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The 113th Running of the Boston Marathon - The Women's Race
by John Elliott
US Against the World - Kara Goucher
"It's US against the world" - that was the title of the special Boston Marathon section of the Boston Globe as, for the first time in decades, the US[A] had two entrants to the Boston Marathon who could possibly win - and too many were favorites both sentimental and realistic. Of the two, Ryan Hall and Kara Goucher, most pundits believed that Kara Goucher had the best chance - everything about Kara suggested she could win. After running in the Olympic 10000m and with only five weeks of preparation before her debut marathon, Kara had placed third at the New York City Marathon. With proper training and supervised by a past Boston champion, Alberto Salazer, Kara's potential appeared unlimited.
Dire Tune and The 2008 Sprint - Watch Out
Against the patriotic backdrop, the 2009 Boston Marathon was certain to provide the quality stories that it usually yielded. And a favorite was the retelling of Dire Tune's fantastic sprint finish win in 2008 against Avetina Biktimirova in the closest Boston Marathon women's finish of all time. We knew that with Tune in the field any competitor silly enough to enter Boylston Street - the last half mile of the course - with Tune was at risk of the same sprint loss that had befallen Biktimirova.
And the Weather - Of Course
The Boston race is famous for the variation in weather - and somehow, in some way, the weather is always a factor. Some years there is a tailwind and the runners will always hope for that. Some years it can be unbearably hot, some years, wet, well, you get the idea... Early forecasts called for rain, but instead, the day brought perfect temperatures for a marathon, but a strong headwind - this would not be the fastest race, and we'd expect the runners to hide behind each other - it should be tough...
With no rabbits/pacers, the women were free to decide among themselves what the pace should be. But from the beginning, the pace was excruciatingly slow - really, really, slow. The first mile was taken in 6:28, if that continued, it would be a 2:49 marathon - in comparison, the 2008 marathon was won in 2:25:25. Colleen De Reuck would tell us later: "You get paid a lot to race, but a 6:28 mile is pretty slow.... I was a little bit embarassed to be running at that pace." And it was De Reuck who stepped to the front of the pack to push the pace... a bit. Even then the pace was slower than it should be. Kara Goucher told us "It was a little bit slower than I would have liked. I just thought, 'you know what, it doesn't matter.' The clock doesn't matter. What matters is who crosses the line first so I just stayed relaxed... I kept looking at the clock and kept thinking: 'oh I got 40 minutes of a warm-up, and oh, I got an hour twenty minutes of a warm-up...'"
In a race that legitimately held five or six women who could vie for a win, the pack stayed at 17 runners for the first 15 miles. For Americans watching the race, they could feel proud that there were four American women in the pack and leading the pack: Coleen De Reuck, Elva Dryer, Mary Akor and Kara Goucher. But some of these women were there only due to the leisurely pace as the first half marathon was crossed in 1:18:12 - on the faster downhill section of the course... We'll repeat, 1:18:12...
Even through the Newton Hills and Heartbreak Hill, the pack remained at eleven women and there were many 6:00 plus miles as part of the run... Then, finally after mile 21, Goucher decided to increase the tempo and put in a 5:21 mile, more than 25 seconds faster than any previous mile in the race. With the surge and the continuation of a series of 5:20+/- miles, the pack began to shed runners in order: Alina Ivanova (RUS), Colleen De Reuck (USA), Atsede Habtamu (ETH), Alice Timilili (KEN), Lidiya Grigoryeva (RUS), Helena Kirop (KEN) and Bezunesh Bekele (ETH). By mile 24, the race had become a three-person affair with Kara Goucher still setting the pace and Dire Tune and Salina Kosgei looking relatively comfortable as they ran along behind and to the side.
Goucher continued to push the pace, but she could not drop Tune or Kosgei. All looked strong, and as the three approached the final mile, it was clear that this would become a sprint finish. Goucher, having most recently come from the track to longer distances and with faster shorter distance times, might have been the favorite for a sprint finish, but Tune had proven her mettle in her 2008 sprint finish win. And Kosgei had been a track runner, but that was years before...
Getty Images Sport / Jim Rogash
With 500 yards to go, Tune put in a surge to test the other two and Goucher could not respond. Kosgei stayed with Tune and the two began to move away from Goucher. With all of the hope for US, Goucher would have to settle for third.
The sprint finish between Tune and Kosgei was one of the most exciting ever seen as the two ran side by side - each taking turns being a half or whole stride ahead of the other, never more. At various times in the final minute of the race, an observer could be sure that Tune would win or be sure that Kosgei would win. It was that close...
But the day favored Kosgei, who would win finishing in a tough sprint in 2:32:16. Dire Tune would finish just behind and receive a time of 2:32:17. Goucher, no longer in the sprint, would take third place in 2:32:25.
Ironically, the world had been talking about: "1985, the last time an American won..." and the 2:32:16 finishing time of the 2009 Boston Marathon was the slowest since 1985, when an American won in 2:34:06. Also ironically, Dire Tune collapsed and was taken to a hospital (she is okay!) after losing a sprint finish after a slow run in 2009, but looked ready to run another marathon after winning a sprint finish after a fast run the year before...
We've seen every sort of Boston Marathon - and a marathon is ultimately a competition among other runners and secondarily a race against time. The Boston Marathon prize structure has a huge payment for the win and no time bonuses for anything worse than a course record - so we might expect a strategic race fast or slow. But, we at MarathonGuide.com will say that we are disappointed that the finishing times were not a bit faster...
On a day of slow runs, we'll give a nod to Sheri Piers, 37 of Falmouth ME, - a mother of five! - who finished eleventh woman and third American woman in a personal best of 2:37:04!
1. Salina Kosgei (KEN) - 2:32:16 ($150,000)
2. Dire Tune (ETH) - 2:32:17 ($75,000)
3. Kara Goucher (USA) - 2:32:25 ($40,000)
4. Bezunesh Bekele (ETH) - 2:33:08 ($25,000)
5. Helena Kirop (KEN) - 2:33:24 ($15,000)
6. Lidiya Grigoryeva (RUS) - 2:34:20 ($12,000)
7. Atsede Habtamu (ETH) - 2:35:34 ($9,000)
8. Colleen De Reuck (USA) - 2:35:37 ($17,400)
9. Alice Timbilili (KEN) 2:36:25 ($5,700)
10. Alina Ivanova (RUS) 2:36:50 ($4,200)