Hellen Obiri Wins Star-Studded Boston Marathon as Gutsy Emma Bates Finishes 5th

By LetsRun.com and Race Results Weekly
April 17, 2023

Track star. Cross country star. Boston Marathon champion.

Two-time World 5000m and one-time world cross country champion Hellen Obiri pulled away from a star-studden pack of five women at the 40-K mark that included American Emma Bates to win the 2023 Boston Marathon in 2:21:38. Obiri, the 33 year-old Kenyan, who was the last elite athlete to enter the race only three weeks ago, clocked 2:21:38 in only her second marathon, a personal best, as she got the first big marathon win for the On Athletics Club and coach Dathan Ritzenhein.

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Amane Beriso of Ethiopia, who came in with the fatest PB of the field, was second in 2:21:50 as Lonah Salpeter, Ababel Yeshaneh and Bates rounded out the top 5.

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Race recap from Race Results Weekly

Unlike the men, the women went out conservatively today.  Through 5-K (17:48), there were 26 women within two seconds of the official leader, Maegan Krifchin, and the pack was only on pace to finish in a modest 2:30:13.  Perhaps it was the cold weather or the wet conditions (it rained on and off during the race), but the women seemed not in a hurry to reach the finish line today.  Obiri would say later that maintaining her patience would be key today.

But the pace soon picked up.  After running 16:58 from 5-K to 10-K, the pace dropped to 16:01 for the third 5-K segment through 15-K.  That cut the lead group to ten: Amane Beriso, Gotytom Gebreslase, Ababel Yeshaneh, Celestine Chepchirchir, Obiri, Hiwot Gebremaryam, Nazret Weldu, Joyciline Jepkosgei, Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, and Angela Tanui.  American Emma Bates was another seven seconds back, and would soon catch the leaders.

The pace then stabilized, and the lead pack of 11 stayed together through halfway (1:11:29) and all the way to the 20 mile mark where the most testing hills begin.  It was not until the field had crested Heart Break Hill that things really started to pick up again.  For the downhill 22nd mile, the leaders split 5:08 which whittled the top group to eight (Gebreslase, Tanui and Chepchirchir were dropped).

Obiri, who has 3:57.05 1500m speed, was in great position.  Running near the front, she knew that she had the best finish speed.  She stayed patient, waiting to strike.

I can’t do it in front,” Obiri said, meaning that it was not up to her to push the pace.  “I have to wait, wait.”

Ababel Yesheneh fell during mile 24 but still stayed in lead pack

With one mile to go, the group was down to four: Obiri, Beriso, Yeshaneh, and Salpeter.  Bates was too far back to contend for the podium, but she would finish fifth in a personal best 2:22:10, bagging a 2024 Olympic Games qualifier.  Yeshaneh had tripped and fallen at the back of the pack, but had gotten up quickly to rejoin the race.

The race was still not decided at 40-K (2:14:44), but moments later Obiri broke away.  Pumping her arms in her signature style that brought her so many wins on the track, Obiri gapped the field and would win by a relatively comfortable 12 seconds.  Beriso got second (2:21:50), Salpeter was third (2:21:57) and Yeshaneh was fourth (2:22:00).

Obiri said that having her daughter, Tania, and her husband, Tom Nyaundi, at the finish helped motivate her in the final kilometers.

“I say let me try to work hard because my daughter is here,” Obiri said.  She added: “Can I try to make them happy?”

Aliphine Tuliamuk was the second American, finishing 11th in 2:24:37, a personal best.  Nell Rojas was the third American in 2:24:51, another personal best, and 40-year-old Sara Hall was the fourth American, and the race’s masters champion, in 2:25:48.  Her time was faster than the ratified USATF marathon record for USA women over 40 (2:27:47, Deena Kastor, Chicago, 11-Oct-2015), but the Boston course is not eligible for record-setting.

Top 20 Results. Analysis and interviews below.

