2018 Boston Marathon Men’s Preview, Part II: How Will the Americans Fare?

By LetsRun.com
April 12, 2018

So far on LetsRun.com, we’ve previewed the amazing women’s elite field that features the “Fantastic Four” from the US of Molly Huddle, Shalane Flanagan, Desi Linden and Jordan Hasay as well as the contenders in the loaded men’s title international men that features Galen Rupp and Geoffrey Kirui.

Now it’s time to take a look at all of the elite American men not named Galen Rupp, a group that includes Abdi AbdirahmanShadrack BiwottRyan Vail, Tim Ritchie, and more. Rupp is obviously the favorite to finish as top American, but since we already addressed his chances in Part I of our men’s preview, we won’t repeat ourselves here. Instead, we’re going to focus on the guys looking to unseat him as the top American finisher.

In case you missed it, Dathan Ritzenhein announced that he has withdrawn from the race on Wednesday after suffering an SI joint injury.

LRC Women’s Preview: Flanagan And Hasay And Huddle And Linden, Oh My! All 2018 Boston Marathon coverage * Race website * 2017 LRC coverage

What: 122nd Boston Marathon

When: Monday, April 16, 2018. Elite women start at 9:32 a.m. ET; elite men start at 10:00 a.m. ET.

Where: Hopkinton to Boston, Massachusetts

How to watchLive on NBC Sports Network and NBC Sports Gold starting at 8:30 a.m ET. In Boston, WBZ4 will provide local coverage beginning at 7:00 a.m. ET. For international coverage, click here to find out how to watch.

Elite U.S. Men’s Field

Name Country PB Comment
Abdi Abdirahman USA 2:08:56 At 40, was still the top American in NYC last year
Galen Rupp USA 2:09:20 2nd last year, then won Chicago. Olympic bronze.
Ryan Vail USA 2:10:57 2:12 for 8th in Berlin last year
Elkanah Kibet USA 2:11:31 2:11:31 in his debut but hasn’t come within 2 mins of that since; 16th at ’17 Worlds
Tim Ritchie USA 2:11:56 Ran big PR of 2:11 to win CIM/US champs in December
Shadrack Biwott USA 2:12:01 Rupp’s college teammate was 4th last year
Scott Smith USA 2:12:21 Coming off PR in Frankfurt last fall
Andrew Bumbalough USA 2:13:58 25th in Tokyo, 13th in Chicago in his two marathons so far

Outside of Rupp, there are seven American men in the U.S. elite field, so let’s hit them one-by-one.

Abdi battling it out with Ritz at 2016 NYC Abdi battling it out with Ritz at 2016 NYC

Abdi Abdirahman — 41 years old, 2:08:56 pb (2006 Chicago), 60:29 half
Last two marathons: 
6th 2017 Boston (2:12:45), 7th 2017 New York (2:12:48)
Prep race: 64:14 for 13th at NYC Half on March 18

Abdi doesn’t get the same recognition as Meb Keflezighi — which is fair, considering he’s never won Boston or New York and has never won an Olympic medal. But like Meb, Abdi has made four Olympic teams and like Meb, he’s still running well in marathons into his 40s. Rather than call it quits after an injury kept him out of the 2016 Olympic Trials, Abdi kept at it and finished 3rd in New York two months before his 40th birthday. Last year, he was 6th in Boston before returning to New York, where he finished as the top American for the second consecutive year.

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His prep race in New York last month wasn’t great, but remember that it was a slow day for everybody this year because of the conditions. And he actually finished higher (13th) than he did at the NYC Half last year (15th) when he went on to lead the Boston Marathon up Heartbreak Hill and finish 6th overall.

What Abdi is doing is inspiring — at this point, he has to be taken seriously for 2020 Olympic team, even though he’ll be 43 by the time of the Trials. But if 41-year-old Abdi is the second American at Boston behind Rupp, it says something about the lack of top-tier marathon prospects in the U.S. right now.

Shadrack Biwott — 33 years old, 2:12:01 pb (2016 New York), 61:25 half
Last two marathons: 
4th 2017 Boston (2:12:08), 10th 2017 New York (2:14:57)
Prep race: 64:00 for 12th at NYC Half on March 18

As recently as one year ago, Biwott was 32 years old and unsponsored. But Biwott still believed his best years were ahead of him, and after finishing 5th in New York in 2016 in a PR of 2:12:01, he backed that up and went one better in Boston last year, taking 4th to finish as the second American in the field behind Rupp. That led to a sponsorship with Brooks (he splits his time between California and the Hansons-Brooks team in Michigan), and though his 10th place showing in NYC last fall represented a step back, two top-5s in your last three majors is impressive for anyone, American or not.

Like Abdi, Biwott’s run at the NYC Half was nothing spectacular, but it was still better than last year, when he finished 17th in 63:52. Biwott does not have the ceiling of Rupp or the top Africans, but he’s a steady grinder that will pounce on mistakes by the big guns. Tough conditions, such as the rain and wind currently in the forecast, will not faze Biwott, who sports a perpetually sunny disposition.

Vail at 2014 NYC Vail at 2014 NYC, where he finished 9th

Ryan Vail — 32 years old, 2:10:57 pb (2014 London), 62:04 half
Last two marathons: 
DNF 2016 New York, 8th 2017 Berlin (2:12:40)
Prep race: 44:12 for 6th at US 15K champs on March 10

For a while, it looked like injuries might put a premature end to Ryan Vail’s promising marathon career. A contender for the Olympic marathon team after a 2014 season that saw him run 2:10 in London and finish 9th in New York, Vail went almost three years between marathon finishes, the product of a string of stress fractures and what was simply a bad day at the 2016 New York City Marathon. Vail tore his plantaris last winter, which caused him to miss more time, but he’s been healthy for around a year now and beginning to reap the fruits of that stretch of uninterrupted training.

