2021 Chicago Marathon Women’s Recap: Ruth Chepngetich Hangs on to Win as Emma Bates Runs PB to Finish 2nd, Sara Hall 3rd

By LetsRun.com
October 10, 2021

Ruth Chepngetich won the 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon the hard way.

Thanks to a tailwind in the opening miles, the Kenyan Chepngetich, 27, blitzed a remarkable 31:22 opening 10 kilometers — putting her on 2:12:21 pace ahead of American men’s contenders Chris Derrick, Jacob Thomson, and Reed Fischer. Chepngetich, the reigning world champion who dropped out of the Olympic marathon nine weeks ago, slowed over the next 10k (32:43) but still reached halfway in a staggering 67:34, on course for the second-fastest time in history.

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But on a warm, windy day in the Windy City (70 degrees, 69% humidity, 63 dew point), that sort of pace was unsustainable, and Chepngetich, who led by 1:17 at halfway, would fade a ton over the second half, splitting 74:57 for the second 13.1. Fortunately for Chepngetich, most of the rest of the elite field were also having issues. She kept slowing (16:39 from 15k to 20k, then 17:21, 17:52 for her next 5k), but her lead kept growing, all the way to 3:03 at 35k.

Chepngetich slowed even more from 35k to 40k (18:15), and finally someone ate into her lead. But it was not 2:21 marathoner Vivian Kiplagat of Kenya, who went out in second in 68:50 but totally blew up in the second half, splitting 80:24 on the way home to finish fifth. And it was not American Sara Hall, who was hoping to win her first career major. Hall did adjust her pre-race plans of chasing Deena Kastor’s 2:19:36 American record and went out in third in 71:37, but still struggled in the heat and wound up third in 2:27:19.

No, the woman closing the gap in second place was Emma Bates, fourth in Chicago in 2019 and seventh at the Olympic Trials last year. Though Bates was too far back to mount any sort of challenge for the win, she actually managed to run a negative split (72:27/71:53) to take a minute off her pb and run 2:24:20 for second, almost three minutes ahead of Hall in third. Keira D’Amato was fourth in 2:28:22.

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Almost by default, Americans took seven of the top 10 spots in the women’s race as the field was one of the shallowest ever for a World Marathon Major.

Top 10 (More results here)

  1. Chepngetich, Ruth (KEN) 02:22:31
  2. Bates, Emma (USA) 02:24:20
  3. Hall, Sara (USA) 02:27:19
  4. D’Amato, Keira (USA) 02:28:22
  5. Kiplagat, Vivian Jerono (KEN) 02:29:14
  6. Krifchin, Maegan (USA) 02:30:17
  7. Verdon, Carrie (USA) 02:31:51
  8. Pagano, Sarah (USA) 02:33:11
  9. Belete Tola, Meseret (ETH) 02:33:14
  10. Flanagan, Lindsay (USA) 2:33:20

Quick Take: That’s a hard way to run 2:22:31

Chepngetich got the win despite running splits of 67:34 and 74:57. Her second half split is easily the slowest to win a women’s major since Des Linden ran 80:12 in the second half of Boston in 2018 (the difference there though was that Des’ first half wasn’t much faster, 79:42).

Bates’ second half of 71:53 was 3:04 faster than Chepngetich but Chepngetich still won comfortably. How is that possible?

  1. Chepngetich ran super fast in the 1st half.
  2. The women’s field was quite shallow. Remember, only two women in the field had a pb within 5 minutes of Chepngetich’s 2:17:08 — Sara Hall and Vivian Kiplagat — and they ran 2:27:19 and 2:29:14, respectively.

Chepngetich deserves a lot of credit not just for toughing it out over the second half of the race, but for what it took to get to the start line. She dropped out of the Olympics nine weeks ago and said that she developed an injury in her preparation for Chicago that left her unsure about whether she could win the race. She did, and now she should enjoy a well-deserved break.

MB: Biggest blow ups to still win a World Marathon Major? Would Ruth have survived without super shoes? 

Quick Take: Emma Bates, a PB and runner-up performance

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On a day not conducive to running fast, Bates did what few in the field could manage and negative-split a personal best. Bates said her plan was to go out conservatively, which she did, hitting halfway in sixth in 72:27. But then Bates realized she had a problem.

“I was like, oh crap, I don’t know how far ahead all of these women are,” Bates said. “I was getting a little nervous so I was like, I need to pick it up.”

Fortunately for Bates, she had women to chase, and was able to gradually reel in the leaders until only Chepngetich remained. 

