2013 Boston Marathon Preview: We break down the field and try to make you look good at the office on Monday

by Robert Johnson, LetsRun.com April 13, 2013 Boston, MA – Its 7:18 pm on Saturday night and I haven’t written our Boston marathon preview yet. That’s a problem. Getting the Boston marathon preview correct is by far the most important act we at LetsRun.com do all year. Why? Because the race is always on during […]

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by Robert Johnson, LetsRun.com
April 13, 2013

Boston, MA – Its 7:18 pm on Saturday night and I haven’t written our Boston marathon preview yet. That’s a problem. Getting the Boston marathon preview correct is by far the most important act we at LetsRun.com do all year.


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Because the race is always on during the day on a Monday. Assuming you aren’t in HS or college (or unemployed), you the loyal letsrun reader will be watching it or following it live at work on Monday.

And you are known as the “running nerd expert” at work and your co-workers will likely come by your cubicle and ask you what’s going on and what they can expect to see. Get this wrong, and your promotion from your “newly into running” boss is out the window. Is there a little office romance brewing? Well, if you’re exposed as just a “running nerd” and not “running expert,” you can kiss that good-bye as well. Women (and for the moment I’m assuming you’re male), love guys with a passion, they don’t love running nerds.

Let that serve as my apology for skipping the cocktail social being put on at 7:30 by the guys at Global Athletics and here we go.

The men’s race at the 2013 Boston Marathon will be won by one of the following people.

Lelisa Desisa Benti Lelisa Desisa Benti Ethiopia 2:04:45 (Dubai, 2013) 2
Gebregziabher Gebremariam Gebregziabher Gebremariam Ethiopia 2:04:53 (Boston, 2011) 3
Markos Geneti Markos Geneti Ethiopia 2:04:54 (Dubai, 2012) 4
Levy Matebo Levy Matebo Kenya 2:05:16 (Frankfurt, 2011) 6
Dickson Chumba Dickson Chumba Kenya 2:05:46 (Eindhoven, 2012) CR 8


Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot Kenya 2:05:52 (Boston, 2010) 9
Wesley Korir Wesley Korir Kenya 2:06:13 (Chicago, 2012) 1
Raji Assefa Raji Assefa Ethiopia 2:06:24 (Paris, 2012) 10
Deriba Merga Deriba Merga Ethiopia 2:06:38 (London, 2008) 5
Micah Kogo Micah Kogo Kenya Debut 19

Now, some of your co-workers will say, “How do you know? What about the Americans? You’re not giving them a chance.”

This is the fallacy the average non-runner has. For some reason, they think that if people just try hard, that anyone can win. People don’t really think that with other sports but for some reason they think it’s true about running.

Now no matter what, make sure you don’t respond to your co-worker with the following: “Look if we went oustside and raced, we all know I’d kick your fat-butt 1000 times out of 1000.” Make sure you phrase your response properly.

How about:

“(Laugh). I wish that was the case. Did you watch the NCAA basketball tournament? Well what happens when a #16 seed plays a #1? They always lose. That’s what we’ve got here – a huge mis-match.”

Now, that should quiet them down but if they are a real sports nut – they may say, “But the Harvard women – a 16 seed – once won. So it’s got to happen eventually on the men’s side.”

Well, that’s true. Harvard did win once.

But think of it this way. The American men are a #16 seed and even if they pull off one upset, the problem is there is a total of 10 Ethiopians/Kenyas that could win on my list. So the odds of pulling off ten straight #16 versus #1 seeds? Zero.

Of the ten men on my list, nine of them have all run a marathon before at 2:06:38 or faster – tell your co-worker that’s 4:49.8 per mile or faster. The top American man in terms of time, Jason Hartmann, has run 2:11:06 – that’s 5:00.0 per mile. So he’s more than 10 seconds per mile slower. That’s 2.5 seconds per lap for 105.48 laps. Not happening.

