Lelisa Desisa, 2015 Boston Marathon champion, photo by PhotoRun.net
David Hunter has been writing for RunBlogRun for nearly three and one half years. Mr. Hunter says it has been “three or four of the best months of his life”. Sarcasm aside, David is a fine writer who loves the sport and is working on his second act. A former banker and lawyer, with a 2:31 marathon PB, Hunter gets it.
I started working with David at the suggestion of Creigh Kelly, a mentor, confidant and a friend in this world we call running. Creigh was right: Hunter got it and still does.
This is his first piece of two today on the Boston Marathon. The poor guy sat next to me in the second to last row of the Boston Media room. With Jim Gerwick on the other side, my nine hours in Boston media room were eventful, with moments of focus and frivolity.
As Steve Martin, the noted American comedian and philosopher noted, ” Some people get paid for selling Bic pens and I get paid for doing this.”
January 20, 2015
Even though his stunning victory in today’s Boston Marathon is his second Patriot’s Day win, Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa finally has a winner’s gold medal he can call his own. The Boston victor in 2013, Desisa and the accolades normally accorded to a Boston winner were all but lost amidst the horrifying bombing that marred that race day and will forever be a part of the fabric of this historic race. Two years ago – in an unprecedented act of honor and support – Desisa unhesitatingly presented the City of Boston with his 2013 winner’s medal which remains on display here in the Back Bay. Lelisa’s gift isn’t just Boston Strong. It’s Desisa Strong.
But today – after the disappointment of his injury-induced DNF here in 2014 – Desisa toed the Hopkinton starting line with a savvy race plan – and he executed it to perfection. Tucked in the lead pack from the opening gun, the 2013 world championship marathon silver medalist bided his time and remained calm as he witnessed Boston’s inevitable war of attrition. As the lead pack was whittled down, Desisa positioned himself perfectly for the furious end-game run in from Cleveland Circle. And when a desperate Yemane Tsegay – his final sparring partner – threw in a short-lived surge with 3 kilometers remaining, Desisa responded by immediately unleashing a vicious and sustained reply that vanquished the final challenger that stood between Desisa and his second laurel wreath, and – most importantly – a victor’s medal he could keep.
As a blustery, chilly, showery Patriot’s Day began with many vexing questions about how the 2015 edition of the race would unfold. Perhaps the safest pre-race projection was that the 119th running would be different than the 118th. The pure joy that ensued last year after Meb Keflezighi became the first American man in 31 years to triumph at Boston initially postponed deeper reflection on just how the 38 year old veteran who had never cracked 2:09 grabbed the laurel wreath. Taking nothing away from Meb’s historic “thinking man’s” win, later analysis suggests the elite African runners – possessing superior personal bests – may well have made a fatal tactical error: wrongfully eyeing Ryan Hall – whose 2011 clocking of 2:04:48 is the #4 Boston performance of all time – as the leading domestic competitor and dismissing the 2004 Olympic marathon silver medalist as merely the American stalking horse. Heady racing by Keflezighi allowed the eventual winner to build an unchallenged mid-race lead that the speedier Africans – watching the wrong American – could not overcome in the end-game chase in from Coolidge Corner. Burned in 2014, the Kenyans and Ethiopians racing today were much more attentive in covering earlier moves. To paraphrase The Who, the Africans “won’t get fooled again.” And they weren’t.
With a stay of execution from Mother Nature which for a while held off the forecasted rain and headwind, the men’s field free-wheeled out of Hopkinton with gusto. A 4:39 opening mile by Ethiopia’s Tadese Tola made it clear: there would be no lackadaisical cat and mouse games today.
At the 10 mile mark – split in 48:10 [4:49/pace] – the lead back had been reduced to 11 athletes. Gebre Gebremariam joined his countryman Tola up front to lead a pack that included three Americans: defending champion and crowd favorite Meb Keflezighi, three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein, and American two mile record holder Matt Tekenkamp. As the wind picked up at mile 11, Teg and Ritz dropped back as Desisa took the lead and picked up the pace. The Ethiopian’s pace change was not intended to be decisive, but was a move calculated to stress the field and soften up his competitors. Unexpectedly, Ritzenhein – after a brief respite back in the back of the lead pack – drove boldly to the front, seized the lead, and led the pack through half marathon in 1:04:01.
Far from done, Dathan kept the heat on. Bounding the downhill into lower Newton Falls and attacking the first of the Newton Hills, the London Olympic 10,000 meter finalist was simply putting on the Ritz as he covered miles 15 and 16 in 9:57 to stretch out the lead pack.
Ritzenhein turned right at the Newton Fire Station to lead the bunched field into what always is the Patriot’s Day Moment Of Truth. Leading the 10-man lead pack through 30K in 1:31:58, Ritz was soon joined up front by Keflezighi as the partisan spectators roared their approval. Could USA lightning strike two years in a row?
Domestic exuberance was short lived. While Ritz and Meb led the parade over the crest of Heartbreak Hill, a 15 mile per hour headwind soon kicked up as the Africans prepared to raise the ante. Shortly past the Boston College library, Desisa threw down a surge covered only by 2012 champion Wesley Korir and Tsegay while Meb struggled to hold on and Ritz dropped back.
As the athletes worked to regroup in the wake of Desisa’s surge, only four could. As the front end of the race twisted down to and through Cleveland Circle, a two country showdown emerged: Ethiopia’s Desisa and Tsegay versus Kenya’s Wilson Chebet – the 2014 Boston runner-up – and Korir. With less than 4 miles remaining, the strain was etched on the faces of the Final Four. In the 24th mile, Desisa – looking the strongest – threw down a move which dropped the Kenyans but not his Ethiopian brethren. Moments later, Tsegay – sensing weakness in his countryman – tried a move of his own. When Tsegay’s surge proved too feeble and short-lived, it was then that Desisa put the 119th edition of the Boston Marathon away – uncorking a powerful and sustained drive that completed a 4:37 25th mile. Now clear and heading for victory, the man who gave his 2013 medal to this town was coronated by its residents who showered him with thunderous cheers. With a right on Hereford and a left on Boylston, Desisa rolled to victory crossing the line in 2:09:17. Tsegay [2:09:48] hung on for second with Chebet [2:10:22] capturing third.
While today’s Boston Marathon lacked the American magic of 2014, USA men performed honorably with 3 finishers in the top 11. Ritzenhein – with two Phoenix-like mid-race recoveries in the final 15 miles of the race – clawed back to 7th place in 2:11:20. Pressed to analyze his decision to not cover the post-Heartbreak African move, Ritzenhein chose instead to offer a big picture view of his day’s work. “This was a step in the right direction,” he declared. Defending champion Keflezighi – less than two weeks away from his 40th birthday – overcame some cramping and a quick late-race vomit to finish 8th in 2:12:42. And former Olympian Tegenkamp – out the back door early today – kept his wits about him to get up for 11th in 2:13:52.
But the day belonged to Lelisa Desisa. When asked when he knew he would win the race, the newly-crowned championed revealed, “I knew I would win after 35 K.” With a smile, he offered his explanation, “Because I can kick.” The 2015 champion concluded by adding, “I am happy to win.” And it fair to conclude he is also happy to now have his very own Boston winner’s medal.