2022 Boston Marathon Men’s Preview: Who’s the Favorite, How Healthy Is Geoffrey Kamworor, & What Will CJ Albertson Do For an Encore?

By Jonathan Gault
April 14, 2022

(Our women’s Boston preview can be found here)

The Boston Marathon is back on Patriots’ Day, and it feels so good.

In 2020, Boston was cancelled for the first time in its 126-year history (first race: April 19, 1897). In 2021, the race was held in October. In 2022, order has been restored: Boston is finally back where it belongs on the third Monday in April.

It’s a nice return to normal for the traditionalists. But having the race in April in 2022 is also critical as it’s the main reason why Boston has been able to assemble the greatest elite field in race history. In a normal year, Boston has the regrettable task of recruiting against the marathon with the largest elite budget in the world, London. But with London opting to stay in the fall for 2022, many of the athletes who would have run there will be in Boston instead.

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The result is a field featuring five men who have broken 2:04 (including #3, #7, and #8 on the all-time list), three more who have broken 2:05, and the reigning champions from Boston (Benson Kipruto), New York (Albert Korir), and London (Sisay Lemma). And I haven’t even mentioned Geoffrey Kamworor (RRW: Two-time NYC Marathon champ Geoffrey Kamworor is excited to make his Boston Marathon debut).

The stage is set for a classic showdown on Boylston Street. Here are the five biggest storylines to follow in the men’s race.

*Full elite field

Who is the favorite?

A few years ago, we at LetsRun.com came up with a rule of thumb: to win a World Marathon Major, you either needed to have a sub-2:08 pb or a global medal. Barring a 2018 Boston-like weather event, that rule of thumb largely held.

But that was five years ago, before the widespread adoption of super shoes. It’s 2022 now, and let’s face it: 2:08 just isn’t fast for a world-class marathoner anymore. So, to account for supershoes, I’ve adjusted the criteria to sub-2:06 or a global medal. Twelve men in the 2022 Boston field meet it. I’ve listed them below, along with two more guys with a realistic chance: New York champ Albert Korir (whose pb is only 2:08:03 since he hasn’t raced on a fast course since 2019) and Jemal Yimer, who was 3rd in Boston last year in his debut and has come super close to a global medal (4th at ’17 World XC, 5th at ’17 Worlds 10k, 4th at ’18 World Half).

The 14 Men Who Could Win the 2022 Boston Marathon

Birhanu Legese 2:02:48 (Berlin, 2019) Ethiopia 3rd-fastest marathon in history has won Tokyo 2x but battled injuries in ’21
Evans Chebet 2:03:00 (Valencia, 2020) Kenya ’20 Valencia champ was 4th in London last year
Lawrence Cherono 2:03:04 (Valencia, 2020) Kenya Won Boston/Chicago in ’19; 4th Olympics, 1st Valencia in ’21
Sisay Lemma 2:03:36 (Berlin, 2019) Ethiopia London champ
Kinde Atanaw 2:03:51 (Valencia, 2019) Ethiopia 7th in Valencia in December
Lemi Berhanu 2:04:33 (Dubai, 2016) Ethiopia ’16 champ was 2nd last year
Lelisa Desisa 2:04:45 (Dubai, 2013) Ethiopia Wins in ’13, ’15, 2nd in ’16
Gabriel Geay 2:04:55 (Milan, 2021) Tanzania 8th in Valencia in December
Benson Kipruto 2:05:13 (Toronto, 2019) Kenya Surprise champ in ’21
Geoffrey Kamworor 2:05:23 (Valencia, 2021) Kenya 2x NYC champ seems well-suited to Boston
Eric Kiptanui 2:05:47 (Apugnano, 2020) Kenya 3rd in Chicago in ’21
Geoffrey Kirui 2:06:27 (Amsterdam, 2016) Kenya 1st and 2nd in ’17 and ’18 but just 5th and ’13th in ’19 and ’21
Albert Korir 2:08:03 (Ottawa, 2019) Kenya 2nd and 1st in last two NYC Marathons
Jemal Yimer 2:10:38 (Boston, 2021) Ethiopia 3rd last year in first marathon finish

It’s pretty hard to pick a favorite from that list. The three major winners from 2021 all have a case. Sisay Lemma won London, which had the best field of any race last year outside of the Olympics. Albert Korir won New York, and if you can overcome the hills and bridges of Manhattan, chances are you have what it takes to win in Boston too. And while the field Benson Kipruto beat to win in Boston last year was watered-down due to the glut of WMMs last fall, he won both of his marathons last year (he also won Prague in May) and we know he has what it takes to win on this course (remember his 14:06 split from 35 to 40k?).

