119th Boston Marathon Redux

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This article originally appeared in our May/June 2015 issue.

Desisa Gets His Gold Back and Rotich Sprints to the Finish

by Paul Clerici

On a day when one of the big questions was the weather – but not how much to shovel – cold rain and a headwind may have prevented records from falling, but it did not dampen the excitement. Winners included a benevolent champion and a previous dropout; and on the local front, there were several top American men and women finishers.

Boston Marathon Race Director Dave McGillivray was especially pleased with the 2015 race, particularly on the heels of the previous few editions.

“Challenges are always during transition years – in 2012, the heat and then recovering from that; and then what happened in 2013 and recovering from that; and 2014,” he said. “So, what was 2015 going to be and how do you plan for that? This was a year where we learned from last year and we executed very similarly [to it] this year. Dealing with all the snow leading up to this year’s race – and the rain – we’re constantly being tested. But that’s okay because this organization certainly is up to the challenges,” he noted of the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.).

Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa earned his second Boston win in three years, and even ran past his 2013 victor’s medal, which is on display inside the newly-opened Boston Marathon RunBase location on Boylston Street. Desisa had – in a humble gesture to the late Boston Mayor Thomas Menino at the 2013 B.A.A. 10K two months later – presented his medal back to the city as a gift to its resiliency and strength after the tragic bombings.

For the 2015 title, Desisa averaged a 4:55/mile pace for his 2:09:17 victory.

“I saw in 2013 where to stop and hold back and where the ups and downs are,” he recalled. “I worked with my coach to prepare for the course better and did more training than I did in 2013. I took off my hat and started waving my hands because I love the Boston people.”

In second place was Yemane Adhane Tsegay (2:09:48), also of Ethiopia. Desisa and Tsegay had agreed beforehand to work together.

“Yes, we tried to go together and help each other, but it was very difficult with the wind,” admitted Desisa. “We held it together and pushed each other. We did it for our country and are very happy with the result.”

Added Tsegay, “We spoke together before the competition. We made this a teamwork win. After 30K, we felt good so we pushed and tried to always bring in more speed. [On race day] we made a big teamwork-win for our country. I tried to push, but in the end it was impossible for me to catch up with Lelisa Desisa. That is why he won. But I am still very happy with this result.”

In a time of 2:10:22 was 2014 Boston Marathon runner-up Wilson Chebet of Kenya in third.

“I am really happy with what I have done [on race day],” he said. “The weather was challenging, and because of it I was not going to let someone get away from the group. In the end, I was happy finishing third.”

Defending champion Meb Keflezighi, admittedly powered by the cheers of “USA” along the route, persevered despite several water-intake fits of difficulty en route to his eighth-place 2:12:42.

“Everything was going like I had planned,” he said. “At the 35K mark, they surged and I pushed really hard to try and close the gap. We were going so fast and my water was not going down. The consequence of that was the water would come back up, too. I had to stop five times and threw up, but I had to keep going.”

Photo by Scott Mason.

Photo by Scott Mason.

Ahead of Keflezighi was fellow US Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein in seventh place at 2:11:20.

“We went out so fast, I just made a decision at 10K to back off and maintain my effort a little bit more,” said Ritzenhein, who even took the lead in Wellesley. “I did not really plan to take the lead that early in the race, but I thought maybe the others already used too much of their fuel. So I tried a reasonable pace where I can maintain my effort. But this race was still a big step for me.”

Other American top finishers included Matthew Tegenkamp in 11th (2:13:52), Jeffrey Eggleston in 12th (2:14:17), and Nicholas Arciniaga in 14th (2:18:02).

In the women’s open division, victory came down to a late decisive move on Boylston Street by Kenyan Caroline Rotich, who in 2012 dropped out of Boston in the latter stages of the race. But this time, in 2:24:55, by mere seconds she edged Mare Dibaba of Ethiopia (2:24:59).

“We came to 25 and I was like, ‘It is almost over,’ and knew I wouldn’t go all-out until the finish,” said Rotich. “But then I started to feel Mare Dibaba and thought I’d finish second. Just like that, I saw the finish line and was like, ‘I can kick! I can kick!’ Once I saw the finish, I knew I could let go. I had to give it all of my strength until the finish line.”

Dibaba, who was third at the 2014 Boston Marathon, felt victory was hers as she led the Kenyan within the last half-mile, despite an early move at 23 miles that failed to put away her competition.

