April 20, 2015
BOSTON — Nine thoughts on the 2015 Boston Marathon, which was won by Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa (2:09:17) on the men’s side and Kenyan Caroline Rotich (2:24:55) on the women’s side.
1) The favorite came through on the men’s side but there was a huge upset in the women’s race.
25-year-old Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia has an incredible marathon resume.
2013 Dubai – 1st 2:04:45
2013 Boston – 1st 2:10:12
2013 WChamps – 2nd
2014 Boston – DNF
2014 New York – 2nd 2:11:06
2015 Dubai – 2nd 2:05:52
2015 Boston – 1st 2:09:17
In the world of marathoning, it doesn’t get much better than that. Thus, his win was far from unexpected, especially considering the first five men in our marathon world rankings for 2014 are all running London on Sunday. Desisa has proven himself to be one of the world’s best at 26.2 (TFN ranked him #1 for 2013).
But few, if anyone, was expecting 30-year-old Caroline Rotich to get the win. Sure Rotich had twice won the NYC Half and once the BAA Half, but her marathon pb is just 2:23:22 and her previous WMM best finish was just 4th. In the end, the women’s race came down to a kick between Rotich and the favorite, Mare Dibaba, who has twice run 2:19:52 and has a better half marathon pb than Rotich (67:13 versus 68:52). But Rotich got the job done in the last 200 – proving once again that sprints don’t come down to who is the fastest but rather who has the most left.
2) This was an exciting one for American fans.
It’s been a long time since there were Americans leading both the men’s and women’s race in Boston past the 20-mile mark but that’s what happened today. American Desi Linden had the lead as late as mile 21 before settling for fourth in 2:25:39.
On the men’s side, Dathan Ritzenhein and Meb Keflezighi were both up front at mile 21 before finishing 7th (2:11:20) and 8th (2:12:42).
That’s not to say there weren’t disappointments. Shalane Flanagan fell off in the Newton hills and didn’t contend as she ended up only 9th in 2:27:47. 2:11 man Fernando Cabada came in claiming to be in the shape of his life, but struggled to a 2:22:05, 25th-place showing. Cabada told us he went out in 4:59 as he thought the 4:39 downhill opening mile run by the leaders was too fast, but then ran in no-man’s land throughout.
Cabada can blame jokester Derek Yorek who led the early miles of the race just as a prank after bragging that he only been running 3-4 times a week.
3) Desi Linden tried to keep the pace honest throughout as she knew she didn’t have the speed to win at the end
“I knew today was going to be a war of attrition, my goal was to go out there and make it a full marathon, grind it out,” Linden said in the post-race press conference. “Hopefully it wouldn’t be a huge pack the last five miles. I knew I couldn’t settle and let it get slow and keep everyone in there longer…If we felt someone was going to take it and make it fairly honest with the conditions, I would tuck in. I couldn’t let it get too soft. The more people that are in that late, the further back I’m going to finish.”
Linden’s speed was pretty good for a marathoner a few years ago. She was 9th at World Indoors in the 3,000 in 2010 (running 8:51) and ran 15:08 for 5,000 in 2011 less than four months after finishing as the runner-up in Boston. But Linden developed a stress fracture in 2012 which caused her to DNF the Olympic Marathon and prevented her from racing again until June 2013. In the wake of that injury, Linden and her coaches Keith and Kevin Hanson determined that they needed to rebuild her strength — the attribute that made her an elite marathoner in the first place. The side effect was that her speed has dwindled in recent years.
Linden was very pleased with her race and had no regrets about her strategy.
“[Finishing second in] 2011 was definitely a highlight for me and I hope it’s not the highlight of my career [because I want to come back and win]…I’m not an emotional person but today was huge for me (coming back from the 2012 injury). I’m really proud of myself. You don’t get those moments too often. Today is just as big as 2011 for me.
“I think my tactic was great today. A lot of people will question it but that’s how you have to run on this course. You have to be gritty and aggressive.”
This was also the first time Linden had ever beaten Flanagan at any distance, dating back to college (she was 0-11 before today).
Linden said that she didn’t go into the race with a focus on any individual runner, but “it’s obviously a huge accomplishment to beat her. It’s a nice feather in the hat.”
