10 Things We Learned at Boston Marathon Media Day

Evans Chebet says he's ready to run at the Olympics if Kenya names him to the team, plus updates from Emma Bates, CJ Albertson, & Jenny Simpson

BOSTON — We are three days out from the 128th Boston Marathon, and marathon weekend is in full swing in Boston. As usual, the B.A.A. has taken over the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel in the Back Bay, with athletes, agents, coaches, and legends of the sport all making the annual pilgrimmage to one of the meccas of the marathon.

LetsRun.com had boots on the ground on Friday to catch up with some of the major players ahead of Monday’s race. Here are 10 things we learned from pre-race media availability on Friday.

LRC 2024 Boston Marathon Men’s Preview: Evans Chebet Goes for 3-Peat & Kenyan Olympic Berth
LRC 2024 Boston Marathon Women’s Preview: Hellen Obiri Seeks Repeat Victory

Evans Chebet: “I’m ready to go to the Olympics”

Chebet will go for a third straight Boston title on Monday (Kevin Morris photo)

When Athletics Kenya announced its 10-man provisional Olympic marathon team in December and its five-man provisional squad last week, much was made of the fact that Evans Chebet — who has won Boston twice and New York once in his last three marathons — was not on the team.

Some have speculated that it is because Chebet is an adidas athlete. And while politics have been rumored to have played a role in some of Athletics Kenya’s decisions in the past, it is worth noting that of the five men named to the team in April, only two are sponsored by Nike (which also sponsors Athletics Kenya). Chebet, for his part, thought he may have been left off because of the Achilles injury that caused him to withdraw from last fall’s NYC Marathon.

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Chebet also said he has talked with the Kenyan federation, asking them to wait until after Boston to make a decision on the team. It’s still possible Athletics Kenya could name him to the team if he runs well on Monday. And if he is asked to run in Paris this summer, Chebet, who is 35 and has never competed at an Olympics, will not hesitate to say yes.

“I’m ready to go to the Olympics to run,” Chebet said.

Coach Gemedu Dedefo explains why 2:01 man Sisay Lemma is running Boston despite struggling in his first three attempts

Sisay Lemma is one of the world’s best marathoners coming off the best race of his life, a 2:01:48 victory in Valencia in December. But it was a surprise to see the 33-year-old Ethiopian as part of the Boston field considering his track record in Boston: DNF in 2017, 30th in 2019, DNF in 2022. Why would he come back rather than run in London, where he was the 2021 champion?

Lemma’s coach Gemedu Dedefo was happy to explain to LetsRun.com. In addition to Lemma, Dedefo coaches Tamirat Tola, who set the NYC Marathon course record of 2:04:58 last fall. Both men are prime candidates to be selected to the Olympic marathon team this summer — in LetsRun’s 2023 world rankings, we ranked Tola #2 (behind only the late Kelvin Kiptum) and Lemma #4.

Dedefo said that if both men were to run the same marathon this spring, one could overshadow the other when it comes to Olympic selection. For instance, if they went 1-2 in London, the federation might not put as much stock in a the runner-up’s result — even if it was a great performance — because he was beaten by a fellow Ethiopian.

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Instead, they decided to split up with Lemma running Boston and Tola doing London. Dedefo’s hope is that both men win next week. But if they don’t win, Dedefo still believes they have a better chance of getting both athletes selected to the Olympics by having them run separate races.

“We did it tactically,” Dedefo said, adding that he believes a top-3 finish in Boston would be enough for Lemma to earn selection given his 2:01:48 in Valencia is #2 in Ethiopian history behind only Kenenisa Bekele‘s 2:01:41 from the 2019 Berlin Marathon.

Given Lemma’s history in Boston, it is fair to wonder whether he is simply not made for the course — not every runner is. But Dedefo said that in previous years, Lemma has always had some sort of issue, noting that he was nursing a small injury heading into the race on a couple of occasions. Dedefo said those issues were not enough to prevent him from getting to the start line, but they became magnified on Boston’s up-and-down course, which is known for pounding the legs.

“Inside of the race, if you have something little (an injury), you feel double on this course,” Dedefo said.

This time, Dedefo says Lemma is healthy and hoping that the course is not an issue for him.

CJ Albertson explains his ideal Boston Marathon splits

Albertson is known for running big mileage and cranking out long, hard efforts during training. But his Strava entries have been somewhat subdued since the Trials. Albertson joked that since turning in 30 in October, he has started feeling aches and pains almost every single day and noted that his feet have been bothering him since the Trials — Albertson said Wednesday was the first day they did not bring him pain.

Albertson was heartbroken when he finished 5th at the Trials two months ago, but said that he has not dwelled on it much because he has been busy outside of running — he has two kids and works as a track coach and teacher at Clovis Community College in Fresno (he just got tenure).

