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2009 Boston Marathon Recap
By LetsRun.com
April 20, 2009
*Photos Gallery Here
*Interviews at the bottom of this article
(Note: The point of this recap isn't for us to recap the races in great detail but rather to give you our impressions. You can watch the races from our partner UniversalSports.com, read the recap at the IAAF, get all the pace details from the highly recommended LetsRun.com favorite,Science of Sport blog, or even read live LetsRun.com comments here)

Third and third.

This was supposedly the year an American was going to win the famed Boston marathon for the first time since 1984. Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall put up valiant efforts, but both ultimately had to settle for third place.

Although the results were the same for the top Americans, the races couldn't have been any different. The women's race started 30 minutes before the men, and it was slow - really slow - from the gun. The 1st 10k was reached in 37:07 (2:36 pace; the course record is 2:21). There was a slight headwind at the start and the winds would pick up during the race, but surely these professional women would start running an honest pace soon, right? Think again. The next 10k was also over 37 minutes. Things were so slow that one hour and forty-two minutes into the race, an American was leading the race. However, it was not Kara Goucher; it was forty-five-year-old Colleen De Reuck. Yes, ladies and gentleman, a 45-year-old was leading the Boston Marathon with less than 10 miles to go.

Colleen De Reuck:
"I was embarrassed."

As De Reuck said in the post-race press conference (her comments are to the right and also in this Boston Globe article), "I was a little bit embarrassed. You come to a marathon -- and a big marathon like this -- you get paid a lot of money to come and run and I think you should race."

The ladies would save the racing for the end and it was a barnburner at the finish. Goucher was the one pushing the pace and she waited really until the top of Heartbreak Hill to get things going. The pack of thirteen was soon down to five, and then a 5:09 mile (according to the IAAF) from 23 to 24 whittled it down to Goucher, last year's champ Dire Tune of Ethiopia (who won the previous closest women's Boston Marathon with a sprint victory over Alevtina Biktimirova by 2 seconds), and Salina Kosgei of Kenya.

All three ran together until the final half mile, making for an incredibly exciting finish. Goucher would drop 5 meters behind before the final turn and down the final straight it was Tune versus Kosgei. Tune had worked her magic last year on this final stretch, but this year Kosgei was just too tough. The pair battled all the way until the tape with Kosgei just winning by a few steps (and 1 second) as Tune collapsed to the ground at the finish and had to be carted off on a stretcher. Goucher finished 8 more seconds back in a very respectable third (the same place she finished in her marathon debut at the ING NYC Marathon in 2008).

Kara Goucher:
"I feel good and sad at the same time."

Goucher: "I feel good and sad at the same time."
Goucher had come closer than any American in the last 25 years to winning the Boston Marathon, but she ultimately came up about a quarter-mile short. Goucher had mixed feelings after the race. She burst into tears at the finish and had to be consoled by her husband Adam. At the press conference she seemed happy and proud at times, yet her voice also at times was on the verge of tears. The 21-second video clip on the right, however, from sometimes LetsRun.com correspondent Chris Lotsbom, perhaps sums up Goucher's day best. In 21 seconds, she smiles, her voice cracks on the verge of tears, and she says, "I feel good and sad at the same time." Perfectly understandable emotions for Goucher to have (longer post-race interview at the bottom of this article).

At the post race press conference she recounted to the Globe, "I just wanted it for everybody that wanted it for me ... I just wanted to be the one that won for everybody ... (she specifically mentioned her husband, her family, Alberto Salazar and Nike). Usually I have a great kick. I thought it was going to be there ... People were so proud to see an American up front, and there was a lot of 'U.S.A.!' cheering. Two Americans in the top three is fantastic. I think once things settle in a bit, it'll be a really great day. We'll be really proud of this."

Kosgei's Career-Changing Win
For Kosgei, a very successful runner (2002 Commonwealth Games 10k champ), who had started out as a sprinter and kept moving up in distance, Monday's win was a career-defining moment. Kosgei had run 2:23:22 at the Berlin Marathon in 2006 and finished 10th at last year's Olympics, but until Monday not many were predicting her to win a World Marathon Major. She had not won ANY marathon of any sort since December 2006.

Salina Kosgei:
"I'm very happy."

