Cathal Dennehy is one of my favorite recent additions to RunBlogRun. A running purist, Cathal loves the sport of athletics and, like his partner in crime, Fiedhlim Kelly, defend their sport to their last breath or adult beverage of the evening.
Boston brilliance – a race to savour on marathon Monday
“I will win,” says Lelisa Desisa, leaving you in little doubt as to who the favorite will be when the elite men’s field toes the line in Hopkinton for the 119th Boston Marathon.
The Ethiopian 25-year-old goes into the race off the back of second-placed finishes in his last two marathons – in New York in November, he finished a close second to Wilson Kipsang in 2:11:06, and in Dubai in January, he was again outrun near the finish by Lemi Berhanu and was runner-up in 2:05:52 – but this time, Desisa believes the time is right to reclaim the title he won here in 2013. “I did the training that I had to do, so that is why I am so confident,” he said.
Desisa dropped out of the race last year after struggling with a twisted ankle, which he says was “very painful”, but this year, all has gone to plan. He refused to be drawn on what tactics he will employ to win Monday’s race, explaining that a decision would be made come race day. “I have tactics planned, but it all depends on the weather, so it will be race time when I find out.”
A Kenyan comeback
Though Desisa, who holds a best of 2:04:45, looks to be the strongest candidate, his top performance to date still ranks him over a minute slower than Kenya’s Patrick Makau, who will be a formidable challenger on Monday if he can return to anything like the form that saw him set a world record of 2:03:38 in Berlin in 2011.
Though Makau, 30, struggled badly with a knee injury in the intervening years, he feels he’s on the road back to the top, a notion supported by his return to form at the Fukuoka Marathon in December, which he won in 2:08:22.
“That was a comeback for me,” says Makau. “It was good. My training has been better than [it was before] Fukuoka. My preparation was good; I have been okay with injuries.”
Makau’s world record was eventually broken by Wilson Kipsang in 2013, and has since been lowered again by fellow Kenyan Dennis Kimetto, who ran 2:02:57 at the Berlin Marathon last year. “I was not happy [to lose the record],” says Makau, “but we have many Kenyans who are upcoming, so it’s normal.”
Makau is hopeful he can return to his former glory, but admits that it will be a slow process, one that started in Fukuoka and will take another giant step if he can compete for the win in Boston on Monday. To prepare, he has been logging about 30km a day in the Kenyan hills, training alongside other marathoners like Patrick Ivuti and Boniface Kirui.
“I missed it a lot, but it’s all about being patient,” he said. “This is my first time running Boston. I don’t know much about the course, but I know it’s up and down, a challenging course. I want to see myself running good times again. “
Makau is self-coached, and feels he knows enough now, at the age of 30, to guide his career in the right direction. After Boston, he is unsure where his next marathon will be, but he sees next year’s Olympic Games as part of his long-term plans. “I will be there,” he says definitively.
Challengers come in their droves
Of course, Makau and Desisa are just two of a host of top athletes who could walk away as the champion on Monday. There is also Wilson Chebet, the runner-up last year who felt he blew his winning chance by allowing Meb Keflezighi the chance to escape and build a lead which was never surrendered. “If everyone were together, maybe the winner would have been someone else,” he says. “I just accept it, though. I tried my best. My goal on Monday is to run something I think everybody will be proud of.”
Another to warrant major respect is 2013 champion Bernard Kipyego, the 28-year-old Kenyan who finished third in the Boston Marathon in 2012 and took victory in Amsterdam last year in 2:06:22. His training motto, ‘the longer the distance, the better the Kipyego’, may well prove telling on Monday, as Boston’s 26.2 miles can often seem a lot longer, given its heart-breaking undulations.
The American dream, part two?
Of the home contingent, Meb Keflezighi seems an obvious starting point, but even he would admit a repeat of last year’s heroics, when he won in 2:08:37, looks unlikely. “For me age is just a number,” said the 39-year-old Keflezighi. “The pressure is less than it used to be because of that, but I do so many things to keep my body in good shape. I’m still trying to get the best out of myself, and I’m hoping to do that again on Monday.”
An athlete with the potential to eventually emulate Keflezighi is fellow American Dathan Ritzenhein, who says he undercooked preparations this year to ensure he made the start line after an injury-plagued 2013. “I feel pretty good,” he said. “I had a minor hiccup after New York City Half (March 14th), but it was only a couple days off, and I’ve been good to go ever since. It’s been a year and a half since I ran a marathon, so I just wanted to make the line healthy.”
With no pacemakers in the line-up, the battle for victory – as we saw so memorably last year – will be one where tactical nous will be every bit as important as the athletes’ reserves of endurance. Go time for the men on Monday morning is 10am Eastern, with the women setting off alone at 9:32am. With so many top athletes in the field, so many challengers to looking to take Keflezighi’s throne, the battle for supremacy should prove a fascinating one. Don’t miss it.