117th B.A.A. Marathon – Men’s Race
Boston Marathon: Patience Is A Virtue
Withering Finish Propels Ethiopian’s Desisa To Victory
By Dave Hunter
April 15th, 2013
The marathon is a cruel mistress. And a major part of its allure is its uncertainty. Even the healthiest, most fit athletes know when they toe that starting line, the miles that lie ahead may be filled with unexpected developments. Their competitors, the weather, even their own bodies may present unanticipated challenges. How each competitor responds to these twists in fortune is part of racing 26 miles 385 yards and most certainly will impact their performance.
With the Patriots’ Day dawn offering a crisp, windless morning with temperatures in the mid-40, the race unfurled under near-perfect conditions. Even though a good number of the world’s elite marathoners had opted to race in this coming weekend’s London Marathon, the Boston men’s field was still impressive – 9 men starters had previously broken 2:07, including 3 under 2:05.
Any break from the foreign domination of this race over the prior three decades appeared unlikely. Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall, and Abdi Abdirahman – the U.S. marathon contingent at the London Olympics – had been expected to compete until nagging injuries sent them to the sidelines.
Not unlike the women who started before them, the elite men left Hopkinton in a controlled fashion. Caution ruled the start as a herd of world class marathoners glided through the first mile in 5:09. A pair of Americans – last year’s fourth place finisher Jason Harman and Fernando Cabada – and Canadian Robin Watson led the men through 10K in 15:34. Only a modest pace increase ensued as the 10K mark was passed in 30:53. Hartman grabbed on passing the chase pack and held on as the eastern Africans threw in a surge which covered the two mile stretch from Mile 7 to Mile 9 in 9:29. The leaders kept dishing out sub-5:00 miles as the Ethiopian duo of Geb Gebremariam and Markos Geneti led a 9-runner pack through 11 miles in 54:11. It was clear that the winner would emerge from this front running pack which roared through the halfway mark in 1:04:54. While a truly fast time was slipping away, a spirited, competitive race was emerging.
Amazingly, Hartman and Watson were hanging on – they were surviving the African-initiated pace storm that was raining down on them. Watson even briefly took the lead during the 16th mile as the elite men headed for the Newton hills. Those unexpected developments that are a hallmark of marathon racing? Hartman and Watson were adapting effectively.
As the leaders made the turn at the Newton Fire Station, race aficionados braced for the battle which almost always ensues when a lead pack heads into the hills. The leaders’ trek through the Newton Hills is not unlike a prize fight. It’s been said that in boxing, a prize fighter beats his opponent until he quits. But in marathoning, a runner beats on himself until his opponent quits. Before long, the Kenyans went to work – dishing out some punishing body blows in an effort to break the race open. First Dixon Chumba pressed the pace, with the Ethiopian Desisa on his shoulder. Defending champion Wesley Korir entered the fray – his assault shaking up the pack. Punishing blows to be sure – but no knockout punches.
After ascending Heartbreak Hill, the leaders raced down to Cleveland Circle and began the final four mile push to the Back Bay. With the surge siege in the hills proving inconclusive, the jockeying for a furious final finish soon developed. The pace eased as the leaders re-gathered for what they all knew would be a track-like sprint to the line. Would Micah Kogo – a sub-27:00 10,000 racer – prevail? Or would Gebremariam – a notoriously powerful road race finisher – grab the win?
Before long, the endgame began. With Desisa pressing the issue, the 24th mile was covered in 4:36 as Kogo and Gebremariam fought to stay close. After a quick turn on Hereford, Desisa sensed a weakness in his rivals. And with one magnificent surge, the determined Ethiopian made sure the race was over. Powering up Herford and spinning on the Boylston, the 23-year old Ethiopian could savor his victory as he raced unpressed over the final 600 meters, hitting the finish line in 2:10:22. The final mile split as announced in the media room defies belief, but suffice it to say that Desisa’s final mile was the fastest mile of the day and significantly below 4:40 pace.
Back up Boylston, Jason Hartman was completing a heady and courageous race effort. Unable to match the finishing speed of the top trio, Hartman nonetheless kept his cool and his focus and replicated his 2012 fourth place finish – brandishing a fist pump as he crossed the line in 2:12:12. “I think at Boston, the last 5 miles is where you can determine whether or not you can run the course.” Offering a telling insight into his successful race strategy, Hartman confessed, “I just try to stay within myself and stay within my plan and give myself an opportunity to compete at the end of the race.” And as it did for him last year, Hartman’s patience was rewarded again today.