When I asked David Hunter to write about the men and women elite fields in Boston, I knew what I would get. Hunter prepares thoughtfully and reviews the events forensically. In David’s features, we see how the races develop and how damn hard it is to be an elite athlete. The story of Lawrence Cherono and the sub theme of Scott Fauble and Jared Ward are important players in US marathon sweepstakes are key.
Enjoy this piece on the 2019 Boston Marathon, the men’s elite field in particular, provided by Senior Writer David Hunter.
April 15th, 2019
In a road racing war of attrition over the last nine miles, 30-year old Kenyan Lawrence Cherono ultimately turned back all comers – including his final challenger 2-time Boston champion Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa in the very final strides – to take the laurel wreath in one of the closest finishes in the 123 year history of this storied marathon.
When the race got underway, a bunched lead pack of 30 some athletes led by USA’s Jeff Eggleston split 5 kilometers in 15:10. The traffic jam remained on the speedy downhill opening miles as the group hit 10K in 30:21 – 2:08 pace. The first 6.2 miles featured many lead changes as the defending championed Yuki Kawauchi was carefully eyed and the American hopefuls – Olympian Jared Ward, Scott Fauble, 3-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein, and Eggleston – settled in for the challenging and speedier miles that awaited them. Americans Ritzenhein, Ward, and Fauble were upfront when the lead pack split 15K in 45:45 – still on track for a sub-2:09 clocking. Suddenly a laboring Kawauchi – no where in sight – had reportedly slid to 29th place and was 30 seconds behind the leaders. He would remain a non-factor, finishing 17th in 2:15:29.
When the leaders maintained their earlier pace and crossed 10 miles in 49:11, the pack was still crowded. Everyone seemed content to postpose the real racing until later in the contest. Ward, who finished 6th in the 2016 Olympic marathon, was back in the lead at 20 K [61:14] as the men raced past Wellesley College. Americans Elkanah Kibet and Shadrack Biwott also were well positioned up front.
Ethiopian Lemi Berhanu kept the tempo lively as he took the group through halfway in 1:04:28. Ward was well settled up front while Ritzenhein was starting to lose contact with the lead group. Just before the descent to Lower Newton Falls where the rugged hill climb begins, Kibet grabbed the lead and pulled the leaders through 25K in 1:16:23. ’17 Champion and ’18 runner-up Geoffrey Kirui was right with Kibet as the top 12 athletes were bunched within 2 seconds.
Shortly after 17 miles and at the pivotal right turn at the Newton Fire Station, some 12-15 athletes remained in the hunt. Among them were two Americans: top-ten Olympian Ward and Fauble, running the race of his life. Few Boston aficionados could remember a prior Boston race when so many were in crowded contention at that dramatic turn in the course. No worries. That next 4 mile stretch up to Boston College is known for thinning the herd.
But not this year. When the leaders crested Heartbreak Hill at Boston College, eight game athletes – including previous Boston champions Kirui and Lelisa Desisa as well as the unbelievable Fauble – were crowded together within 2 seconds as they sped downhill toward Cleveland Circle.
Games playing abounded as the Africans who pushed on the uphills and continued braking and recovering on the downhill. Fauble – having a Forrest Gump moment – would have none of that as he focused on maintaining a strong solid pace rate and actually momentarily took the lead passing the 35K split in 1:47:15. Shortly thereafter, Kirui’s awkward attempt to break away proved unsuccessful – an omen of events to come. Past Cleveland Circle as the pace quickened – as the 22nd mile was covered in 4:46, and the 23rd mile in 4:48. Some of the wobbly leaders dropped back began to litter the roadway. Desperate to break away, Kirui – still in the battle – elevated the pace even further. The 24th mile was covered in 4:31, but the ill-fated move backfired as Kirui was the casualty.
Kirui’s backdoor departure left Kenya’s Kenneth Kipkemoi, 2-time champion Desisa, and Boston novice Cherono left to wrestle for the wreath. The trio was tightly bunched going into the last mile. After dipping down and through the tunnel under Massachusetts Avenue, the threesome emerged together and raced on for the right turn onto Hereford. In what appeared to be a planned move, Desisa – a widespread Boston favorite after he gave his 2013 Boston winner’s medal to “the City of Boston” to show his post-bombing Boston Strong support – spurted up Hereford with his eye on the left curb and the “rail position” for the final left turn onto Boylston. While Kirui couldn’t respond, Cherono challenged Desisa’s move. The duo’s mad scramble for the curb position looked like a break for the pole in an indoor 400 meter championship race. Desisa got it.
But Cherono – whose 2:06 PR was the fastest in the field – was not done. He pulled on Desisa’s left and the twosome battled down Boylston toward the finish. With a block to go, Desisa’s form began to unravel and his errant right arm flail actually made contact with Cherono’s left arm. It seemed to energize the Kenyan who somehow found a final gear to drive him over the line ahead of the Ethiopian who broke just steps before the line. The win for Cherono [2:07:57] over Desisa [2:07:59] was the closest finish since 2011.
Scott Fauble kept it together to finish his storybook race in 2:09:09 to set a PR by over 3 minutes and finish 7th. Ward, who afterward admitted he felt good during the race, rallied over the final miles and ran all the way to the finish line to finish 8th in 2:09:25 – a PR by over 2 minutes – to give the American men 2 finishers in the top 10.
Both earned 2020 Olympic qualifying standards. Before leaving the press conference, Fauble took time to share a personal moment about his race of a lifetime: his late-race battle today with the Africans in the Boston Marathon – a situation not long ago he thought was only a flight of fancy. “I treasured the moment I was at the front of the pack. I didn’t go to the front just to feel that. But when I did go the front I made it a point to recognize, ‘This is pretty amazing.'” / Dave Hunter