Ethiopia’s Sisay Lemma Holds On and Wins 2024 Boston Marathon in 2:06:17 After 60:19 1st Half

Lemma's bold early running is rewarded with a much-deserved victory

BOSTON — Ethiopia’s Sisay Lemma held on.

After some of the boldest front-running in the 128-year history of the race, during which his lead grew to almost three minutes in the Newton Hills, the 33-year-old Ethiopian won 2024 Boston Marathon on Monday in 2:06:17.

On an absolutely beautiful day (sunny 56 degrees, 5-8 mph tailwind), Lemma, the fourth-fastest marathoner in history thanks to his 2:01:48 win in Valencia in December, went out super fast. He took the lead in the third mile, and during the 5th mile separated from the pack, and soon was running splits we’ve never seen before in Boston.

Sisay Lemma Wins 2024 Boston Maratho (Kevin Morris photo) Sisay Lemma Wins 2024 Boston Maratho (Kevin Morris photo)

At 10k, he led by 25 seconds, but during the next 5k a string of 3 miles in the 4:30s, gave him a lead of 1:21 at 15k. He was just getting started on building his lead.

He hit halfway in 60:19 and led by 1:49 as the chase pack, which included Evans Chebet, who was trying to be the first man to 3-peat since Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot did it between 2006 and 2008, hit halfway in 62:08. By 25k the lead was up to 2:21 and at 30k Lemma, had his largest lead of the race at an official checkpoint – 2 minutes and 49 seconds. He maintained that lead at mile 20.

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It was up Heartbreak Hill during mile 21, that the hills and early pace began to take its toll on Lemma and the chasers began to cut into his lead. Lemma slowed to 5:27 on mile 21 and gave up 20 seconds to the chasers, but he still led by 2:29.

Unless he lost 28 seconds a mile on the way in, he’d win the race. And Lemma was able to keep it together on the way home as he ran the next three downhill miles in under 5:10 including a 5:00 24th mile. In the end, despite running just 5:21.8 mile pace between mile 24 and the finish, Lemma won by 41 seconds over compatriot Mohamed Esa (2:06:58), the 2023 Tokyo runner-up, who moved up from 4th to 2nd in the last mile. Chebet was 3rd in 2:07:22.

CJ Albertson was the top American and first non-African finisher and he finally got the first sub-2:10 clocking of his life as he was 7th in 2:09:53.

Top 10 results appear below and then comes our full analysis.

Top 10 Men’s 2024 Boston Marathon Results

1 Sisay Lemma  ETH– 02:06:17
2 Mohamed Esa  ETH– 02:06:58
3 Evans Chebet  KEN — 02:07:22
4 John Korir  KEN — 02:07:40|
5 Albert Korir KEN– 02:07:47
6 Isaac Mpofu ZIM — 02:08:17
7 CJ Albertson USA — 02:09:53
8 Yuma Morii JPN — 02:09:59
9 Cybrian Kotut KEN — 02:10:29
10 Zouhair Talbi MOR — 02:10:45

Quick Take: Who says you can’t “bank time” in Boston? Lemma’s splits today were insane

Boston’s course drops 460 feet from start to finish and almost 350 of that comes in the first half. As a result, some runners will go out a little faster than their goal pace in order to take advantage of the downhills. The idea makes sense in theory, but in practice it is very difficult to execute. Miscalculate your pace even slightly and the Newton Hills will make you pay. And that’s before you factor in the weather, which can get to you on a sunny day like today where temps were in the low 60s by the finish.

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Lemma said he came in wanting to run sub-2:02 and went out even faster than that. Lemma took off during mile 5 and split 14:07 for his second 5k to hit 10k in 28:28 (2:00:06 pace) and that would help him hit halfway in 60:19. At mile 20 when his lead was the max, he was still on 2:02:57 pace. Although he would give back much of that lead over the final 10k, no one seriously challenged him in the final miles.

Even in the age of super shoes, it’s mind-blowing to see a 60:19 opening half marathon split in Boston – the fastest opening half in race history and the fastest in any non-rabbitted marathon. In the crazy tailwind year of 2011, Geoffrey Mutai ran his opening half in 61:58 en route to the 2:03:02 course record. Lemma ran 99 seconds faster than Mutai for the first half today, with no other runners to help him and of course no pacemakers. And despite running an enormous positive split (60:19/65:58), he still won by 41 seconds.

Usually, you don’t win a major marathon by positive-splitting by 5+ minutes. How did Lemma do it? First, he hung on admirably well. A 5-minute positive split is big, but many runners who go out as fast as Lemma will often run even larger positive splits, if they make it to the finish line at all. In December, Joshua Cheptegei famously went 60:36-68:23 in Valencia.

A key thing was that Lemma’s lead was actually growing all the way to 20 miles, at which point he led by 2:49, as the rest of the field was also running a big positive split and did not run as fast as last year, when three men ran 2:06:06 or faster (it’s fair to compare because it was cooler last year but there was also a slight headwind in 2023 instead of slight tailwind). Evans Chebet, who won last year in 2:05:54, actually went out faster in 2024 (62:08) than 2023 (62:19) but had dealt with Achilles issues during his buildup. If you put the 2023 version of Chebet (or 2nd and 3rd placers Gabriel Geay or Benson Kipruto) in this race, they may have been able to run Lemma down.