In terms of the Kenyans/Ethiopains, there are five elites from each country. In terms of who is likely to win, well there are three people in the field who have broken 2:05 and all are from Ethiopia. I therefore think we’ll have an Ethiopian winner on Monday.

The Ethiopians

In terms of the Ethiopians, who is the best? Well the good news is they all train together so you think they’d know who has been looking the best. And the one with the fastest pr of the bunch, Lelisa Desisa, is also the youngest at age 23 and guess what? I did a long interview with him yesterday and he told me flat out that he’s the best in practice.

Lelisa Desisa (r.), with translator Gemedu Dedefo, was full of smiles and confidence at the pre-race press conference

Lelisa Desisa (r.), with translator Gemedu Dedefo, was full of smiles and confidence at the pre-race press conference

So he’s the best. Tell your co-workers, “Watch this guy Desisa. He’s young and brazen as he crushed his first marathon in January where he won the biggest prize in marathoning ($200,000 Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon). He’s really enjoying life right now and he’s trying to come back less than three months later which isn’t conventional.”

Now, even if Desisa fades and doesn’t do well, you are safe. If he crumbles early and you get a glance from a co-worker just say, “Yeah, I kind of thought that might happen. He reminds me of (insert name of a cocky co-worker) – thinks a bit that the rules don’t apply to him. Time to eat a little Humble Pie. He seems like a fun guy though with a big smile. He’ll be back in the future. Plus that win last in Dubai was on a totally flat course. He’s never raced a hilly marathon before.”

There are two other Ethiopians you need to have on the tip of your tongue: Gebre Gebremariam who won New York in a sprint finish in 2010 and Deriba Merga. Merga is brash and known to go crazy early in a race. So if he is pushing the pace early say, “I thought he might do this (remember, the key is to appear to be very smart and all knowning, it doesn’t really matter if what you are saying is true). He did this in the Olympics in 2008 when he went for broke and went all in to try to win gold and ended up getting passed at the very end and finished 4th.”

You say that right away and by the time Larry Rawson or someone on the telecast finds their notes and says the same thing, you’ll appear to be smarter than even the tv announcers. You can thank us for the 10% raise.

If Gebremariam wins, it likely will be at the end as he doesn’t like to lead until the very end. If it comes down to a sprint finish at the very end between Desisa and Gebrermariam, you need to realize that Desisa’s win in Dubai also came in a sprint finish, but with five people involved. He’s younger so I’d say go with him.

The Kenyans

Wesley Korir

The defending champion is Wesley Korir. Since he’s the defending champion, he’ll be getting a lot of publicity on tv. Now remember, the goal is for you to get a raise or get a new significant other by looking really smart, so this is critical. Right when the race starts or even before, whenever they first show Korir, you need to say, “I know he won last year but I dont think he’s got much of a chance this year.”

Now Korir is a good marathoner but he’s only got the seventh best in terms of PB and let’s be honest, he only won last year because it was 80+ degrees out and he let everyone else beat themselves. So you can explain that or tell them, “You know, he’s a politician now. After he won Boston, he decided to run for office in Kenya which happened earlier this year. You know those politicians – they never live up to their promises.”

Now, you’re kind of throwing Korir under the bus by using the politics line against him as he seems genuinely interested in helping the poor but remember the point of this is to pump yourself up, not be fair.

Then before you talk about the other Kenyans individually say, “You know it’s been a really wet spring in Kenya. There has been a lot of flooding and the dirt roads have been largely not  runnable so the Kenyans have had a tough time training the last few weeks. Given that and the fact the Ethiopians have better times coming in, I’d say it’s unlikely a Kenyan wins today.”

If you remember to say that, you look like an expert on both weather and running while looking worldly at the same time.

As for the Kenyans individually, Micah Kogo is a bit of a wild-card as this is his first marathon. The sixth fastest man ever at 10,000, who won a bronze in the 10,000 at the 2008 Olympics, told me his training has been going well. That being said, he’s taken a long time to move up to the marathon so that makes me a little bit nervous and wonder if the longer distance doesn’t come naturally to him.

