Former 2:24 marathoner, now in my late 40s and hoping to maximally flatten the curve of my slide into senescence and mediocrity • Magazine writer, book editor and author, and commentator on the sport of distance running since 1999 • Adviser and confidant of other perambulators • Paradoxical hater of exercise fanatics • Chihuahua whisperer Sentence-fragment impresario

Monday, April 16, 2018

When it rains, it pours...unexpectedness: Boston 2018

For the fourth straight year, I was in at the 23-mile mark of the Boston Marathon waiting for a couple of athletes I work with to trundle by and, of course, to take in the fullness of the race up close.

This event had enjoyed the makings of a truly historic Boston for months. The American field included almost all of the leading lights of the very recent and somewhat recent past: Galen Rupp, Dathan Ritzenhein, 41-year-old Abdi Abdirahman, and a contingent of Kenyan-born U.S. entrants from Colorado on the men's side, and Shalane Flanagan, Molly Huddle, Jordan Hasay, and Desi Linden on the women's. Ritz withdrew about a week ago and Hasay pulled out yesterday citing a possible foot issue, but this still left a great domestic field ready to roll.

The weather went to hell during the weekend and it was assured that it not only would it be very cold and rainy at the start, but also that a 20- to 25-mile-an-hour wind would be blowing almost directly in the runner's faces the entire way out of the east-northeast. This meant that times would obviously be slow, but also that attrition -- always a big factor in any world-class marathon but especially at Boston -- would play a major role. Usually, the East Africans are hit even harder than others when it's as raw as it was guaranteed to be today.

That proved to be exactly the case, as only two of the 11 Kenyans in the elite field even finished, and zero of the Ethiopians. Unfortunately, one of the other casualties was a former and almost certainly future Olympian I'm coaching, and another was a local masters guy with solid creds (close to 30:00 on the track in college and a lot of successful triathlons over the years) who'd been battling calf problems all winter and early spring. The former succumbed to hypothermia at about 25K and the latter was knocked to the sideline by his leg problems at about the same point.

It was surreal to see so many elites in windbreakers and other midpacker garb 23 miles into the Boston Marathon. Once my mind adjusted to the reality of what the runners were going through, I was almost waiting for a smiling, waving mattress to run by in the top 20, followed closely by one of the Transformers or maybe a tauntaun.

The overall effect, predictable enough yet bizarre to consider in its reality, was a glut of virtual no-names finishing in the money. Linden became the first American woman to win the race in 33 years, and the first American-born runner of either sex to break the tape since 1985 (nothing against Meb Keflezighi, one of my and everyone's favorite runners, but his stirring and gutsy 2014 triumph in 2:08:37 at age 38 doesn't carry quite the same cachet for some Americans as does a U.S. native's does, unfair as that may be). And she didn't just win; she beat the second-place finisher by 4 minutes and 10 seconds, the biggest margin of victory since 1993, when women's elite marathon running was far less competitive than it is today.

The preliminary results are here. Astonishingly, 22 of the top 25 women were Americans, as were 19 of the top 25 men. Before today, had anyone heard of Sarah Sellers? Rachel Hyland? Jessica Chichester? Nicole Dimercurio? Not really, but all of these women finished ahead of Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle. Those are some incomparably fleshy scalps, whatever conditions engendered their taking. And all of them now have not only burgeoning name recognition but thousands of dollars more than they expected to earn today in, I suspect, even the rosiest of pre-race scenarios.

For my part, I was happy to make it back to my temporary base outside of I-495 with all of my electronics still working.

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