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The 114th Running of the Boston Marathon - The Women's Race
by John Elliott and Sharon Ekstrom
Maybe it's just a race - but we always want to think it's more. What does the Boston Marathon women's race tell us about the state of marathoning in the USA? What does it tell us about racing strategy and the effect of expectations on a race? What are the stories and back-talk that give the race character?
The Prior Year's Marathon - Slow
The 2010 Boston Marathon came on the heels of the most-hyped, yet slowest and most embarassing Boston ever - the 2009 Boston Marathon women's race. We can't fault the Boston organization for the outcome of the 2009 race, but we can explain it before we talk about 2010. The 2009 race was setup with the hope that an American woman, Kara Goucher, would be able to prevail - and the hype was all about Kara Goucher vs. the world. Honestly, there are not enough American women marathoners - a terrible statistic will tell us that only four times in the last fifteen years has the top American woman been in the top ten of all women at Boston. Kara Goucher is a superstar and the hype was warranted in 2009. But with the hype, the women were stigmatized and none were willing to take control of the race, so it fell to a Colleeen DeReuck, a 45 year-old woman with no designs on winning the race, to set the pace and ensure that the top competitors at least ran and didn't walk through much of the race. The race finally came down to a 10K race and a 400 yard dash as Salina Kosgei outsprinted Dire Tune to win in in 2:32:16, the slowest Boston Marathon winning time in 24 years. Kara Goucher was relegated to third place nine seconds back - her 2:32:25 more than 6-1/2 minutes slower than her debut marathon on the tougher New York City Marathon course.
2010 Marathon Participants
Fast forward one year to 2010. The two top women from 2009, Salina Kosgei and Dire Tune, returned to the Boston Marathon to reprise their finish of the previous year. As has been the sad case at Boston, no American women could be found to challenge or truly be part of the elite field. In addition, a woman who might have helped make the 2010 marathon better than it might otherwise be, the four-time champion, Catherine Ndereba, was initially in the field but did not start due to an injury. To make the field, organizers found a slew of Ethiopian and Russian women, two countries that seem to breed marathoners; as well as a group of runners from Japan and China, countries with great marathoning traditions that seldom come to perform in the USA.
The 2010 Women's Marathon
With the fresh memory of a slow 2009, the women instead chose to open the race at a solid pace. The first mile in the 2010 race was a full minute faster than the 2009 opening mile and the women, from the start, were on a pace to run 2:25 for the marathon - a solid time; whereas the early miles of the 2010 race suggested the runners were on target for a 2:38. Chaofeng Jia, a Chinese runner participating in her debut marathon, took over the initial lead which she later shared with Yukiko Nakamura. Dire Tune, the 2009 runner-up, was also near the front.
Perhaps Dire Tune recognized that a faster race would favor her - she had won in 2008 in a sprint 2:25:25, whereas she lost to Kosgei in 2009 in a sprint to 2:32:10 - so eventually it was Tune who picked up the pace by mile 11 and broke apart the pack at an earlier point than is typical at Boston... Tune really started to run away from the rest of the field and only two other Ethiopians: Teyiba Erkesso, one of Tune's training partners, and Koren Yal could keep up with Tune. Approaching mile 15, Tune could be seen grabbing her stomach and then she dropped from the race. After winning the race in a sprint in 2008 and losing the race in a sprint in 2009, Tune set the stage for a strong 2010 race, but would not be able to finish. A mile after Tune dropped out, Erkesso and Yal could be seen talking and it seemed that Erkesso was asking Yal to take the lead and the work - and Yal did step to the front. But Yal, a woman with a 2:28:48 personal best from the 2009 Venice Marathon, could not hold the lead and Erkesso, a woman with a 2:23:53 PR at the 2010 Houston Marathon, rushed past Yal. Erkesso continued along alone, lengthening her lead against all others - the apparent winner. But, as we know, a marathon is never that simple.