Either way you are safe with him. He either does well and is viewed as a potential star or he struggles in his first marathon.

Two insiders told us to watch out for Dickson Chumba but Chumba told us he’s not in tip-top shape so I guess I’ll believe him and discount him. Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot won here in 2010 but did next to nothing last year as he’s got a leg injury. It’s better but still hurts a little and you aren’t winning a race of Boston’s quality unless you are 100%.

Levy Metebo (Omari) looked like the winner for a while last year in the heat of Boston before ending up second, but he’s only broken 2:10 in 2 of 6 career marathons.

Prediction: I’ve already discounted all five of the Kenyans. So who wins? My guess is Desisa and if so he’s a big star.

Top American?

Every year a badge of honor goes to the top American. Last year, Jason Hartmann was the top American in fourth. Hartmann has it tough in the pro running world as he has no shoe contract. That being said, don’t mention that to your co-workers as they won’t like to hear that most runner’s have shoe contracts and don’t have to “work.” If you try to play up his blue-collar nature, it will backfire as most people stuck in a cubicle probably think three hours outside training a day ain’t too bad.

Hartmann or fellow 2:11 runner Fernando Cabada will be the top American barring two DNFs. No need to talk too much to the co-workers about them except for the fact that both are likely to run ‘smart’ and pace themselves appropriately for a 2:09-2:10 and not try to go with the leaders.

Maybe mention, “They know where they stand – not trying to be something they aren’t which is a quality I admire – reminds me of _______ (a nice co-worker who isn’t trying to move up the ladder surreptitiously).

Top Canadian?

Since I don’t know who is going to finish first – Cabada or Hartmann – it might be best to play up the “top Canadian” angle as that’s basically a gimme. Canadian Rob Watson, who ran 2:13:37 last year in Rotterdam is the only elite Canadian in the field. Thus he has the honors in the bag. The 29-year old is the brother of University of Virginia distance coach Pete Watson.

If Cabada and Hartmann start to struggle, you’ll look real smart if you say, “You know the top non-African might be this Canadian guy Watson who is motivated to do well after missing out on the Olympics last year.”

Women’s Race: Can Local Darling Shalane Flanagan Win?

Shalane Flanagan on Friday

In contrast to the men, America has a legitimate shot for victory on the women’s side in Shalane Flanagan, who went to high school in nearby Marblehead, MA and grew up watching this race. An American hasn’t won this race since 1985, so if she pulls this off, this will be big and you must know everything you can about Shalane.

Shalane’s mom and dad both ran and her mom had the world record when it was brand new at 2:49.40. Little known fact: her mom was the first woman in the United States of America to receive a collegiate athletic scholarship – to Indiana State. Mention that and every feminist in the office will love you and Flanagan for being associated with a trail-blazer.

Flanagan set a half-marathon PR in her buildup for Boston so she seems to be in good form. Given the fact she has won an Olympic medal at 10,000 (bronze 2008) and was second in the 2010 New York City Marathon, she should be in the hunt.

That being said, marathoning is like golf. Even if you are the favorite, it’s smarter to take “the field” over “the favorite” so it’s smart to bet against Flanagan as she’s not the favorite on paper.

There are five women who have run under 2:23 in the last five years and I think one of them will win.

Meseret Hailu Debele Meseret Hailu Debele Ethiopia 2:21:09 (Amsterdam, 2012) CR F2
Tirfi Tsegaye Beyene Tirfi Tsegaye Beyene Ethiopia 2:21:19 (Berlin, 2012) F3
Mamitu Daska Mamitu Daska Ethiopia 2:21:59 (Frankfurt, 2011) CR F4
Rita Jeptoo Rita Jeptoo Kenya 2:22:04 (Chicago, 2012) F5
Galina Bogomolova Sharon Cherop Kenya 2:22:39 (Dubai, 2012) F1

Like on the men’s side, it seems as if the Ethiopians have the top chances for victory based on time.

