Trying to Make Sense of the Crazy 2018 Boston Marathon

April 17, 2018

One of the strangest, craziest, and inspiring Boston Marathons is in the books. We try and make sense of it below with 5 different observations.

We don’t think Yuki Kawauchi or Des Linden will win another major marathon

Our big question is what do we make of this for the future? And we keep coming back to “not much.” Des Linden and Yuki Kawauchi are grinders and going to get the most out of themselves no matter the conditions. Excelling in miserable conditions or bombing in miserable conditions does not give a preview of how things will be under more reasonable conditions.

One thing is certain; if they hold another Boston in similar terrible conditions in the future, we think the pros need to check out this thread on what to wear beforehand as we believe some of the runners got it wrong on Monday.

Des your champion Des your champion

That doesn’t mean we don’t think they are tremendous winners or they aren’t fitting champions. It makes their wins even more beautiful.

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We’re glad if they only win one major, that it was Boston as Boston is the hardcore runners’ marathon. Boston is the only marathon major with a qualifying time, and while it’s got its fair share of charity runners, it’s the holy grail for the gal and guy out there grinding it out with a full-time job, just wanting to run a little faster, dreaming of something bigger.

Yuki Kawauchi and Des Linden both represent that spirit amazingly well as they are grinders. From a country that is full of corporate runners and professional marathoners, Kawauchi is not on a corporate team. He has a full-time job at an elementary school in Japan (where he’s busy writing the 100th year commemorative magazine for the school this year). He’s known for flying all over the world, racing a lot, and bucking the system. He’s a nice addition to the Boston field, but he’s not supposed to win it.

Linden was not an NCAA star, so she had to go to the relative running backwoods of Michigan to ply her craft with the under the radar Hansons Brooks team. The team has now produced two Olympians in Linden and Brian Sell, but it’s not supposed to have Boston Marathon champions. Linden however, came agonizingly close to winning Boston in 2011.

And then this year she did it. She won Boston by over 4 minutes.

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With the sport getting more and more professional, and more and more removed from the average runner, Kawauchi and Linden are relatable. They wouldn’t even be professionals if they really didn’t love running and have the drive to get better. So on a day when Mother Nature wreaked utter havoc, it was fitting that two people who just love running and racing came out on top in Boston.

From the archives: Is Desi Linden the most likable runner on the distance running scene right now?”

Sarah Sellers Sarah Sellers

Sarah Sellers was fastest of all from 30k to the finish

As cool as Linden’s win was, an even crazier story was the fact that Sarah Sellers — a nurse and virtual unknown — finished second in the race after paying the $185 entry fee herself.

Imagine if Linden had dropped out late. Sellers would really be the 2018 Boston Marathon champ.

MB: Happy for Desi, but kind of wishing she had dropped out so that Sarah Sellers, who I’ve never heard of, would’ve won

Now that would be totally ridiculous — much more so than the improbable victories of achieved both by Linden and Kawauchi. Yes, Linden and Kawauchi were huge underdogs but Sellers never even made it to NCAAs in track while in college (her best XC finish was 79th). Yes, Linden was far from a college star at Arizona State, but she did finish 10th in the NCAA 5000 one year and also was an All-American in cross country and she was 2nd at Boston in 2011. Kawauchi has a 2:08 pb. Sellers came in with a 2:44:27 PB but she certainly was prepared for the downhills as that race was run at a race with a nearly 4000-foot drop.

Sellers got 2nd by holding up better than anyone in the race. Unbelievably, Sellers actually ran a negative split as she ran her first half in 1:22:05 and her second half in 1:21:59. Even splits like that would make the biggest Desi Linden fan smile as Linden is famous for running incredibly even.

Sellers actually was faster over the last 12.2 km than any other woman in the race as it took Sellers 46:49 to run from 30k to the finish and it took Linden 46:57.

Split Linden Sellers Gap
5k 19:18 19:19 1 second
10k 17:52  (37:10) 18:56 (38:15) 1:05
15k 19:06 (56:16) 19:35 (57:50) 1:34
20k 19:32 (1:15:48) 19:58 (1:17:48) 2:00
Half 3:54 (1:19:42) 4:17 (1:22:05) 2:23
25k 18:27 (1:34:15) 19:51 (1:37:39) 3:24
30k 18:45 (1:52:57) 19:36 (1:57:15) 4:18
35k 19:25 (2:12:22) 19:33 (2:16:48) 4:26
40k 18:51 (2:31:13) 18:49 (2:35:37) 4:24
Finish 8:41 (2:39:54) 8:27 (2:44:04) 4:10

MB: Happy for Desi, but kind of wishing she had dropped out so that Sarah Sellers, who I’ve never heard of, would’ve won

Normal Marathon Conditions Normal marathon conditions

How bad was the weather? DNFs were up 50%

This year, 95.5% of all runners who started Boston finished the race whereas last year it was 97.0%. That may not sound like much of a difference but the dropout rate this year was 50.0% higher (4.5% v 3.0%) than in 2017. 27,042 started the race and 25,822 finished meaning there were 1,220 DNFs.

The social scientists and exercise physiologists can figure out if women are tougher than men or perhaps more stubborn. But there are some interesting sex differences in the dropout rates. Not only did a higher percentage of men drop out this year this year than women (5.0% of men dropped out this year vs 3.8% of women), but the dropout rate increased much more for men than women from 2017 (78.6% increase for men, 15.2% increase for women; dropout out rates for men in 2017 were 2.8% for men and 3.3% for women), and a higher percentage of men didn’t start the race who entered (14.7% for men, 13.3% for women).

Is it possible that the women were helped by the fact that they on average have a higher percentage of body fat than men? Might that have given them a little bit more insulation?

For the elite pros invited by John Hancock, the dropout rates were incredibly high and once again the women dropped out at a lower rate than the men. 56.25% percent of the elite women (9/16) didn’t record a finish whereas 62.5% of the elite men (15/24) dropped out, according to our calculations.

This year, 91 runners went to area hospitals after the race and 10 were still in the hospital on Tuesday morning according to the BAA.

Finish top 5 at Boston but don’t qualify for Olympic Marathon Trials

The conditions were so brutal in Boston that both 5th place finishers in the race — Jessica Chichester (2:45:23) and Andrew Bumbalough (2:19:52) — didn’t run fast enough to qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials (2:19 and 2:45). The Marathon Trials needs to make it so anyone who finishes top 10 in a World Marathon Major in the US gets into the Trials.

With reasonable weather, women’s runner-up Sarah Sellers was looking to run the US Olympic Trials A standard of 2:38:00 to get her expenses paid to the Trials. She didn’t come close to that time goal but considering she ended up winning $75,000 in prize money, we can’t imagine she is too upset.

Japanese men get a rare major marathon win

Nowhere is the marathon more popular than Japan, but outside of Tokyo (last Japanese champ was in 2010, before Tokyo had WMM status) they hadn’t had a man win what is now a World Marathon Major since Hiromi Taniguchi won the World Champs in 1991. That was the end of a golden era of Japanese marathoning as in 1986 Toshihiko Seko won London and Chicago and in 1987 Seko won Boston and Taniguchi won London.

The streak of non-African winners continues

Until last year, a non-African-born runner winning a Marathon Major was a really rare occurrence, especially if we excluded Russian winners (given their state-sponsored doping program). In fact, it hadn’t occurred this decade. Now in the last three Abbott World Marathon Majors we’ve had at least one non-African winner in each race (Galen Rupp in Chicago, Shalane Flanagan in New York and Linden and Kawauchi in Boston). We expect the altitude-born athletes to start reasserting their dominance at London this weekend.

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