the Boston Marathon is the real tradition unlike any other.

Eliud Kipchoge is one of the greatest distance runners the world has ever known. Coming into Monday’s Boston Marathon, he had earned victories in 12 major marathons, and failed to win just twice. The man is nearly superhuman, as I’ve documented previously, and he was certainly one of the favorites to win the men’s race.

At 11 AM yesterday, I stood at the Newton firehouse turn (mile 17.3 or so) and saw Kipchoge leading the front pack. It was a cool, rainy day, and for his standards, the pace wasn’t blistering. Nevertheless, it certainly seemed Kipchoge could be on his way to another victory.

Eliud Kipchoge, in red shorts, leading the pack
[Photo courtesy of P. Kafasis]

Then came the Newton Hills. Though Heartbreak Hill is the most famous, there are actually four notable hills in Newton, and they come deep into the race, when runners are far from fresh. As has happened so many times before, the hills changed the outcome of the race:

For the first 17 miles, Kipchoge appeared to be in control, leading the pack of elite men’s runners at the front of the race. But as has happened for more than a century, the Newton hills, culminating with the famous “Heartbreak Hill,” proved too much.

An attack from Gabriel Geay, of Tanzania, in Mile 18 put Kipchoge in trouble, as he fell back and was unable to even lead the chase group. By the time the leaders had passed the hills and eventual winner Evans Chebet made a strong move at Mile 21, Kipchoge had been dropped by the leading group and trailed by almost a minute.

In the end, Eliud Kipchoge proved human, and Evans Chebet defended his Boston crown with a stellar 2:05:54. Kipchoge’s time of 2:09:23 was only good enough for a sixth place finish. After the race, he had this to say:

I live for the moments where I get to challenge the limits. It’s never guaranteed, it’s never easy. Today was a tough day for me. I pushed myself as hard as I could but sometimes, we must accept that today wasn’t the day to push the barrier to a greater height. I want to congratulate my competitors and thank everyone in Boston and from home for the incredible support I am so humbled to receive. In sports you win and you lose and there is always tomorrow to set a new challenge. Excited for what’s ahead.

I’m already excited for next year, where I hope we’ll see Kipchoge again.