“I was trying to improve the pace and make it a bit faster. But then I realized that the group was getting closer when we came up the hill. Then I decided I had to save my energy,” Dibaba said through interpreter Feven Alem. And in regard to the final stretch on Boylston Street, “I was pretty confident that I would win, but I realized in the last few meters that I wasn’t going to have enough. Initially when I was in the lead, I felt good. But when I realized that she passed and I was in second, then I was very sad.”

Ethiopian Buzunesh Deba faded to third place in a time of 2:25:09.

“[Race day was] not my day. I felt absent [on race day]. The last 2-3 miles were too tight and I’m looking forward to future races,” said Deba. On her attempt to stay with the leaders down the homestretch, she added, “Yes, I tried to make that happen, but it didn’t. I couldn’t make it happen.”

Desiree (Davila) Linden, who was second behind Caroline Kilel of Kenya in the 2011 Boston Marathon, finished with a strong fourth-place 2:25:39 as the top American.

“I’m pleased with my race,” she noted. “It was a day to slowly chip away and improve myself. I think my tactic was great [on race day]. To win on this course, you have to be gritty and aggressive and in for a long day of pain.”

Photo by Scott Mason.

Photo by Scott Mason.

Linden’s fellow countrywomen in the top 15 included Marblehead’s Shalane Flanagan in ninth (2:27:47), Adriana Nelson in 13th (2:38:47), and Charlestown’s Hilary Dionne in 15th (2:40:42). Dionne near the end of her race had the unique distinction of being accompanied by Keflezighi, who as he finished his race surprised her from behind when he reached out and held up her arm as they crossed the finish line together.

Notably absent in the women’s race was three-time (2006, 2013, 2014) Boston Marathon champion Rita Jeptoo of Kenya, who Athletics Kenya determined to have failed a September 2014 drug test and subsequently issued a two-year ban.

Reactions were mixed, from apathy to applause.

“I don’t necessarily feel it was a void at all [not having Jeptoo in the field],” commented Linden. “I haven’t seen the finish yet [by the post-race press conference], but it sounded like it was a thrilling finish. It was tight down Boylston and it seems to be a little bit back to normal here as a result. It was a competitive, great field and that was good to see.”

Deba, who by more than a minute finished second to Jeptoo at the 2014 Boston Marathon, exclaimed with a laugh, “Yes, I was happy that she wasn’t here. My plan was based on her not being in the race.”

In the wheelchair division – which for the first time since 1987 instituted a non-controlled start – by more than six minutes Marcel Hug of Switzerland (1:29:53) beat defending champion and 10-time winner Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa (1:36:27). Masazumi Soejima of Japan was third (1:36:28).

Two-time defending champion Tatyana McFadden of the US three-peated with a 1:52:54. Only Wakako Tsuchida of Japan in second prevented an American sweep, as Susannah Scaroni and Amanda McGrory, both of Illinois, finished third and fourth, respectively.

According to the B.A.A., there were 30,251 official entrants (16,500 men; 13,751 women). The start field was 27,165 (14,858 men; 12,307 women) with 26,610 official finishers (14,588 men; 12,022 women). In the wheelchair division, there were 53 entrants (42 men; 11 women), 51 starters (41 men; 10 women), and 50 finishers (41 men; nine women).

The Local Angle: Dionne and Zablocki Lead the Way

by Kevin Balance

It’s the locals that make the Boston Marathon—and pull back its curtain. Cynics out there might think that Meb was opportunistic when he grabbed Hilary Dionne’s arm and hoisted it in the air as the two crossed the finish line. No, this was not an advantageous photo op to further “the brand;” it’s who Meb is. The cameras just so happened to catch Meb in an act of good sportsmanship, one of several he displayed out on the course. Lauren Philbrook who finished in 2:41:17 for 16th place, recounts, “The best moment for me was when Meb passed me and gave me some encouragement.” His interaction with Dionne was not unique; instead it emblemizes his character.

Dionne did not race her best Boston Marathon, having clocked 2:35:08 last year, but likely had her most memorable. She landed on the front page of national websites—many of which were not running based. However, those publications offered little more than a cursory mention of one of the best marathoners in the US. We find it imperative not to be like “the others, ” so we will actually tell you about her race. She ran most of it alone, which, given the conditions, made for a taxing day both mentally and physically. Battling a headwind on your own makes a 15th place 2:40:42 all the more impressive. Meb’s gesture was just icing on already frosted cake.

