For Americans Shalane Flanagan, Amy Cragg and Adriana Nelson, today’s Boston Marathon proved a race they will be keen to forget, each of their races unravelling in their own separate ways long before they reached the finish on Boylston street.
Flanagan, who had been touted as one of the leading contenders for the women’s title, ran well below her best when finishing ninth in 2:27:47, almost three minutes behind champion Caroline Rotich of Kenya, and afterwards blamed an injury-hit preparation for her sub-par performance.
Cragg, meanwhile, took a chance on having a breakthrough performance, running with the lead pack through 17 miles, but eventually faltered and stepped off the course just four miles from the finish. Adriana Nelson was the third American home, running 2:38:47, was some 10 minutes below her best.
From the start, Flanagan-considered by most to be America’s leading hope for the title-set out with a very different approach to last year’s race – in which she led from the gun, set a blistering pace, but eventually faded to seventh place over the closing miles. This time, with the field running most of the opening miles into a stiff headwind, Flanagan sheltered deep within the lead pack of 12, conserving energy for the time she would need it most.
The field passed five miles in 27:34, a relatively cautious opening pace given the caliber of the athletes in the leading pack, which included six women who had previously run under 2:22.
One of those was Flanagan, who made no secret of just how much she wanted to win this race, saying beforehand that she would be willing to swap her Olympic bronze medal for a win in Boston. The closest she had come to a win in the Marathon Majors was her second-place finish in New York in 2010. Flanagan’s last marathon, meanwhile, was all about time – her 2:21:14 run at the Berlin Marathon last year coming up well short of Deena Kastor’s American record, which she had gone to chase on the lightning-quick course in the German capital.
Today, it was all about how close she could get to winning the race she had always dreamed about conquering, growing up as she did from just a matter of miles away in Marblehead, Massachusetts, but the signs were ominous for the 33-year-old by the time she reached halfway. Running in arm-warmers and gloves to protect against the chilly temperatures, Flanagan never looked able to cope with the heat once the leading contenders upped the pace at the 17-mile mark.
With fellow American Desiree Linden leading the charge up front, Flanagan soon became detached from the lead pack, her face becoming a picture of distress as the lead group of nine disappeared into the distance.
At 20 miles, Flanagan was over 100m behind, and as the rain slowly started to fall from a cloudy grey sky, it soon became evident that her hopes of winning were slowly and painfully being washed away on the damp streets of Boston. To even get here, though, to line up for the race, was more than Flanagan expected at one point in her preparation.
“I had a setback in January, so I didn’t even know if I was going to be here,” she said. “You can’t take for granted being on the start line. I switched my training due to the injury, and I didn’t get on the roads as much [as previous years].”
She fought on as best she could, though, trying to salvage a good finish, but when your goal is set so high, when you’re as ambitious a competitor as Flanagan is, she couldn’t help but be disappointed, and indeed slightly disillusioned, by her ninth-place finish in 2:27:47.
“I tried to talk my legs out of slowing down, but they didn’t want to listen,” she said. “I stayed positive, though, and fought the entire way and said ‘never give up.'”
For Amy Cragg, today’s strategy – going with the leaders from the gun – was always going to be a risky one, given that she went into the race with a best time of 2:27:03 in a field that included six sub-2:22 women. It was an approach which eventually backfired for the 31-year-old, who trains in Providence, Rhode Island.
Cragg nestled among the lead pack of 12 through the opening half of the race, reaching halfway in 1:12:46. At 17 miles, though, the first cracks began to show and she soon lost contact with the leading group on an uphill stretch.
From there, the decline was rapid, her stride visibly shortening as a lead pack of nine, led by Linden, broke clear. Cragg averaged 17:14 for the first four 5K sections of the marathon, but from 25 to 30K, the signs were clear that the wheels were starting to come off. She ran that section in 18:01, and she could only imagine 21:43 for the next. She then stepped off the course around four miles from the finish, yet another victim of the notorious brutality of the Boston Marathon.
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