Breaking Down the 2019 Boston Marathon International Field, Plus What Does the Addition of Sally Kipyego Mean to the US Field?

The Boston field is out and we help make sense of it all.

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January 10, 2019

On Thursday morning, John Hancock released the international fields for the 2019 Boston Marathon (the US fields were previously announced last month). Among the notable names are several former champions (Geoffrey Kirui, reigning NYC champ Lelisa Desisa, and Edna Kiplagat) as well as one more addition to the US field: 2012 Olympic 10,000m silver medalist Sally Kipyego, who will be running her first marathon as an American.

We break down the elite fields below, but we start with some analysis of Kipyego, who is returning to racing in 2019 after missing most of the past two years.

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*Full 2019 Boston Marathon elite fields

1) The race for top American honors (and the battle for the 2020 US Olympic team) just got more interesting with the addition of Sally Kipyego

When John Hancock announced the 2019 US elite field for Boston last month, we noted that there is currently a “Studly Six” in US marathoning — Amy Cragg, Jordan Hasay, Molly Huddle, Shalane Flanagan, Des Linden, and Sally Kipyego (who has never before run for the US). At the time, only two of those women (Hasay and Linden) were entered in Boston, but the updated field released today included Kipyego’s name, which spices things up quite a bit.

Kipyego, 33, became a US citizen in January 2017 but has only raced once since. She took 2017 off to have a baby, giving birth to daughter Emma in July 2017, but her return to training took longer than anticipated and she did not race again until June 2018, where she was just 10th at the BAA 10K in 34:32. Kipyego was slated to run the NYC Marathon last fall, but was forced to withdraw a month before the race, citing malaria and pneumonia.

But Kipyego remains a monster talent, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her on the plane to Tokyo with Team USA in 2020. At Texas Tech, she became the only woman to win three NCAA XC titles, and after turning pro, she put together a track career more successful than any of her US contemporaries: PRs of 14:30 (four seconds faster than the American record) and 30:26 (only Flanagan and Huddle have run faster among Americans) for 5k and 10k on the track, and a pair of global 10k silvers at the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics. She’s also run 68:31 in the half marathon, and in her only career marathon finish she was 2nd in NYC in 2016, one spot ahead of Huddle.

The question, of course, is whether Kipyego can return to that form after a long layoff. We will learn a lot about her over the next three months, and that begins next weekend in Houston, where Kipyego is entered in the half marathon. Should Kipyego run well there, there will be a lot of hype for Boston.

2) The elite men’s field has A LOT of fast people in it and that means defending champ Yuki Kawauchi (and Dathan Ritzenhein or any American for that matter) won’t win.

Since the start of 2017, we’ve been tracking the # of sub-2:05, 2:06, 2:07, etc. men that start each World Marathon Major. Here is how it looks for Boston the last three years.

# Sub-2:04 Entrants #Sub-2:05 (inclusive) Sub-2:06 Sub-2:07 Sub-2:08 Medallists/Previous WMM Winners Potential Winners*
2019 0 5 6 12 15 1 16
2018 0 3 6 9 10 1 11
2017 1 5 7 9 10 2 12

In 2019, Boston will have more sub-2:07 and sub-2:08 performers than it did in 2018 or 2017. And that makes sense. With Galen Rupp, who commands a large appearance fee, out with injury, Boston had more money to spend on others and they have brought in three more 2:06 guys and two more 2:07 guys than in 2018.

All together, Boston will have 15 sub-2:08 men on the start line in 2019 (though, as with any marathon, one or two will likely scratch before the race) — the most of any World Marathon Major since we started compiling the stat in 2017.

Does that mean Boston is going to be the best major of 2019? No it does not.

London has a firm grip on the “toughest marathon to win” until told otherwise. If you look at our 2018 top 10 world rankings for the men’s marathon, the 2019 Boston field includes zero of our top five. Boston does have four of our top 10, however in #6 Lelisa Desisa, #7 Kenneth Kipkemoi, #8 Sisay Lemma, and #9 Lawrence Cherono.

One more thing about the incredible depth of the field: it virtually guarantees Yuki Kawauchi has zero chance of repeating. It also kills off Dathan Ritzenhein’s slim chances of glory. In the year 2019, the only way an experienced marathoner with a 2:08 or 2:07 pb like Kawauchi and Ritz can win a major is if they run a good race and the other, better runners in the field do not. However, with so many elites in the race, the odds of them all having a bad day is next to zero.