4) Dathan Ritzenhein prepared for the worst today
Ritz knew how tough the Boston course is and was mentally prepared for cold, windy conditions today. In the end, he was pleasantly surprised as he felt he dealt with the hills and wind well.
“Everybody was anticipating the wind. It was bad, for sure, but I built it up in my head that it was going to be worse…It’s the kind of course as a cross country guy who’s excelled in cross country, I felt good rolling over the hills. I always felt like I had some pop in my legs.”
Ritz, who had the lead as late as 21 miles, said that he needed to make several strategic decisions as the race played out. First, he chose to drop back from the leaders after the fast first 10k (29:42). He knew it carried a risk in that he may have had to tackle the wind alone, but he felt that it was better to run a more relaxed pace than continuing to run 2:05:19 marathon pace.
However, the pack also decided to slow down shortly thereafter and Ritz decided to keep the pace honest once he caught the lead pack as he figured he would lose ground on the hills. However, once they crested Heartbreak Hill before mile 21, Ritz decided to back off as he has struggled late in marathons before and didn’t want that to happen again today. He kept holding back until about a mile to go, at which point he picked it up as he knew he was going to make it.
“I needed to get through this race and have a good one and feel good,” Ritzenhein said. “After that, it’s the Trials. Ten months, less than that. It feels like London just happened. To make a fourth team, that’s what I need to do — take a page out of Meb’s book. He does all the little things.”
5) Meb Keflezighi had a rough last few miles in what may have been his final Boston Marathon
Keflezighi was with the leaders at 35k when Desisa made his hard move to break up the pack. Keflezighi had just grabbed his drink from the aid station and simultaneously attempted to respond to the move while getting some water down. His body did not cooperate and the stress of countering the move while trying to drink caused him to stop and throw up.
Meb had to stop four more times throughout the remainder of the race. Each time he stopped running, the crowd would grow quiet, only for them to roar him on as soon as he got going again. He said, much as it did last year, the crowd really carried him at the end and he was crying as he approached the finish line on Boylston Street.
“I had to dig deep today. Besides [the] London 2012 [Olympic marathon], this was one of the gutsiest races I’ve done,” said Meb at the post-race press conference.
As Meb crossed the line, he grabbed the hand of B.A.A. (and former Dartmouth) runner Hilary Dionne and raised it into the air, celebrating their accomplishment in a way that was reminiscent of his finish at the 2013 NYC Marathon with local runner Mike Cassidy.
“I wish I knew her name. I don’t know, I’ve never met her. That’s what sportsmanship is. I saw an opportunity for us to finish together, an amazing opportunity for us to finish together. Hopefully it will be memorable for us.”
It may prove to be memorable in more ways than one. Meb suggested several times during the press conference that he doesn’t have many marathons left in his career and that this may have been his final Boston Marathon.
“Is this my last Boston is the question…with the Trials next year, it would be impossible to do it next year. I have a fall marathon and then the Trials.”
We caught up with Dionne, who was 15th in Boston for the second time in her career, after the race to see what it was like to get 15 minutes of fame with Meb. That interview is below.
6) Kevin Hanson Says Linden Has Learned To Run A “Complete Marathon”
We spoke with Linden’s coach, Kevin Hanson, after the race and he was very happy with the way she ran. He said, “You come here to win, but we’re very pleased with, not necessarily 4th place, but with how the race went.” He feels she’s gained a lot of valuable experience, having learned “how to run a complete marathon.” He says she doesn’t need someone else to lead for her and can be comfortable with that role at the front, not worrying that people are sucking off her.
Tactically, they knew with the talk of a big headwind that the race might go slow and she was prepared to push the pace if no one else was willing. Hanson said, “Everyone told us ‘Oh, the headwind, it’s suicidal to lead.’ Really, if it’s so suicidal to lead, do you think Desi would have fared better by it being a race at 6 minutes (pace) and 12 people coming down the last straight away together? No, I don’t think so. Somebody had to make it honest and make it a full race and this year was Desi’s turn. Last year Shalane did that, but this year was Desi’s turn.”