This was Bates’ second straight strong run in Chicago — she was fourth in 2019 — but a lot has changed since then, and this run was much more impressive.

A week after that race in 2019, Bates married her former college teammate Kameron Ulmer, who was also coaching her at the time. Since then, however, the pair have separated and Bates has relocated to Colorado to train under Joe Bosshard

Between her two Chicago marathons, she got 7th at the Olympic Marathon Trials and ran 2:25:40 at the Marathon Project, a race where she was hoping to run 2:23. After that race, she posted a 10-part series on Instagram on the race where she talked about all of her struggles in the race saying “it’s a disservice to only share the tribulations of a ‘good’ race and not the trials of a ‘bad’ one.”

Bates put all her marathon experience to great use on a difficult day to PR in Chicago. And don’t think for a second that since she PR’d she felt good throughout the race. She said it was a struggle. 

“It felt hard during the race. I felt very, very tired. I was cramping from like mile 10. I don’t think I’ve ever cramped that much before. It [was my] hamstrings and the quads. I was trying to drink as much water as I could, but I sweat a lot. And so just losing all those electrolytes, it was definitely the hardest race I’ve ever ran, but to be able to not only podium, but PR today was incredible. It was very unexpected and I couldn’t be happier,” she said.

Clearly, Bates’ relocation to a new training group is going very well. She said the transition was seamless and she felt very supported in Chicago today, noting that every one of her teammates made the trip to cheer her on in-person, and they were biking the course offering her encouragement.

“I’m just so blessed to be on their team and have the support of my village,” Bates said.

Bates wasn’t the only woman to PR today. Syracuse grad Maegan Krifchin, who was 7th at the 2016 Trials for the US, lowered her pb by 2:30 to run 2:30:17 for 7th.

Top 10 WomenPBToday vs PB
1. Chepngetich, Ruth (KEN) 02:22:312:17:085:23
2. Bates, Emma (USA) 02:24:20 2:25:271:07 faster
3. Hall, Sara (USA) 02:27:192:20:326:47
4. D’Amato, Keira (USA) 02:28:22 2:22:565:26
5. Kiplagat, Vivian Jerono (KEN) 02:29:14 2:21:118:03
6. Krifchin, Maegan (USA) 02:30:172:32:472:30 faster
7. Verdon, Carrie (USA) 02:31:51 DebutNA
8. Pagano, Sarah (USA) 02:33:11 DebutNA
9. Belete Tola, Meseret (ETH) 02:33:14 2:24:548:20
10. Flanagan, Linsday (USA) 02:33:202:28:085:12

Quick Take: The weather gods did not cooperate for Sara Hall today

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Sara Hall’s rise to marathoning prominence in her mid-30s has been truly inspirational. Today, she was facing a tough situation as for days it was clear the American record opportunity she had hoped for wasn’t going to be a possibility because of the weather. But could she battle for a podium finish?

Yes, Hall, who doesn’t like running in warm conditions, gutted it out and ended up on the podium in third. However, it’s a missed opportunity in the sense that her coach Ryan Hall said her training had gone better than ever. It’s not Hall’s fault, of course, but at 38, how many more times might she have the fitness to go for the AR?

We imagine she’ll take a crack at it again soon. Hilly marathons aren’t her thing either so we bet she skips Boston and goes for Nagoya or Tokyo or something like that in the spring.

Quick Take: Shalane Flanagan runs 2:46:39 a day before she runs the Boston Marathon

Many have become interested in the fact that Shalane Flanagan is running Chicago and Boston this weekend on back-to-back days as she attempts to run all of the major marathons this fall. What type of strategy would Flanagan employ considering she is running two marathons in two days?

A conservative one. After running 2:38:32 in Berlin and 2:35:04 in London, Flanagan ran a dead-even 2:46:39 today (83:19 first half).

If you think running two marathons on back-to-back days is crazy, how about three? Medical resident Jordan Tropf of the US Navy is attempting to run three marathons on three straight days this weekend.

Yesterday, Tropf, who has a 2:25 marathon pb, was second in Baltimore in 2:27:23. Today he wasn’t conservative at all as he ran 2:31:54 after going out in 73:46.

What will they have in the tank for tomorrow?

MB: Shalane Flanagan, Chicago Marathon: 2:46:39 – What will she do in Boston tomorrow? 

MB: Resident in orthopedic surgery will attempt 3 consecutive sub-2:30 marathons on Sat., Sun., Monday in Baltimore,Chicago, Boston 

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