As for Monday, Albertson said that given his preparation — he’s been busy with coaching during the spring track season — he is not in the shape of his life, but thinks he can still run well on Monday.

“I don’t feel like I’m in this phenomenal shape where I’m ready to run 2:06 or 2:07, but I’m in good enough shape that if I run a decently-split race, I can run 2:09:50,” Albertson said. “And on a great day, if we have a slight tailwind and it’s 2 seconds/mile faster, then I could even maybe crack 2:09.”

In a recent Strava entry, Albertson, whose best time in Boston is 2:10:23 in 2022, outlined his ideal splits for a sub-2:10. But he noted that those splits are likely a fantasy as he will have to respond to how the race unfolds rather than simply locking into a predetermined pace.

“The race is there and sometimes you’ve gotta follow the race,” Albertson said.

After missing the Trials, Emma Bates is confident she’s ready for another strong run in Boston

Bates withdrew ahead of the Olympic Trials after tearing her plantar fascia during Chicago’s October Marathon and admitted it has been a long road back from that point. She missed 12 weeks of running after Chicago and while she drew inspiration and companionship through her rehab with Team Boss teammate Emma Coburn (who was recovering from a torn hamstring), it was not a fun process. Bates had never had a major injury like this before.

“It was very arduous,” Bates said. “It was a really tough thing to get through.”

Bates and her coach Joe Bosshard were careful not to force things ahead of Boston, and about a month ago, when they began targeting marathon-specific sessions, Bates turned a corner. She says her last few weeks have gone even better than before last year’s Boston Marathon, which gives her confidence considering she finished 5th a year ago in a pb of 2:22:10.

“I have been running faster workouts than I ever have before, even faster than last year,” Bates said. “Much more controlled, much stronger.”

Jenny Simpson: “I’m gonna finish, come hell or high water”

Simpson is a legend on the track, but her first foray at 26.2 miles was a humbling experience. For the first time as a pro, Simpson had to drop out of a race as she battled cramps in her side, feet, calf, and hips in the heat of Orlando.

In Boston, her first aim is to finish. But Simpson is also hoping she is feeling good enough to pass people over the final miles of the race. That’s what she did at the NYC Half last month, where she was the top American in 72:06, and said it was “so fucking fun.” She’s also excited to be part of an iconic event on the running calendar after coming in previous years as a fan to cheer on her husband Jason.

“I’m excited to be a part of an event that’s as big as our sport is,” Simpson said. “Boston is its own character within our sport, just the course and the event. I don’t just say this: it really is a privilege to be here.”

Elkanah Kibet says he’s fitter than at the Olympic Trials, wants to break Bekele’s masters world record eventually

Elkanah Kibet nearly made the US Olympic team in Orlando, getting passed in the final mile to finish 4th.

He said his goal on Monday is to finish in the top 5, which would unlock the third Olympic spot for Trials third placer Leonard Korir. 

Kibet, who works full-time in the Army, said he is fitter than he was at the Olympic Trials, “Going into the Trials I don’t think I was fit. I have better preparation (for Boston) than for the Trials.”

Asked how he could do so well at the Trials not being 100%, he said he feels too many people overcook it, citing the workouts he saw from Keira D’Amato and Betsy Saina amongst others. (When we separately talked to Matt McDonald, McDonald talked about how fit he was for the Olympic Trials, where he finished 64th). Now at the age of 40, Kibet knows when to back off a workout and works with his coach Haron Lagat on when to best place the long runs.

Speaking of being 40, Kibet said his goal next year is to break Kenenisa Bekele’s master’s world record of 2:04:19. Considering his PB is only 2:09:07 and the American record is 2:05:38 by Khalid Khannouchi, it is a very ambitious goal but Kibet said the shoes have changed the game and it could be done on a perfect course with perfect weather.

New dad Matt McDonald has put the Trials behind him and is ready for Boston

McDonald said he was in amazing shape for the Trials, but all things considered — he is a new dad with son Mason just three weeks old — he is ready for Boston. He is more prepared for anyone for the hills since he trains in Boston on a brutal hill loop for his hard workouts and uses the marathon course hills for his easy runs.

“[On the hard hill workout], you’re lucky to run 5:30 pace [uphill] and then the downhills work on turning it over running 4:30 pace and just doing long interval workouts and tempo efforts on that loop really prepares you for Boston,” he said.

Sara Hall: “I grieve it (not making the Olympic team) a little bit every day and probably will for a while but I spend most of the day really excited about the future”

2015 champ Caroline Rotich is back in Boston running as an American for the first time

Last year’s 5th placer Zouhair Talbi said he is much fitter this year

Talbi said barring a crazy performance by someone at the Rabat Marathon, more likely than not he will be on the Moroccan Olympic team.

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