Hanson points out that before her 2012 injury, Linden improved in every marathon she ran and since coming back from that injury she has gotten better with each race. Given that he said, “Sometimes we’re disappointed when people think she’s the ‘second banana’ or ‘third banana’ or count her out, because honestly, if they’re paying attention, they should expect her next marathon for her to be even better this one.”
Looking ahead there will definitely be no fall marathon for Linden. She’ll do some track stuff and look to set PRs there much like she did after finishing runner-up in Boston 2011. He pointed out that sometimes people forget she actually does have okay speed as she’s ran 15:08 for 5,000.
7) Matt Tegenkamp doesn’t like the marathon – “I don’t like the marathon….I’m a track guy through and through” – but he may be an Olympic marathoner.
In his second career marathon, Matt Tegenkamp put forth a credible performance as he finished in 11th in 2:13:52. We had a long conversation after this one with Teg (embedded below), who used to thrive at 5,000 on the track, and when we asked him (near the six-minute mark) if he liked the marathon, Tegenkamp was ultimately very honest in his answer:
“Do I like the marathon? I think it takes a special person to really….. No, I don’t like the marathon. That’s a pretty easy answer. I was trying to (think of something elaborate to say).
“I enjoy the sport. I think that’s very different than really enjoying the event. I really do love the sport — the competition. I love the guys I’m around, the training group, the competitors. I am through and through a track guy.
“It just shows that if you surround yourself with the right people and you really have a really long-term outlook, you can have range and you can move around. I think what I wanted to get out of the sport — I think I maximized that potential – and that was the 5,000 for me. But right now, there is a spot open on the Olympic team [in the marathon] and if the guys can’t beat me, I’m going to go after it as I’m competitive.”
8) What About The American Men Behind Ritz, Meb and Teg
Only 25 seconds behind Tegenkamp was Jeffrey Eggleston in 12th (2:14:17). Nick Arcianaga was 14th (2:18:02) and Sage Canaday 16th (2:19:12). Another one of the top Americans coming in was Fernando Cabada, who had a bad day finishing 25th in 2:22:05.
Eggleston didn’t have the day he did in Boston last year when he was 8th in a PR (2:11:57). But the 2:10:52-man keeps himself in the conversation for the “top Americans behind Meb and Ritz” discussion looking towards 2016.
Arciniaga was a bit of a surprising face to see in the lead pack during the early miles. He has a very respectable 2:11:47 PR (7th in this race last year) to his name, but here he was in a race at about 2:05:30 pace through 10K and even though he fell off just before 15K, he was still at 2:06:27 pace through there. We spoke with him briefly after the race off camera and he said that he was really surprised it went out so fast, given the predictions for a strong headwind. He felt great for the early miles and had solid training coming in with good speed work preparing for the downhills, but then when it got hard, it got really hard quickly. Nick also joined us on the LRC post-race radio show and said he’ll try and take away the positives from today, going out hard and competing.
Post race interview with Cabada is below. He was disappointed with the result saying his tactics were poor since he started off at his own pace and was running completely alone in the wind. He wishes he had gone out a bit faster and got the advantage of running in the pack so he wouldn’t have had to fight the wind on his own. He said his training coming into this race was way better than when he ran 2:11:36 in Berlin (his PR) so he was expecting good things. This isn’t the way he wanted to go into the Olympic Trials, but said he will pick himself up from this and knows he can do more.
Canaday’s race, while not a super fast time, is an impressive turnaround from his 2:20:02 performance at the LA Marathon last month. Canaday has been focused on ultras the last few years, but wanted to get the 2:18 Olympic Trials standard for 2016. In LA last month he was thwarted by the heat, here it was windy less than optimal conditions. He has a 2:17:59 in him, but needs a marathon in good conditions.
9) Looking for America’s next great marathoner? We may have the answer.
America’s best marathoners are all getting up there in age – Meb Keflezighi is 39, Kara Goucher is 36, Shalane Flanagan is 33, Dathan Ritzenhein is 32, Ryan Hall and Desi Linden are 31.
Who can take over the mantle?
After the race we caught up with Providence and elite women’s coach Ray Treacy. We asked Treacy, who coaches Amy Cragg, who dropped out in the 22nd mile today, what happened to Cragg as she looked great for most of the race and in fact at one point was the only American to go with the lead pack when a move was being made in Newton.