“I think that aerobic buildup or that cardiovascular buildup is additive and you can just keep adding on,” said Vail’s longtime coach Dave Smith. “Ryan is what, 32, 33 now? He’s kind of getting up there. Your peak physical strength starts to decline after about age 22 or 23, but I think your aerobic strength and your aerobic improvement can keep you improving even though maybe your peak physical strength is maybe declining. So I think that’s where he is. He’s been at this for gosh, since about 2004 (when Smith began working with him as a freshman at Oklahoma State), so it’s about 15 years he’s been at pretty good volume and training pretty well.”

Vail has taken a few more days off than usual in this buildup, but he’s still hit some big miles (three straight weeks of 140 in March) and Smith said that Vail is as fit as ever right now. Though Vail has never run Boston before, a top-10 finish is certainly possible.

One more thing: this was Vail’s first marathon buildup as a father, as his wife Eva gave birth to son Oliver in December. Looks like we’ve found a rival for Rojo’s son at the 2044 Olympic Trials, although Rojo thinks both should concede one spot to Nathan Sihine – the son of Tirunesh Dibaba and Sileshi Sihine.

Tim Ritchie — 30 years old, 2:11:56 pb (2017 CIM), 61:23 half
Last two marathons: 
19th 2016 New York (2:21:09), 1st 2017 CIM (2:11:56)

Though Ritchie had run a few marathons before last year, it wasn’t until he won the US title at the California International Marathon in December that Ritchie (and everyone else) started viewing himself as a marathoner. In that race in Sacramento, Ritchie took advantage of good conditions and used a patient approach to run a big negative split (66:52-65:04) and join Galen Rupp as the only American under 2:12 in 2017.

While that race showed his potential — Ritchie told us afterwards that he is still taking “baby steps” toward becoming a better marathoner — he may not get the chance to realize it in Boston. Ritchie took a 2-3 week break after CIM and after a few low-intensity weeks it wasn’t until around February that he got back to serious marathon training again. And though Ritchie was able to string together some solid workouts, according to his coach Tim Broe, Ritchie missed several key weeks of training in March as the result of a calf issue (it also caused him to scratch from the NYC Half), an area that has plagued Ritchie throughout his career. Ritchie, a Boston College grad, will give it a go and line up in Hopkinton, but expectations should be lowered given the time he missed.

Scott Smith — 31 years old, 2:12:21 pb (2017 Frankfurt), 62:34 half
Last two marathons: 
14th 2016 Olympic Trials (2:17:33), 7th 2017 Frankfurt (2:12:21)
Prep race: 64:20 win at the Mercedes Half Marathon in Birmingham (AL) on February 11

Smith’s 2:12:21 in Frankfurt made him the 4th-fastest American of 2017. Given that result in Frankfurt, along with Smith’s age (31), he and coach Ben Rosario made the decision to take some risks in this buildup and up the intensity and volume, and Rosario is pleased with the results, saying that Smith appears to be fitter now than he was for Frankfurt last fall. An underdog coming out of UC Santa Barbara (he graduated with PRs of 13:56 and 28:35) and someone still in search of a sub-4:00 mile, Smith has turned himself into a solid marathoner. This will be his first attempt at Boston, though he does have big-race experience having competed at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympic Trials.

Kibet in his other uniform Kibet in his other uniform

Elkanah Kibet — 34 years old, 2:11:31 pb (2015 Chicago), 62:29 half
Last two marathons: 
7th 2017 Hamburg (2:13:36), 16th 2017 Worlds (2:15:14)
Prep race: 43:53 for 5th at US 15K champs on March 10

Kibet showed a ton of potential by finishing 7th in his debut in Chicago in 2015, but in five subsequent marathons, he has not managed to come within two minutes of his 2:11:31 time from that race. That’s a bit of a surprise considering Kibet was holding down a full-time job in the US Army while training for 2015 Chicago but has since joined the WCAP, which affords him more time to train (and rest).

But heading into Boston, things look bright. Kibet ran a PR of 62:29 at the Houston Half Marathon in January, won the Gasparilla Half in Tampa in February in 63:39, and finished 5th at the US 15K champs in Jacksonville in March (19 seconds ahead of Ryan Vail) in a very solid time of 43:53 — over two minutes faster than his time in 2017. If Kibet can return to his old form, a top-10 showing is possible, with top-5 not out of the question.

Andrew Bumbalough — 31 years old, 2:13:58 pb (2017 Tokyo), 62:04 pb
Last two marathons: 25th 2017 Tokyo (2:13:58), 13th 2017 Chicago (2:14:04)
Prep race: DNF NYC Half (stomach problems)

Bumbalough, a 5k specialist during his time on the track, took a cautious approach leading into his first attempt at the marathon in Tokyo, and the result was a decent 2:13 debut, though he did finish well down in the deep field. Though he finished 12 places higher in marathon #2 in Chicago, he ran six seconds slower.

Boston will be telling. Through two marathons, Bumbalough hasn’t bombed, but he also has not delivered a performance that suggests he’s capable of big things at the 26.2-mile distance. Maybe he is, but if that’s the case, he needs to start showing it. Boston is a great opportunity.

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Rojo’s Prediction: Abdi has been running amazing at 40+ but based on recent form, Kibet will be the top American not named Galen Rupp.

More: Talk about the race on our world famous messageboard. MB: Al Sal talking big b4 Boston: Rupp has had “by far” his best prep & “will definitely be much harder to beat than last yr”

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