Pos. Name Finish Time
1 Hellen Obiri 02:21:38
2 Amane Beriso 02:21:50
3 Lonah Salpeter 02:21:57
4 Ababel Yeshaneh 02:22:00
5 Emma Bates 02:22:10
6 Nazret Weldu 02:23:25
7 Angela Tanui 02:24:12
8 Hiwot Gebremaryam 02:24:30
9 Mary Ngugi 02:24:33
10 Gotytom Gebreslase 02:24:34
11 Aliphine Tuliamuk 02:24:37
12 Joyciline Jepkosgei 02:24:44
13 Viola Cheptoo 02:24:49
14 Nell Rojas 02:24:51
15 Nienke Brinkman 02:24:58
16 Celestine Chepchirchir 02:25:07
17 Sara Hall 02:25:48
18 Desiree Linden 02:27:18
19 Vibian Chepkirui 02:28:12
20 Annie Frisbie 02:28:45

Quick take: Hellen Obiri came very close to not running Boston

After Hellen Obiri won the NYC Half on March 19, there was some indication from her coach Dathan Ritzenhein that she might run a spring marathon and it might be Boston or London.

However, when you talked to Hellen she indicated she thought her next marathon would be in the fall. Behind the scenes, things weren’t settled at that point. Ritz knew Obiri’s training had enough mileage to prepare her for a marathon, and her camp felt she was ready for Boston hills because of her cross country background.

However, Hellen had to be convinced. And there were financial considerations as well. The other option for Hellen this spring was possibly doing the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile where there was a $50,000 American record and world record bonus pool.

When NYC champ Sharon Lokedi pulled out of Boston, some appearance money opened up for Obiri and Ritz wanted her to do it, but he wanted it to be her decision. She told him she’d decide in the next week. He texted her she needed to decide that night.

She thought it over and decided to give Boston a go and now her future looks really, really bright in the marathon. A bad run here might have really sapped her confidence in the marathon, but now she’s one of the very best in the world in the marathon, just as she was on the track and in cross country.

Top 3 Presser

Quick Take: A huge run from Emma Bates, and Joe Bosshard coached the top American man and woman in Boston on Monday

Emma Bates (photo Kevin Morris)

On a fantastic day of racing in Boston, one of the stories of the day was Emma Bates’ 5th-place finish in 2:22:10. It wasn’t just that Bates placed highly and ran fast – it’s that she was up at the front throughout, running as if she belonged and leading the freakin’ Boston Marathon as late as 23 miles. Simply a sensational run by a marathoner who just keeps getting better.

We gave Bates her own article here but let’s also throw some props to her coach Joe Bosshard, who coached the top American man and top American woman on Monday in Scott Fauble. Bosshard wasn’t aware of the last time it happened (we had to look it up – the Hanson brothers did it with Des Linden and Shadrack Biwott in 2018 and Alberto Salazar did it with Galen Rupp and Jordan Hasay in 2017)

“As a coach, every so often I have something that I’m like, that would be kind of cool to do,” Bosshard said. “Maybe when I’m old I can think back on it or have a beer over it or something and just be happy and satisfied.”

Bosshard gave Fauble and Bates a ton of credit for doing their buildups almost entirely solo. Fauble is the only man on Team Boss and Bates was the only female marathoner until recently (Dom Scott will debut in London on Sunday).

“They just get it done,” Bosshard said. “…I think our whole team rallies around them, the way they approach this and just their mindset and positivity.”

Quick Take: The women’s race was crazy deep in Boston this year

We called this the deepest marathon in history before the race and even though the opening mile was just 6:09, the pace eventually picked up and it wound up being a very deep day. Bates ran 2:22:10, a time that would usually be good enough to land on the podium, and was only 5th. Nell Rojas, who was 5th in 2:27:12 in 2021 and 10th in 2022 in 2:25:57, ran a pb of 2:24:51 but that was only good for 14th. Sara Hall ran 2:25:48 and that was only good enough for 17th. 15 women in all broke 2:25, and two more broke 2:26.

Aliphine Tuliamuk, the 2020 US Olympic Trials winner, was only 11th in 2:24:44 (a 94-second pb) and after the race said she didn’t know whether to be “very, very disappointed or happy that I got a new PR.”

Tuliamuk was left wondering if she should have tried to cover the move when the lead pack pulled away from her during mile 7 when they ran 5:08. However when she heard it was three 5:10 or faster miles in a row (mile 8 was 5:10 and mile 9 5:08), she said that would have done her in. Bates got dropped by the lead pack during these miles but was more committed to staying close than Tuliamuk and would regain the pack when it slowed down.

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