Can An American Man Really Win Boston On Monday? We Break Down The Odds

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by LetsRun.com
April 17, 2014

Greg Meyer – 1983.

30 editions of the historic Boston Marathon have come and gone without another American male winner. Given the bombings last year and the international attention being given to the race this year, a win by an American in 2014 would be truly epic.

Can it happen?

Of course it can.  It’s just not very likely. Below, we try and take the emotion out of it and break it down for you.

The good news for American fans is the two Americans men, whom we could fathom winning Boston, will both be on the 2014 Boston Start line, Meb Keflezighi and Ryan Hall. In fact, the third US Olympic marathoner from the US, Abdi Abdirahman is also in the field and talking of a podium finish.

Ryan Hall is America’s fastest marathoner. He ran a wind-aided 2:04:58 in Boston in 2011. He’s broken 2:10:00 a US record eight times – the same amount as Keflezighi. Next on the list is former WR holder Khalid Khannouchi as well as Alberto Salazar, both of whome did it five times (Khalid did 5 times while representing the US (many more for Morocco)). No one else in US history has more than two.

Meb Keflezighi is America’s most accomplished marathoner currently competing. The Olympic silver medallist in 2004 is also the only American to have won a major as he upset the form charts to win the 2009 New York City Marathon.

Good News – They say they are in shape – Bad News – So is everyone else 

The good news is both Meb and Ryan are in excellent shape. Meb won the USA Half-Marathon title in 61:23 in Houston in January and then ran 62:53 in the midst of intense marathon training at last month’s 2014 NYC Half and said that despite the time, he was in even better shape than he was when he won in Houston.

The bad news is it’s a lot harder, say 50% harder for Meb or Ryan to win Boston this year than it was for Meb to win NY in 2009

As the money on the track has dried up and the money in the marathon has swelled, more and more runners have shifted to the marathon.

Below are the lifetime prs of the people Meb beat in New York in 2009.

PRs of The Elites At The 2009 New York City Marathon
2:06:14 (now 2:03:38) – Patrick Makau (former world record holder)

2:04:27 - James Kwambai
2:06:17 (now 2:04:58) – Ryan Hall
2:05:15 – Martin Lel
2:05:27 – Jaouad Gharib
2:07:14 – Robert Cheruiyot (4-time major winner)
2:08:20 (now 2:07:33) – Abderrahim Bouramdane (Boston runner-up)
2:08:37 (now 2:06:34) – Marilson dos Santos (2-time NYC winner)

How does that compare to Boston this year? Take a look at the complete 2014 Boston elite field here or view our summarized findings below.

NYC ’09

Boston ’13

Sub 2:04

1

1

Sub 2:05

3

5

Sub 2:06

5

7

Sub 2:07

5

9

Sub 2:08

6

12

Sub 2:09

8

14

For Meb or Ryan to take home the laurel wreath on Monday, they are going to have to have a special, special performance and likely get a little or a lot of help as well.

Given the table above, it’s a conservative estimate to say it will take the equivalent of a sub-2:07 clocking to win in Boston on Monday. (The actual winning time might not be sub-2:07 due to weather or a slow start, but one would think that one of the top 7 entrants would be able to come up with a performance that is equivalent to a sub-2:07 on a flat course with rabbits).

Likely it will take the equivalent of something much faster to win.

What Are the Odds Of The Wheels  Completely Come Off For Everyone Else?

Before we turn to the chances of Meb and Ryan having a really good day, let’s first discuss the odds the entire foreign field has a really off day? Using the results database tilastapaja.org, we took a look at how often the eight foreigners in the field who have broken 2:07:00 in their careers come up with a sub-2:07 performance. The results were as follows.