Tatyana Pushkareva working with Lidiya Grigoryeva caught Yal, and the two Russians moved into second and third. But as they climbed the hills, Grigoryeva slowed and Pushkareva sped up, making up a small amount of time on Erkesso. Ahead and cresting the hills, Erkesso - more than a minute ahead of Pushkareva - was clutching her stomach and slowed. It looked like Erkesso would soon drop out, but somehow she managed to keep running.
The Finish: A win by 3 seconds. Third place by 1 second
In the final five miles, Pushkareva continued to gain on Erkesso and the question became when would Pushkareva catch the faltering Erkesso. Each mile the differential between the two women decreased, but with yards to go to the finish, Pushkareva just could not quite reach Erkesso. Erkesso claimed the victory in 2:26:11 as Pushkareva finished just behind in 2:26:14. After the race, Pushkareva joked that it was the Russian fate to finish runner-up in a close Boston Marathon - just as Biktimirova had lost to Tune in a sprint in 2008.
Salina Kosgei and Waynishet Girma ran the entire 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon together and it came down to the a sprint in the final yards of the Boston Marathon to determine who would get third place and who would get fourth. From talking to Kosgei before the race we knew that she was still suffering from a hamstring injury that developed from a fall during the 2009 New York City Marathon - and we did not expect Kosgei to finish third. But just as Kosgei had managed to outrun one Ethiopian, Dire Tune, at the end of the 2009 Boston Marathon; Kosgei somehow managed to outrun another Ethiopian, Girma, to keep the third place at the 2010 Boston Marathon in 2:28:35 while Girma would take fourth in 2:28:36. Afterwards Kosgei would tell us that she was incredibly surprised that she managed to hold onto third - the whole run up to the finish line, she was expecting to be fourth. As top American, Paige Higgins ran a good race (2:36:00) - her own race - but as in past years the top American was not slated to be a contender against the international field.
After a slow race and much hype of an American victory in 2009, the story for the 2010 Boston Marathon was a return to the normal state of things. The women's race in 2010 saw ten women run faster than the winning time of 2009 and witnessed a competitive race between Ethiopian, Kenyan and Russian athletes - with a close and nail-biting finish. That's the Boston Marathon we've come to know, now we'll just look forward to finding an American to take up the mantle at Boston.
And a note on the number of marathons to run per year... Teyiba Erkesso had run three marathons in the six months through the Boston Marathon - 4th place (2:26:56) at the Chicago Marathon in Oct. 2009, 1st place (2:23:53) at the Houston Marathon in Jan. 2010 and now 1st place (2:26:11) at the Boston Marathon in Apr. 2010. Some press asked Erkesso if she worried about running that many marathons (some are under the impression that people should run just two marathons a year). Erkesso responded as we hoped she would: she said that in Ethiopia they train hard and long distances - even beyond the 26 miles - and so each marathon is not too difficult and doesn't take too long to recover from. A marathon every couple of months was fine. We say: "thank you, Teyiba, for helping to bust the myth that two marathons a year is a magic number."
1. Teyba Erkesso (ETH) - 2:26:11 / $150,000
2. Tatyana Pushkareva (RUS) - 2:26:14 / $75,000
3. Salina Kosgei (KEN) - 2:28:35 / $40,000
4. Waynishet Girma (ETH) - 2:28:36 / $25,000
5. Bruna Genovese (ITA) - 2:29:12 / $15,000
6. Lidiya Grigoryeva (RUS) - 2:30:31 / $12,000
7. Yurika Nakamura (JPN) - 2:30:40 / $9,000
8. Weiwei Sun (CHN) - 2:31:14 / $7,400
9. Nailya Yulamanova (RUS) - 2:31:48 / $5,700
10. Albina Mayorova-Ivanova (RUS) - 2:31:55 / $4,200
11. Kiprop, Agnes (KEN) 2:33:21 / $2,600
12. Koren Yal (ETH) 2:33:48 / $2,100
13. Paige Higgins (USA) 2:36:00 / $1,800
14. Madai Perez (MEX) 2:36:04 / $1,700
15. Meseret Legese (ETH) 2:37:00 / $1,500