Kosgei obviously was very pleased after the race. As she says in the clip on the right, "I am very happy. I am very happy" and then starts laughing, summing it up very well. Kosgei also said at the post-race press conference, "I finished first by chance. Before I was a marathoner, I was a sprinter, running the 800m and 400m. I've never run a slower race." We doubt she's run one as rewarding either.

Men's Race: Deriba Merga Delivers
The men's race was the Deriba Merga show. The USA's Ryan Hall led early on, but then each 5k got slower and slower until Merga made his decisive move at 28k. The course is a net downhill the first 16 miles, then uphill for 5 miles, then downhill to the finish, and Merga blew things open on the uphill stretch, still making the 5k from 25k to 30k nearly a minute a mile faster than the one before it, despite running uphill (see Science of Sport Blog for more).

The only question was - had Merga gone too soon? Merga is a huge talent, but has a history of making his move too early in races and paying for it at the end. Would that happen today? No. Merga had obliterated the lead pack and would force three-time defending champ Robert Cheruiyot to drop out, but he had clear sailing to the finish and his historic Boston crown. Hall struggled at first when the break was made, but soon regained his composure and was in third chasing Merga and Kenyan Daniel Rono (who was in second) for most of the remaining part of the race. Hall came up to Rono, but Rono had just enough left in the end to hold off Hall to get second.

Ryan Hall Pleased With His Race

Ryan Hall (15:57):
"I felt like a rookie out here."

Hall afterwards was pleased with his effort and race, just not his finishing place. He said, "I felt like a rookie out there ... I was learning as I went ... jogging and racing the course are two different things ... I've got some work to do ... but I'll be back." Ryan said his intention all along was "to run his own race from the get go." Since "he likes to run fast," he took the lead early on. We've compiled Hall's comments from the press conference into one video on the right if you're interested. Nothing too ground breaking, but you get a food feel for how Hall felt on his race. Runnersworld has some comments from his coach Terrence Mahon.

Winning Boston Is Much Harder Than It Once Was
And while the old-timers who come to LetsRun.com may not want to hear this, it's true, there is a reason Ryan Hall did not win Boston today - it's a lot harder to do than in 1983. Now don't get us wrong; as a whole, America's top marathoners in 1983 may have been better than today's. The entire top 5 in 1983 was American and all five broke 2:11. Hall's time was slower than Greg Meyer's 2:09:00, but comparing times at Boston is pointless (plus Hall ran into a very stiff headwind today).

The point isn't that Greg Meyer wasn't a good runner. It's that he didn't have to face the competition Ryan Hall did today. No doubt many non-African runners today suffer from the bigotry of low expectations, but that is not the only reason for their lack of success. The level of competition is much higher. Three time defending champ Robert Cheruiyot? He got destroyed by Merga and had to drop out. Evans Cheruiyot, Robert's training partner, and the Chicago champ? Well-beaten by Hall as well. Same goes for Robert Cheruiyot the Younger. Ryan Hall has shown himself to be a consistent 2:06 marathoner, the problem is everyone he is racing is as well. Throw five Kenyan studs into the race with Greg Meyer in 1983 (Kenyan marathoning success didn't really begin until the 1990s) and the outcome would have almost certainly been very different. Ryan Hall showed today an American can win Boston again. However, it's very difficult to do and we need more Ryan Halls in the race or perhaps just more opportunities for Hall.

Daniel Rono Talks About His Race (4:12)

English For Merga?
Our latest kick at LetsRun.com is to advocate that the sport needs to make a concerted effort to market its African stars. Many of them have very interesting stories. Here is an excellent pre-race article on Deriba Merga. However, it's very hard to do if the stars don't speak very good English. So with that in mind, Boston should give Merga a $10,000 extra appearance fee if he takes English classes before defending his crown next year. We're probably the only people who attempted to do an English interview with Merga before the race. You can see the result here. As you can see, he's got a great smile. Considering he may be a long time marathon star in the sport (Merga also tied the world 15k record last month en route to a half marathon), it would be good for him and the sport to work on his English. Daniel Rono's post-race comments on the right were well done. 4 minutes of uninterrupted and very coherent English.

And instead of prattering on any more, we like LetsRun.com Employee #1 Emory Mort's comments on Boston so much, here they are stream-of-consciousness style:

Boston Ramblings
I think you can subtract at least 4:00 from the men's times for their fitness on a flat course with little to no wind.