Cherono won in his last trip to Boston in 2019

And yet you can argue that none of those men should be favored on Monday. If you had to pick the #2 marathoner in the world right now behind Eliud Kipchoge, it would probably be Lawrence Cherono. He won Boston and Chicago in 2019, ran 2:03:04 in Valencia in 2020, and last year missed an Olympic medal by two seconds before winning Valencia.

Or what about the two fastest men in the field, Birhanu Legese (2:02:48 pb) and Evans Chebet (2:03:00 pb)? They finished 5th and 4th, respectively, in London last year, but Legese is a two-time major champ while Chebet beat Cherono in the stacked 2020 Valencia Marathon.

Legese, the fastest marathoner in history not named Kipchoge or Bekele, was initially listed among the entries for last month’s Tokyo Marathon. But his agent Daan van den Berg told LetsRun that they felt Legese was not fit enough to challenge for the win in Tokyo and instead opted to train for another six weeks and run Boston instead. Legese has battled injury issues since his 2020 Tokyo win, in part because his preferred physiotherapist, Dutchman Sjors Schipaanboord, had to return to the Netherlands when the pandemic began and was not able to work with him as much. Recently, however, Schipaanboord has been able to travel back to Ethiopia to work on Legese and will accompany him to Boston before the race. That should help, though how Legese will handle Boston’s hills remains an open question (all seven of his career marathons have come on flat courses).

“He’s had some injury issues when he ran Valencia in 2:03 [in December 2020],” van den Berg said. “In [London] he had issues and he is getting better and better and better. Now he’s good…The way Sjors says it, every time [he’s] seen him, since Valencia, he’s been better in terms of physical condition.”

If I had to pick just one favorite, I have to go with Cherono. He’s won in Boston before, and he rarely runs a bad marathon. In his last 14 marathons dating back to the start of 2016, he’s finished first or second in 12 of them — and in one of the ones he didn’t, he was two seconds from an Olympic medal.

But wait. What about the biggest star in the field? A guy with a resume — two-time World XC champ, three-time World Half champ, two-time NYC champ — that screams “future Boston winner”? What about Geoffrey Kamworor?

Glad you asked…

How healthy is Geoffrey Kamworor?

Kamworor powering to victory at the 2019 NYC Marathon

If you were to design a runner in a lab to win the Boston Marathon, he’d look a lot like Geoffrey Kamworor. A cross country star, Kamworor has no problems with hills or rhythm-breaking surges. He also possesses the speed to start ripping on the downhills once you get out of Newton — remember his 13:01 final 5k to win the World Half in 2018? That’s what you get when you marry endurance with a guy with 12:58/26:52/58:01 pbs. It’s not hard to imagine a prime Kamworor lining up in Boston and blasting everyone over the final 10k.

The question is, will we see a prime Kamworor in Boston?

Kamworor hasn’t had an easy go of it since his second New York victory in November 2019. In June 2020, he was struck by a motorcycle on a training run and fractured his tibia. He eventually returned to run a breathtaking 27:01 10,000 (at 5,200+ feet) to win the Kenyan Olympic trials last year, only to miss the Olympics due to a metatarsal stress fracture. He closed out 2021 by running 2:05:23 to take 4th in the Valencia Marathon, but afterwards said he had barely been able to train due to an ankle injury.

That’s a rough string of luck, but that 27:01 10,000 shows that a healthy Kamworor is still capable of summoning greatness. And based on this article from Kamworor’s NN Running Team, Kamworor looks to be the healthiest he’s been in ages:

“I haven’t missed one session of training which is crucial for the marathon,” Kamworor said. “I had a small groin injury but it never stopped me from training. It has been a controlled preparation.”