Thirty-five seconds in arrears of Dionne was Philbrook, a Hopkinton native now living in PA. In a day of positive splits, she managed to stay fairly even, running the second half a mere seven seconds slower than the first. “I felt much better in the second half than I have in the past. It was so nice to run up Heartbreak Hill and feel good.”

One of the few to manage a PR was NH native Denise Sandahl (read our profile of her in our July/August 2014 issue). “I really don’t know how I got a PR today,” she confesses. “I didn’t train well over the winter.” She did, however, listen to coach Kevin Beck’s wind/weather advice prior to the race. Imagine if we were all privy to such atmospheric augury. Here come the friend requests, Kevin.

Photo of the 2015 Boston Marathon by Scott Mason.

Photo of the 2015 Boston Marathon by Scott Mason.

Another person overcoming the Aeolus, Boreas, and Zephyrus (deities of the wind), was Jason Ayer. Perhaps his surname had something to do with it. Ayr, who had run a string of 2:27 marathons, finally got off the “snide” with a breakthrough 2:25. He was not at all intimidated by the wind as in various stages throughout the race he was leading a pack of men—all of whom were taller than him. We appreciate the tenacity in which Ayr attacked Boston, and he was rewarded with the two most important letters in racing: PR.

Still, Ayer wasn’t the fastest regional runner. Two bested him: Chris Zablocki and Ruben Sanca. Zablocki, currently a pre-med student in the Caribbean, was our first regional finisher, posting a 2:20:35 for 20th overall. He used a stealth strategy to turn in that performance: “I saw Sanca finished 2:19 last year at this race so would know a good pace. I stayed with his group until halfway when I realized we had slowed down too much. I decided it was time to start pushing it harder and was on my own the rest of the way.” Turns out Zablocki did slow (he ran the second half 2:39 slower than the first), just not as much as the rest of his pack.

Local teams, accustomed to the blustery conditions, strode to success in the competition in which the top three garbed in the same uniform score. The B.A.A. men’s masters team of Pat Callahan, Peter Hammer, and Wayne Levy combined for a time of 8:04 to secure the top podium spot by over 24 minutes. Despite the conditions, Levy said, “We were able stay on course and stick to the plan of successfully defending our master’s team title. The Boston Marathon has challenged us with something new each of the last five years (downwind, high temps, bombings, an emotional Boston Strong year, and frigid temps and strong headwinds). This is proof that runners are a committed and resilient group. We will be ready for whatever 2016 has in store for us.”

See the tables within for the best performing local teams.

boston marathon 2015 top area runners tables luke maher 5.21.15

boston mara 2015 ne teams table

Don’t Call Them Old: Local Masters Age-defying Performances at Boston

by Fiona Murphy

After one of the worst winter training seasons ever in New England, with record snowfall amounts and cold temperatures, local runners were hoping Mother Nature would be kind and reward us with a perfect weather day for the 119th running of the Boston Marathon on April 20, 2015.  It was not to be.  The forecast of temperatures in the 40s, headwinds at 20 mph with gusts up to 35, and cold, raw rain, heavy at times, unfortunately came to fruition.  But we are hearty New Englanders, and marathoners to boot, so we all came to toe the line, weather be damned.

The headlines in the news outlets all capture the top winners in the open divisions at Boston,  I am here to report on the runners over the age of 40, who seem to defy aging and continue to run at incredible speeds, some well into their 60s.  The Boston Athletic Association does have prize money for the 40-49 age group of masters runners, both male and female.  The 1st place winner receives $10,000 in prize money, followed by 2nd-$5000, 3rd-$2500, 4th-$1500 and 5th $1000.

The 1st place masters winners at this year’s Boston Marathon, each receiving $10,000 in prize money, were Danilo Goffi, 42, of Milan, Italy in a time of 2:18:44 (but watch out, Meb turns 40 this year and will be competing in this category next year) and Liza Hunter-Galvan, 45, of San Antonio, TX (New Zealand citizen) in a time of 2:46:44.

There are also some incredible local (New England states) masters runners that placed well in age groups from age 40 and above.  Two local women in the age 40-44 age group both finished in the prize money this year.  Marie Davenport, 40, of Guilford, CT, came in as 4th female masters in 2:49:06.  Kristin Barry, 41, of Scarborough, ME, finished as 5th female masters in 2:49:32.