Treacy said that Cragg reported when she made the big turn at the Newton fire station, she instantly started having huge cramping problems in her legs which resulted in her DNF. She went from feeling great to being a DNF due to her legs, even though she felt great aerobically. Treacy said Cragg’s training had gone significantly better for this race than last fall when she equalled her 2:27:03 PB in Chicago.
Treacy said something along the lines of “You’re either made for the Boston Marathon or you’re not,” and added that he hoped that the 2016 Olympic Trials course ends up being a flat loop course as that’s the type of course that would benefit Cragg.
We also asked Treacy if he was surprised by Molly Huddle’s 14:50 American record in the BAA 5K on Friday. He said he was not. He said Molly is way ahead of where she was last year in terms of fitness. He said Huddle is 100% focused on the 10,000 this year for Worlds and she won’t run a 10,000 until USAs. He was very bullish on Huddle’s chances this year and said he thought fitness-wise she might be able to approach Flanagan’s 30:22 American record.
I asked him if Huddle would ever run a marathon and he said the TCS New York City Marathon desperately wants her to run their race but he wants to put that off until at least after the 2016 Olympics. When I asked him about the plans for Emily Sisson, the collegiate record holder indoors at 5000, he said that Sisson would run the 10,000 at Payton Jordan and then the 5,000 at NCAAs, but added that Sisson was someone who is made for the marathon.
So there you have it. When Linden and Flanagan and Goucher are too old to contend at a major, America can put its hopes on Sisson.
PS – Monday Marathon Disappointments
There were quite a few solid performances in Boston, but for every good day, or decent race, there were some sub-par outings and some complete bombs. We list them below.
Former WR holder Patrick Makau (DNF) – The 2:03:38 man dropped out just after going through 5K in 15:25 (so way off the leaders). He had spoken optimistically about his fitness at the pre-race press conference and was coming off a 2:08:22 win in Fukuoka in December. Apparently he had some small injury issues and tried to get some massage work done the day before the race, but couldn’t loosen it up.
Half-Marathon WR Holder Zersenay Tadese (DNF) – Tadese is a true half-marathoner if there ever was one. He made it with the leaders through 13.1, but dropped out at 25K. Just more proof that not every good half-marathoner can make the transition to the full.
Two-Time World Marathon Champion Abel Kirui (DNF) – Like Makau, Kirui is someone who has lost a step or two since he was on top of the world in 2012 (where he was 2nd at the Olympics). Since then, he has been injured in 2013 and running sub-par performances (for him) in 2014. This unfortunately was another disappointment as he was not far off the leaders through the half-marathon mark, but fell way off the pace by 25K and dropped out sometime after 35K (he ran 21:15 between 30 and 35K). After the race we found out that Kirui was sick with a cold coming into the race and that clearly hampered him today. We’re sure Kirui will have better days ahead, but even still, with the depth of marathoning and Kirui’s last really good race being three years ago, it’s hard to envision him being in the hunt for a win again at an Olympics, World Championships or WMM.
Shalane Flanagan (9th, 2:27:47) – While a top-10 performance at a WMM and 2:27 finishing time are both respectable, clearly this is not what Flanagan or Flanagan fans were hoping for. She stayed with the leaders through 30K, but after that fell off, losing about three minutes by the end. After the race we learned that Flanagan had a small injury issue in January and wasn’t even 100% sure at that time if she’d make it to the starting line.
Talking on TV the setback, Flanagan said, “I could just tell, I didn’t get on the course as much this year, and I kind of switched my training due to the setback and injury, I didn’t get on the roads, as much. I could just tell the pounding, the typical Boston course, my legs felt it. I tried to talk my legs out of slowing down, but they didn’t want to listen … I stayed positive and fought the entire way and said, ”never give up, never give up.’”
Not Flanagan’s best day, but when a sub-par day gets you 9th in Boston you know you’re doing things right. She, along with Linden, clearly have the inside track on the top two spots at next year’s Olympic Trials.
*MB: Shalane Post-Race Comments – Setback in January Led to Less Training on the Roads
Amy Cragg (Hastings) (DNF) and Fernando Cabada (2:22:05, 25th) – We discuss these two above.