On paper, the woman to beat is Meseret Hailu. Hailu has the best PR of any lady in the field thanks to her 2:21:09 win in Amsterdam last year but before her PB she’d run 7 marathons and never broken 2:27. She did set an Ethiopian national record of 66:56 in her New York buildup so it seems as if she is the real deal. I’ll discount her early poor performances to the fact that she was very young. She’s still only 22 and needed to race a lot to make ends meet.

Yesterday, I asked her about those seven slower marathons and the quiet Hailu said she’s better now because she’s “more mature and trains more as a professional.” Her coach Getaneh Tessema, who also guides Olympic marathon champ Tiki Gelana, told me that in terms of her training “everything went well.”

Tirfi Tsegaye ran 2:21 twice last year – with a win in Paris and a second in Berlin.  Earlier this year she won in Dubai.  The knock on her? Only 11th in Boston in 2011.

Mamitu Daska has run seven marathons and has never done anything to indicate she’s anything better than a 2:22 flat runner (2:21:59 pb). That type of performance might be good enough to win on Monday but I doubt it.

Kenyan Women

In terms of the Kenyans, as with the men, they have the defending champion in Sharon Cherop but as is the case with the men, I think you can look smart by discounting her. Her best marathons (last year’s win, world championships bronze in 2011) have come in hot weather. With only a 69 minute time in Dubai the UAE at 13.1, I don’t see her repeating. What the average fan doesn’t realize is that marathoning is so competitive and so unpredictable that hardly anyone repeats – so pick against her and impress your co-workers.

Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo won in Boston way back in 2006 in her then pb of 2:23:38 and has recently shown form indicating she could win again. The 32-year old is in the form of her life as she ran a 3 minute PB at 13.1 at the RAK half marathon leading into Boston (66:56) after PRing in the marathon last year in Chicago (2:22:04) for the first time since her Boston win.

One key last point. If Flanagan wins, whatever you do, don’t try to look smart by pointing out that 11 women ran faster than Meseret Hailu’s 2:21:09 last year and none of them are in Boston. Trying to look smart by saying something along the lines of “Shalane might not have won if everyone was here” isn’t going to make you look good. It will make you look like a chauvinistic anti-New England pig.

Don’t do it.

Kara Goucher on Friday

Shalane’s training partner Kara Goucher is in the race as well. Goucher is a big talent who was third here in Boston in 2009 in a really slow race. But she’s coming back from injury and shouldn’t be in the hunt here. If she does win, it will equal the Miracle on Ice in 1980.

Regardless, definitely drop her name to your co-workers as they’ll be impressed that she balances 100 mile weeks with motherhood.

Prediction: We’d love to see Flanagan win but are going with the recently hot Jeptoo.

Final advice: Whatever you do – don’t print this up as a cheat sheet as then your co-workers will know you were just trying to impress them. If you need a cheat sheet, take out all of the potentially offensive comments and you’ll be all-set.

If you want to see a photo of the elites so you know who you are watching on tv, take a look here: 2013 Boston Marathon Pre-Race Press Conference Photos.

More: LRC Elite Media Day At The 2013 Boston Marathon: Trying To Get The Inside Scoop On The Leading Ethiopian And Kenyan Contenders
*LRC Fernando Cabada Hoping For Race Of His Life And Top Five Showing At 2013 Boston Marathon
*LRC Stephanie Rothstein-Bruce Talks Prior To 2013 Boston Marathon
*LRC Jason Hartmann Has Upped His Mileage But Talks To LetsRun Before The 2013
Boston Marathon

*LRC Shalane Flanagan Prior To 2013 Boston Marathon: “I don’t know if I’m in the best shape (ever) but I certainly feel really good. … It’s by far the best I’ve felt in a marathon buildup.”

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