Of the 16 elites, who has the best chance? We’ll narrow it down to six for you: our four world ranked guys from 2018, plus 2017 champ Geoffrey Kirui and Solomon Deksisa of Ethiopia. Last year Deksisa picked up wins in Mumbai (2:09:34) and Hamburg (2:06:34) before running 2:04:40 for third in Amsterdam

3) On paper, the women’s field is also a little deeper than last year’s but that doesn’t tell the whole story

On paper, the 2019 women’s field is even tougher than what was a fairly strong 2018 field. But as last year’s race showed, these races aren’t run on paper. Some athletes withdraw before the race, and some who make it to the line aren’t 100%. And of course there is the fickle Boston weather, which last year knocked out over half the elite women’s field (though a repeat of those disastrous conditions is extremely unlikely).

# sub-2:20 # sub-2:21 # sub-2:22 # sub-2:23 # sub-2:24
2019 4 6 7 11 12
2018 3 4 7 8 9
2017 3 3 3 6 7

Since the start of 2013, all 39 World Marathon Majors have been won by a woman with a PR of 2:24 or faster. Since there is no one in the Boston field with a PR of 2:24 or 2:25, that gives us 12 “potential winners” — though we should probably bump that number up to 14 considering Kipyego has two global medals on the track and a WMM runner-up finish in NYC and 66:29 half marathoner Mary Wacera (a two-time medalist at the World Half champs) is making her debut.

Fourteen potential winners sounds like a terrific field, but the problem is that several of those women haven’t done much lately. In terms of pbs, only five of the 10 fastest women in the field have run their PR in the last three years (eight of the 10 fastest men have done so). Aselefech Mergia, the fastest woman in the field by PR at 2:19:31, didn’t finish a marathon in 2018 and will be two years removed from her last good marathon (3rd at ’17 London) when the gun goes off in Boston. Mare Dibaba, another 2:19 woman, hasn’t done anything of note since taking Olympic bronze in 2016.

Given all that, it should come as no surprise to learn that the 2019 Boston field only includes one person ranked in our world top 10 for the women’s marathon in 2018: Meskerem Assefa who earned our #9 ranking after picking up wins in Nagoya (2:21:45) and Frankfurt (2:20:36).

That said, there’s still some talent in this race. Edna Kiplagat may be 39, but Meb Keflezighi won Boston in 2014 two weeks before his 39th birthday, and she won Boston in dominant fashion two years ago and clocked 2:21 in Berlin last fall. Assefa, Worknesh Degefa (2:19 in Dubai), and Belaynesh Oljira (2:21 in Frankfurt) all ran PRs in their last marathon. Wacera (66:29 half marathon pb) is a solid debutante. Kipyego and Jordan Hasay (3rd at 2017 Boston) both bring question marks, but both have high ceilings.

All in all, it’s an okay field, although it would be nice to have more studs; Linden is the only one of the reigning major champions running Boston (though this could mean an even stronger field than usual in London).

4) We’d love to see Eliud Kipchoge run Boston some day

After Kipchoge broke the world record in Berlin last year, we debated what his next step would be in 2019. He’s already won London and Berlin three times each, plus he has an Olympic gold and the world record. With his status as the GOAT secured, it would be fun to see Kipchoge on some unfamiliar courses. Could he catch a tailwind in Boston and challenge Geoffrey Mutai‘s legendary 2:03:02 course record? How would Kipchoge handle New York?

One cool thing for Kipchoge to accomplish would be to win all six World Marathon Majors. He’s already claimed wins in London, Berlin, and Chicago, which means he has Tokyo, Boston, and New York still to go. If he were to do that, it would make sense to run Boston this year and Tokyo next year (giving him a nice break between Tokyo and the Olympics in August). New York is the tricky one, as its early-November date means it’s fairly close to Tokyo (late February/early March) and the Olympics (August), but he could probably squeeze it in in either 2019 or 2020.

However, as you can see from the field announcement today, barring a last-minute entry, Kipchoge will not be running Boston in 2019, which means that he will almost certainly be returning to London as London offers the biggest appearance fees and many of its top stars sign multi-year appearance deals (if Nike was planning a sequel to Breaking2 this spring, we imagine we’d have heard about it by now). London is a great race, and we enjoy watching Kipchoge wherever he competes. But we hope that, before his career is done, the greatest marathoner of all time gets a chance to run the historic Boston course.

Talk about 2018 Boston on our world famous messageboard / fan forum: MB: 2019 Boston Marathon Elite Field Is Released – 5 Sub-2:05 men, 4 Sub-2:20 women will battle + AMERICAN Sally Kipyego.