Sub-2:07 Success Ratio For Elite Men’s Field in Boston
Dennis Kimetto (2:03:45) – 3 for 3
Lelisa Desisa (2:04:45) – 3 for 3
Gebre Gebremariam (2:04:54) 2 for 5 (we counted his NYC win)
Markos Geneti 2:04:54 – 3 for 5
Wilson Chebet (2:05:27) – 5 for 6
Tilahun Regassa (2:05:27) – 2 for 2
Frankline Chepkwony (2:06:11) – 2 for 5
Micah Kogo (2:06:56) – 2 for 2 (we counted his runner-up in Boston)
All Together – 22 for 31 (71.0%).

That means just 29% of the time they don’t produce a sub-2:07:00. Let’s assume that all of the top 8 men have a 71% chance of running sub-2:07:00 on a given day. What are the odds that they all don’t on a given day? Well that would be .29*.29*.29*.29*.29*.29*.29*.29 which equal .0051% or 1 in every 19,813 races. In reality they are much higher than that as tilastapaja.org likely is missing some DNFs and the odds of them all having off days aren’t independent of each other (if they all go out too fast racing each other, the odds get pretty high quickly that they don’t run sub 2:07).

One thing is clear, Meb and Ryan, aren’t likely to win because all of the other elites simply run awful on the same day.

Meb and/or Ryan are going to need to run a sub-2:07 performance to give themselves a chance.

Meb, Ryan, and Abdi Were All Smiles at the Trials in 2012

Meb, Ryan, and Abdi Were All Smiles at the Trials in 2012

How often do Meb and Ryan produce a sub-2:07?

Hall has finished 10 career marathons. 2 of them have been sub-2:07. So 20% of the time.
Keflezighi has finished 17 career marathons. He’s never run sub-2:07 but we’re going to say that he’s produced a sub-2:07 equivalent performance at the following races:

2004 Olympics – 2nd place
2004 New York – 2nd place
2005 New York – 3rd place (just 26 seconds behind Tergat)
2006 Boston – 3rd place (he was 2:42 behind the winner so we’re being generous)
2009 New York – 1st place
2012 Olympics – 4th place

That’s 6 races. It probably should be 5 but we’re feeling generous. All told Hall and Keflezighi have run the equivalent of a sub-2:08 8 out of 27 marathons that they’ve finished (29.6%). That means that more than 70% of the time, Hall and Keflezighi won’t put up a time that has a realistic chance of even being considered for the win.

Now even if they do come through with their “A” game, how often would their “A”game win? The problem that both Hall and Keflezighi face is their A games often aren’t quite as good as the A games of the other elites.

Historically, Meb and Ryan’s 8 ‘A game’ performances have produced one major win. If 12.5% (1/8) of the time that they run their “A” game, they win, then that means the odds of either one of them is 29.6% * 12.5%. That 3.7%.

Argue that 3.7% (1/27) is a little high or a little low. .0051% (1/19,813) is definitely WAY LOW. Either way the odds aren’t very good.

Meb and Ryan both spoke  confidently of their preparations on Friday of their preparations. The good news is we are indeed “Telling you there is a chance.”

Meb and Ryan Speak

We’ve got a story on Ryan Hall’s preparations here.

We spoke to Meb at the NYC half last month and on Friday in Boston. Video below.

Meb Friday:
Meb at NYC Half

 

The Other Americans

Keflezighi and Hall are far from the only two Americans in the race. As mentioned above Abdi Abdirahman is alson in the field. Abdi is a four-time US Olympian with a 2:08:56 pb from 2006 Chicago.

Like Hall, he too hasn’t finished a marathon since the 2012 US Olympic Trials. The bad news for Abdi is at age 37, it’s hard to think his best days are ahead of him.

Abdi, however, is younger than Meb, and he on Friday said the goal is a podium finish. Interview below:

 The Boston Herald has a pre-race story on Abdi, who ran a 64:19 half marathon during his buildup, in which he said he thinks he’ll go with the lead pack on Monday. “This year, I’ve been healthy most of the time. My preparation has been going real well and I’ve done what I need to do,” said Abdirahman, whose best marathon time of 2:08:56 came in Chicago in 2006.