That’s good news for running fans, because a healthy Kamworor is as good a threat as anyone to win this race. But with the field he’s facing, he’ll have to bring his A game to do it.

(RRW: Two-time NYC Marathon champ Geoffrey Kamworor is excited to make his Boston Marathon debut)

Can someone emerge as the WBMNED (World’s Best Marathoner, Non-Eliud Division)?

A win in Boston to go with his New York title could put Albert Korir on the path to stardom (Photo by Jon Simon for NYRR)

Eliud Kipchoge currently occupies a similar position as Usain Bolt in the 2010s. Both are the undisputed best-ever in their discipline, breaking through the running bubble to capture mainstream attention (though Bolt did this to a far greater degree). But both also cast a massive shadow over their events — it’s hard to mint new stars when the same guy is winning all of the biggest races.

Just think, how many genuine international stars are there in the marathon right now? Kenenisa Bekele still qualifies, but he was a star long before he turned to the marathon. Kamworor probably qualifies, but he’s nowhere close to Kipchoge. Is there anyone after that? Someone who, when you see their name on the start list, makes you think, I have to watch that race?

I’d argue no. The good news is, that can change. Guys like Kipchoge, Bekele, and Kamworor didn’t become stars overnight. They became stars by stacking up victory after victory on the biggest stages. And when it comes to marathoning, Boston is about as big a stage as it gets.

There are a bunch of guys who could be on their way to star status with a win on Monday. Benson Kipruto could become a back-to-back Boston champ. Albert Korir could become the first man to hold the New York and Boston titles simultaneously since Geoffrey Mutai in 2011. If Sisay Lemma follows up his London victory by beating the stacked Boston field, suddenly he’s a big name.

An astronomer would tell you it takes a while for a nebula of gas and dust to collapse inward under sufficient pressure to form a star. Marathoning is similar. Just as in outer space, the biggest stars don’t form overnight.

What will CJ Albertson do?

Is CJ Albertson the best American in the 2022 Boston field? Maybe.

Is he the most interesting? Absolutely yes.

Embed from Getty Images

Did anyone else in the field run a 2:12 marathon as a workout three weeks before the race? (And if I’m being fair to CJ, it was really a 2:10 but he got led off-course by the lead bike).

Did anyone else build a two-minute, 13-second lead halfway through last year’s race…and still hold on to finish 10th in 2:11:44?

Albertson knows some people on the LetsRun messageboard think he’s crazy. And he’s fine with that. He actually has a sense of humor about it. In his post-race interview following Boston last year, he joked that he led the first 20+ miles of the race to drive up traffic to LetsRun.com.

“I wanted to give your guys, your messageboard something to talk about, give you guys some hits, try to help you guys out,” Albertson said.

But Albertson doesn’t do any of this as a stunt. His philosophy is “know the runner you are.” Albertson is good at long, hard efforts, so that’s what he does a lot of in training (even if they’re longer and harder than what most other pros do). He also describes himself as the best downhill runner in the world. Where are the downhills in Boston? The first 16 miles of the race. So that’s why Albertson went out in 4:32 for the first mile and pushed the first half of the race.

And while everyone remembers how Albertson started last year, do you remember how he finished? He struggled a bit on the Newton Hills, but he came back to run 4:47 and 4:44 for miles 22 and 23. And though he had faded to 14th with a mile to go, he closed in 4:51 and caught four guys to move up to 10th. That doesn’t typically happen when someone with a huge lead is swallowed up by the pack.

So yes, I’ll be watching Albertson closely on Monday. He’s fit, and he doesn’t care what anyone thinks, which means anything is on the table.

Who will finish as the top American?

This is a really deep US field. Five guys — Scott FaubleColin BennieJared WardIan Butler, and Mick Iacofano — have broken 2:10. Albertson is in good shape and was 10th last year. Jake Riley was an Olympian in 2021. Elkanah Kibet was 4th in New York last fall. And while Nico Montanez has yet to put together a top-notch marathon, he could be ready to pop one after some strong races at shorter distances. Given the forecast for Monday looks great for marathoning (partly cloudy, high of 56, friendly tailwind), it wouldn’t be a shock to see multiple Americans go sub-2:10 as Fauble and Ward did in Boston in 2019. The talent is there.

