On a sun-drenched Patriots’ Day morning, Boston Marathon legend Kathrine Switzer – who would celebrate the 50th anniversary of her historic 1967 participation in this race by running 121st Boston Marathon in a later wave – fired the starting pistol to send an elite group of world-class women storming out of Hopkinton to begin their 26 mile 385 yard odyssey to Boston’s Back Bay. The 70 degree temperature at the race’s start promoted conservatism early as a pack of about 15 pacesetters – led by defending champion Alsede Baysa of Ethiopia and her country woman Buzunesh Deba – split the first downhill mile in a guarded 5:55. The lead pack – which included hopeful Americans Desi Linden and marathon debutante Jordan Hasay – was in warm-up mode as it glided by 2 miles in 11:31. The 5K split – 17:45 – projected a finishing time of around 2:29. Everyone in the lead pack knew faster racing was ahead.
Sensing a more spirited race pace was needed, Linden – who in 2011 battled for the win on Boylston Street before finishing second, 2 seconds behind Caroline Kilel – picked up the pace as the pack – about a dozen – raced by 10K in 34:37. Aware that others possess superior 10K speed, Linden – who began this race having previously posted two top 5 finishes in the historic race – was intent on making sure today’s race pace was honest.
With Linden’s 5:25 mile carrying the lead pack of 12 through 9 miles in 50:09, the leaders raced past Lake Cochituate. The pack – now trimmed to 12 – featured Americans Linden and Hasay and a gaggle of East Africans.
A 12th mile in 5:16 trimmed the lead pack down to 8, with Linden continuing to set the tempo with Hasay calmly tucked in among the leaders, sipping a power drink, and appearing relaxed.
Shortly after the tight pack hit half way in 1:12:24 and with race course temperatures now reported in the mid-70’s, Kenya’s Valentine Kipketer eased into the lead as the leaders’ group was down to 7 athletes spread across the road – all within one meter of the lead.
Heading toward Lower Newton Falls, Linden – struggling – started going out the back door. By contrast, Nike’s Hasay continued to look good – slowing briefly to snag her fluids, but popping right back up into the lead pack.
After bottoming out at 16 miles, the lead women began the first of 4 ascents into the Newton Hills. Kenya’s Valentine Kipketer led the charge with Hasay, Edna Kiplagat, Gladys Cherono, Rose Chelimo, and a faltering Brigid Kosgei in close pursuit with Linden dropping way back. As the race leaders crossed Route 128, a rejuvenated Linden, hugging the shaded right curb and running the tangents, closed the 25 meter the gap and actually regained the lead as the women leaders raced on to the Newton Fire Station.
Kipketer was back up front as the leaders swung right around the Newton Fire Station. Three hills remained as the race course temperature hit 79 degrees. With Kosgei and Linden once again dropping back, the 5 remaining frontrunners – Hasay, Cherono, Chelimo, Kiplagat, and Kipketer were left for the Newton shoot out. A 5:29 uphill mile got the quintet to 19 miles in 1:39:13. But then 38-year-old Edna Kiplagat – eschewing her pre-race pronouncement that she would not throw down a move until the final 5 kilometers – decided it was time to go. As if to say, “Can you do this?” the 2-time world champion unleashed a 5:22 uphill 19th mile – and nobody else could. Just like that it was over. Despite her 20 meter lead and purely for good measure, the former New York and London Marathon champion raced the 20th mile – which includes Heartbreak Hill – in 5:01. After cresting the Newton hills with no one in sight, Kiplagat stretched out her long stride and flew past the 35K mark – having run the prior 5K in 16:01 – to forge a comfortable 28 second lead.
There was no stopping her now as the Kenyan star ran the 3-mile stretch from Mile 20 to Mile 24 in 20:37. Her controlled drive down Boylston was a grand coronation as this first-time Boston racer crossed the finish line the victor in 2:21:52, cheered on by her two children 13 year old Carlos and 9 year old Wendy.
59 seconds back, Bahrain’s Rose Chelimo finished 2nd in 2:2:51. Jordan Hasay – bettering the American debut marathon record by over 3 minutes – made the podium with a 3rd place clocking of 2:23:00. A gutty run from Boston College to the Back Bay allowed Desi Linden to get up for 4th in 2:25:06 – her 3rd top 5 finish and her 4th top 10 finish in this Patriots’ Day race.
Afterwards, a composed and serene champion was gracious in the wake of her victory. “I am very happy to come to Boston today. It is so great. It is really an honor to come here and win the first time [I raced here]. In response to an inquiry about her decisive move in the hills, she replied, “I was feeling good at 30 K so I tried to move and break away. I decided to make a move at 35K.” After a pause, she added, “It worked well.”
Jordan Hasay was aglow at the post-race press conference. “I didn’t know what to expect as this was my first marathon. The pace wasn’t too fast, so it was nice to be able to handle the pace,” said a beaming Hasay, perhaps invigorated by the knowledge that, at last, she has found the event for which she is best suited. “The marathon is a very emotional event so I try to stay as relaxed as possible. I lost my Mom in November so it has been an emotional time for me – but it also powered me through this.”
Oh, and how did Kathrine Switzer do? All this indefatigable 70-year-old did was run 4:44:31, smiling all the way down Boylston and savoring every moment. Unlike her inaugural Boston marathon where she was the only woman on the road, this year she was surrounded by legions of women throughout the race. Her 50th anniversary run was a stunning tribute to and tangible evidence of the progress she and others in leadership positions have made in advancing opportunities for all women over the past half century.