There are four other elite Americans in the field, all of whome have run between 2:10:36 and 2:12:03.

Brett Gotcher: 29 years old, 2:10:36 pb (Houston 2010), 62:09
Prep races: 64:09 (19th place at NYC Half).
Status: Gotcher is in the same boat as Abdi and Ryan Hall. Because of injuries, he also hasn’t finished a marathon since the Olympic Trials where he ran 2:1:06 and was 5th. Gotcher told Runnerspace’s Scott Bush after the NYC Half that he actually didn’t “have a good gauge” of his fitness at all. He was just focused on getting healthy and being as fit as he could possibly be for Monday’s race.
LRC’s Take: Great to see him back at a 26.2 race but joining the sub-2:10 club likely will have to wait.
Friday interview:

Jason Hartmann: 33 years old, 2:11:06 pb (Chicago 2010), 61:51.
Prep Races: 64:17 at NYC Half (22nd place)
Status: Hartmann can take a lot of confidence in the fact he’s excelled in Boston each of the last two years, earning surprising fourth place finishes. Because of that, we are putting less stock in his mediocre 64:17 half marathon from last month. In a recent interview with Competitor.com, Hartmann sounded confident and said he was hampered by cramping in New York, “I feel really good. I just raced the New York City Half [Marathon]. It was a solid race. I had a little bit of cramping, but I got that squared away. I’m now getting in that last little bit of training before Boston.”
Prediction: Sounds like he’s going to have another solid performance in Boston this year. The problem is the field is deeper than ever so we don’t think he’ll be top 4 yet again.

Nick Arciniaga: 2:11:30 pb (Houston 2011), 63:22.
Prep Races: 29th at US XC champs in February. Then ran with leaders early before finishing 13th at US 15k on March 15.
Status: Arciniaga, who has run 12 career marathons and three times has broken 2:12, comes into Boston after winning the US Marathon Championships last fall in 2:13:11 at the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon (Video of the close finish can be watched here). Arciniaga talked at length with Ben Rosario of RunFanShop.com on Wednesday about his preparations for Boston – listen here. Now self-coached, he said at one that he’s feeling “pretty good”. Later he added that he said he’s feeling “great, poppy” and “ready to challenge himself.”
Prediction: Arciniaga’s win at Twin Cities erased the bad memories of two straight disappointing marathons (2:17 and 2:18) after he ran 2:11:56 for 8th at the Trials. He’s got experience at Boston (two races, one top 10) and sounded upbeat. Another top 10 wouldn’t stun us.

Friday interview:

Jeffrey Eggleston: 29 years old, 2:12:03 pb (Chicago 2012), 63:00.
Prep Races:
63:00 pb in half on Feb. 2nd, 64:45 on Feb. 23, 63:32 in New York on March 16th.
Status: Eggleston is a true blue-collar guy who bangs out a lot of races. 4 marathons in 2011, 4 in 2012 and 3 last year. We’re actually amazed at how durable and how consistent he is. Check out his career marathon performances:

2010
2:14:32 6 Tempe AZ 17 Jan
2:14:09 2 NC St. Paul MN 3 Oct
2011
2:16:40 1 Dick’s Pittsburgh PA 15 May
2:13:12 5 Grandma’s Duluth MN 17 Jun
2:23:33 39 WC Daegu 4 Sep
DNF PAG Guadalajara 30 Oct
2012
2:15:42 1 The Woodlands TX 3 Mar
2:14:26 2 Pittsburgh PA 6 May
2:13:13 8 Rock’n’Roll San Diego CA 3 Jun
2:12:03 16 Bank of Am Chicago IL 7 Oct
2013
2:14:57 17 Paris 7 Apr
2:14:23 13 WC Moskva 17 Aug
2:16:35 14 ING New York NY

He’s got to be feeling good about his half marathon pb leading into this one. It’s great to see a guy like him, who had a forgettable college career at UVA, getting some nice pub in the Boston Globe as well.
Prediction: How about a PB?

Friday interview:

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