It would have been interesting if one of the top men had gone out slower than they did. Runner-up Mohamed Esa benefited from backing off a bit as he was eight seconds back of the chase pack at halfway but even he went 62:16-64:42. What would have happened if the chase pack had gone out in 63:00 instead?

Quick Take: Lemma earns glorious redemption

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.

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Sisay Lemma came into Boston in fantastic form having run 2:01:48 to move to #4 on the all-time list in Valencia in December. But there was significant reason to doubt him: in three previous Boston appearances, Lemma dropped out in 2017 and 2022 and was only 30th in 2019 in 2:22:08. 

So what changed? Lemma’s coach Gemedu Dedefo said that in previous years, Lemma went into Boston carrying some sort of minor injury that became aggravated by the pounding of Boston’s hilly course. This time, Dedefo said Lemma was totally healthy, and it showed.

“I said I was going to redeem myself,” Lemma said after the race.

Persistence is a theme for Lemma. Lemma debuted in the marathon in 2012 and it was only in his 22nd marathon when he won his first World Marathon Major in London in October 2021. Since then, Lemma has only gotten better, winning Valencia last year and now Boston as well.

Lemma could have run London next week instead – where he was the champion in 2021 – but he and Dedefo chose to have Lemma run Boston and his training partner Tamirat Tola run London with the hope that each man would win and clinch a berth on the Ethiopian Olympic team. 

So far, so good. With his victory today and his 2:01 in Valencia, Lemma is almost certainly on the team. Now it’s up to Tola.

Quick Take: What does Athletics Kenya do with Evans Chebet?

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Chebet had won his last three marathon starts before today and finished 3rd in his return after withdrawing from New York last fall. Had he won a third straight Boston, he would have had a strong case to be named to Kenya’s Olympic marathon team. But what about now? 

Chebet finished as the top Kenyan in 3rd. Chebet’s body of work over the last two years is as impressive as any other Kenyan’s (save for the late Kelvin Kiptum) but considering Chebet was not named to either of Athletics Kenya’s provisional Olympic squads, it seems unlikely 3rd is enough to leapfrog him onto the final squad which we think is a mistake. If he’s healthy, he’s one of the marathoners in the world in non-rabbitted hilly races.

Quick Take: CJ Albertson joins the sub 2:10 club

On Wednesday, Albertson posted a screenshot from his phone on Strava, labeling it “Close to Ideal Boston Marathon splits that I’ll never run.” His projected finishing time? 2:09:51.

CJ Albertson Joins the Sub 2:10 Club (Kevin Morris photo) CJ Albertson Joins the Sub 2:10 Club (Kevin Morris photo)

Albertson said his splits today were slightly faster than what he drew up in the first half (he went out in 63:52 for the first half) and slightly slower in the second half, but he came damn close to the final time as he was the top American today in 7th in a pb of 2:09:53. That 2:09 was a long time coming for Albertson, who had 2:10 or 2:11 a total of 10 times since the start of 2020 as well as a 2:09:58 on a treadmill but had never broken 2:10 officially. 

Technically Boston is a not a record-eligible course because it is a net downhill, but Albertson was very pleased to have a 2:09 next to his name.

“It’s kind of like the monkey off your back,” said Albertson, who was 5th at the Olympic Trials 10 weeks ago.

While Albertson said the wind felt like a crosswind and even a headwind at times, overall he thought the wind helped him. He thought he got a boost from a tailwind in the Newton Hills, a part of the course which has been a challenge for him in past years. Also because of the wind he didn’t feel as if he had to tuck into a pack at all times.

“I definitely ran a more even effort, so that helps,” Albertson said. “And the way the wind was, it was easier or I felt more confident running with the second pack and also running by myself.”

Quick Take: At age 40, Elkanah Kibet is already thinking about the 2028 Olympic Trials

Kibet, who was 4th at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in February, came into this race raving about his fitness saying he was much fitter than at the Trials. The 40-year-old even told us that one day he hopes to break Kenenisa Bekele’s age 40+ masters world record of 2:04:19.

Today, he went for a big one, going out in 63:15 but he faded over the second half (69:17) and ran 2:12:32 for 14th. He told us he was battling hamstring issues late in the race and that it felt warm to him in the race. Looking ahead, he’s not sure if he’ll run a fall marathon. Even though he’s 40, he’s got a long-term approach and says the key focus is the 2028 Olympic Marathon Trials. Kibet, who is in the Army and was deployed in Poland for 10 months in 2022 and 2023, is hoping his next assignments will keep him stateside so he can keep training at a high level during the next Olympic cycle.

Meb Keflezighi runs Boston 10 years after his victory

Meb ran 3:08:58 and said his calf tightened up last week and that “you got to respect the training. You got to respect the distance. You got to respect the Boston Marathon course.”

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More: Hellen Obiri Rips 15:06 5k From 35k To 40k To Repeat As Boston Marathon Champion Obiri got the win by running her final 4.2 plus miles at under 5-minute mile pace. Mile 23 was 4:57, mile 24 was 4:41, mile 25 was 4:54 and she ran her last mile in 4:51 to finally break free of Sharon Lokedi.

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