Merga is in 2:04 low shape.
Hall is in 2:05 high shape.
Sell is in 2:12 shape.

There was a lot of time spent running in to a headwind while running up and down hills. Switch the headwind to a tailwind and Merga, Hall and Rono would have run 2:05-2:06 on that course, for sure, in my mind.

Robert Cheruiyot bombed, while his training partner (Evans Cheruiyot, who he had been killing in practice) got 5th.

I put in my preview Merga was the best bet for the money at around 9-1. Too bad I'm not a betting man.

Merga is a force, and is going to be a force here for a while. He's kind of the Ethiopian Wanjiru right now (actually, Wanjiru has to raise his game up to Merga's level ... "what have you done for me lately, Wanjiru!?"). 

Hall is still the 2nd-best non-African in the world. 2:09:42 is very good in those conditions considering the times of the other runners.

I thought there was no way 4-time champ Robert Cheruiyot was getting dropped. And he got dropped. Bad. Not even Evans Cheruiyot could hang with Hall. That's surprising.

Daniel Rono did sort of what he did in NYC '08. He ran with the lead pack and covered moves. Then he got dropped. He was able to hang on magnificently.

Hall's performance was inspiring. The way he got out there and pushed it, I liked that. It wasn't stupid, but it said, "I'm here to run today." He was! He dealt with adversity very well, picking his way through the field and coming up just short of 2nd.

Looking at the race now, Hall gave himself an excellent chance of winning (by ensuring a fast start), but still came up a minute short. If Merga blows up - as he has in the past - Hall is right there. He probably still loses to Rono.

Merga DNFed in Boston in 2006. In his first time back, he wins. He beats the 4-time champ who DNFed. Merga ran 2:06:50 in Fukuoka 2007 for 2nd, finished behind Hall in London 2008 (2:06:38), was 4th at the Olympic Games in 2008, and now in 2009 has won Houston AND Boston and it's only April 20th, 2009 (oh, and see the next paragraph for another 2009 accomplishment).

Who says you can't be in great 15km shape AND great marathon shape? Merga tied the 15km world record about 6 or 7 weeks ago at the RAK Half Marathon, coming through in 41:29 (before falling off WR pace in the final kilometers and losing to Patrick Makau).

If I'm Wanjiru or Lel, or pretty much any marathoner, I'm not particularly going to look forward to trying to defeat Deriba Merga at the marathon or half marathon distance anytime soon.

The women's race was not inspiring until the final miles. Despite the close finish, I just thought Goucher wasn't going to win in the last couple miles. Colleen DeReuck had to lead the whole damn race because nobody would inject any pace.

Kosgei and Tune had an amazing sprint to the finish. Back and forth. It was amazing.

Did Goucher believe she could kick with those girls? It looked like she hoped to have a gap in the final miles but that wasn't happening today when you wait that late to push it. I don't think she believed she could sprint with them, that's not a knock, but it was a weakness she sure didn't want to expose in front of millions of people.

If they run the race again, would she push it earlier? Who knows, she is a 10k medallist afterall.  I thought the finish was telling.  Kara finished and then cried while Tune, who won last year in a sprint finish, finished and then collapsed to the ground while the stretchers had to be brought out to take her to the hospital. Was Kara upset because she couldn't quite dig deep enough?


I Kara would have preferred a faster pace and then pull a Merga, not to have it go really slow and then have to kick with the Africans.

Props to Kara for going for it. It's weird as while I thought prior to the race that she would win it, for some reason I never felt good about her chances today once I turned the telecast on. At the start of the men's race, I thought Hall had a great chance. At about 15km I thought it's a total crapshoot, with 12 Africans and Hall. I didn't like those odds. Oh well!

Women's Videos

Salina Kosgei: (1:59)
"I'm very happy."

Kara Goucher (13:12)

Kara Goucher (:21):
"I feel good and sad at the same time."

Colleen De Reuck and James Koskei
Masters Champs



Men's Videos

 Deriba Merga via Translator (8:33)

Ryan Hall (15:57):
"I felt like a rookie out here."

Daniel Rono Talks About His Race (4:12)

Colleen De Reuck and James Koskei
Masters Champs



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