Notable American men in 2022 Boston elite field

Scott Fauble 2:09:09 (Boston, 2019)
Colin Bennie 2:09:38 (Chandler, 2020)
Jared Ward 2:09:25 (Boston, 2019)
Ian Butler 2:09:45 (Chandler, 2020)
Mick Iacofano 2:09:55 (Chandler, 2020)
Jake Riley 2:10:02 (Atlanta, 2020)
Jerrell Mock 2:10:37 (Chicago, 2019)
Matt McDonald 2:11:10 (Chicago, 2019)
Matt Llano 2:11:14 (Berlin, 2019)
Elkanah Kibet 2:11:15 (NYC, 2021)
CJ Albertson 2:11:18 (Chandler, 2020)
Nico Montanez 2:13:55 (Chicago, 2021)
Reed Fischer 2:14:41 (Chicago, 2021)

Bennie and Kibet both enter on the back of strong fall marathons. Bennie, through three marathons, has been super consistent, taking 9th at the Olympic Trials in his debut, 3rd at the Marathon Project in 2:09:38 in marathon #2, and 7th in Boston last fall to finish as top American. He keeps a pretty low profile, but his results are impossible to ignore. Kibet, meanwhile, experienced a renaissance in New York in November. After debuting with a 2:11:31 in Chicago in 2015, Kibet went six years and 11 marathons without bettering that time before finally running 2:11:15 to take 4th in NYC (top American). If he can run the same kind of race in Boston, he could finish as top American here as well.

Fauble, Ward, and Riley were all in great form a couple of years ago but have struggled to various degrees since then. Fauble did run 2:09 at the Marathon Project in 2020 but felt he was stagnating under coach Ben Rosario and left NAZ Elite after finishing 16th in Boston last year. Fauble, now being coached by Joe Bosshard, is still only 30 years old, and will certainly be one to keep an eye on. Remember, Fauble was at a disadvantage in recent years because HOKA has struggled to keep pace in the super shoe wars. He then wore Vaporflys in his first race as an unsponsored athlete in Houston in January and immediately clocked a 61:11 half marathon pb.

Jared Ward, who battled Fauble in Boston three years ago, had a very rough 2020, finishing 27th (Olympic Trials), 17th (London), and 35th (Marathon Project) — quite a tumble for a guy who was 6th at the Olympics just four years earlier. He was later diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease (hypothyroidism), and knowing the stigma attached to thyroid medication, was reluctant to begin treatment. Eventually, however, Ward began (legally) taking the medication and told Runner’s World he now feels feels “six years younger.” Six years ago was 2016 — Ward’s best year as a marathoner.

Riley is the oldest of the trio at 34, and while his Olympic race was…fine (29th in 2:16:26), his result at the US 15K champs last month (35th) was a disaster. We know what Riley is capable of at his best — he’s just two years removed from beating everyone in the country save Galen Rupp on a hilly Olympic Trials course in Atlanta. But his 15K result suggests he has a way to go before he’s in that sort of shape again.

I’ve already covered Albertson, but there are two guys worth mentioning. The first is the Mammoth Track Club’s Montanez who, in his last two races, has run 61:13 to finish 3rd at the US Half champs in December and 43:10 to win the US 15K champs in March. Montanez hasn’t run faster than 2:13:55 in five career marathons, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the hunt for top American in Boston. And if we’re getting excited about tuneup races, how about Reed Fischer? He just ran 62:06 on a challenging course at the NYC Half a month ago. Like Montanez, his marathon record isn’t great (97th Olympic Trials, 2:14:41 in Chicago last year) but his run in New York suggests he’s ready to go.

I’m going to hold off on predictions until talking to the elites at Friday’s press conference, but right now I’m leaning toward Cherono for the win and Bennie as top American, primarily due to their consistency. Those two guys just don’t run bad marathons.

Talk about 2022 Boston on the world-famous LetsRun.com / messageboard.

Women’s Preview: 2022 Boston Marathon Women’s Preview: Who’s World #1, Meet Degitu Azimeraw, and Can Molly Seidel Make the Podium? Last year’s World #1 Peres Jepchirchir faces last year’s World #2 Joyciline Jepkosgei in a clash of the titans. Could the course record go down?

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