As a 49 year old masters runner myself, who finished way behind these amazing runners [Editor’s Note: Murphy finished in 4:14:39], it was an honor to catch up with some of these top masters runners as they share some of their race day goals and experiences with me:

Kristin Barry, Scarborough, ME, Dirigo RC

41,2:49:32 and 4th in 40-44 age group and 5th overall masters finisher

Barry’s goals going into Boston this year were adjusted due to weather: “Just try to race and go after place. Luckily I had women to run with this year. I think many of us chose to run in packs to help fight conditions.” Barry felt the tough winter conditions for training “hurt us in terms of training but helped us deal with unpleasant, tough conditions.”  Barry also has the best post Boston recovery plan, a week vacation in a tropical locale with her family.  Well earned!

christine irish boston mara 2015 george ross 4.23.15

Christine Irish. Photo by George Ross.

Christine Irish, No. Yarmouth, ME, Dirigo RC

40, 2:52:28 and 6th in the 40-44 age group

Irish’s race goals for this year of sub 2:50 were altered by the weather forecast and now was “to run smart and finish feeling strong.  I figured any time goals were out the window.” She now feels, after competing so strongly in the headwinds on Monday, that a sub 2:50 goal is achievable under better conditions. To cope with her low points during the race, “I was able to review in my mind the events of 2013 and recognize that it is such an honor to take part in the marathon each year”.

Peter Hammer, Needham, MA, Boston Athletic Association

48, 2:37:20 and 4th in the 45-49 age group

Hammer says the tough weather didn’t factor into race day goals, other than staying a little more protected by staying in groups, but it was training setbacks, including a forced two week layoff from running in March due to a knee injury that altered his plan.  His plan was to remain conservative through the half and then reassess in Newton. “Although ultimately my ‘cautious’ pace also served as my pace through the hills and down Beacon Street,” Hammer said. A highlight of his day was celebrating with BAA teammates Pat Callahan of Plainfield, CT (42, 18th 40-44 AG, 2:41:04) and Wayne Levy of Waban, MA (49, 16th 45-49 AG, 2:45:36).  Together they won the masters team competition. “Without the help of my teammates, I never would have made it to the starting line-let alone the finish line.”

Todd Smith, Bristol, VT, Green Mountain Multisport (GMM)

40, 2:39:21 and 13th in the 40-44 age group

Smith said that the cold, wet, windy conditions didn’t really affect him. “I just had to work a little harder for the second half of the race,” said Smith. Smith loves the hills on the Boston course, both the downhills at the start and the Newton hills.  He feels a part of his success as a master is “just sticking to a plan that works and allowing oneself to enjoy other aspects in life is key”. Like many of the runners, Smith felt the cold was most problematic only after the finish. He will be leading the 3:30 pace group in the Vermont City Marathon in May.

Karen Durante, Newbury, MA, Whirlaway

64, 3:40:12 and 7th in the 60-64 age group

Durante’s first race goal is always to finish, then to finish without walking.  “This was by far my best Boston marathon as far as execution.  My first and second half were both 1:50. This year my last 2 miles were my fastest and I ran the entire way without stopping.”  Durante credits the many benefits of being a part of a team with her success: “I feel it makes me a better runner when I am part of a team-you just want to do well.”

Kevin Downing, Attleboro, MA, Wampanoag Road Runners

65, 3:23:53 and 4th in the 65-69 age group

Downing, owner of DB Sports in North Attleboro, admits that this winter’s training was more difficult than in past winters, “But I managed to keep my training miles very consistent with a mix of treadmill and long runs outside.   I think the winter we just had definitely was a positive effect on my Boston race because you get used to cold and wet conditions.”  Downing ran a lot of the race with his training partner, Mike Cullinane.  Downing felt the toughest part of the course was the hills, where the cold and rain contributed to tightness in his calves at that point.  Downing’s secret to running so well at 65 is “quality over quantity!”

Terry Tattersall, North Attleboro, MA, Wampanoag Road Runners

71, 4:45:53 and 7th in 70-74 age group

Tattersall  feels the weather and dealing with an injury were big factors in her race this year.  “With physical therapy and the Wamp runners keeping me positive, gave me confidence I could do this.  I planned to try my best and enjoy the journey,” she said. Tattersall credits her running successes to keeping active and doing things she enjoys, like yoga and gardening, and a lot of stretching.

I know I didn’t reach everybody (too many good runners; too little space), but see the tables within for all local masters who placed in the top 25 of their AG.

To read more from our May/June 2015 issue, click here.

To read from our current issue (including a 2016 Boston preview), click here.


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