The Significance of the 2018 Boston Marathon
This year was the most excited I’ve ever been to watch the Boston Marathon. Sure, I’ve followed the updates on Twitter and would track the small handful of people I knew who were running, but ever since they announced the elite field in December (you can read my analysis of that here), I’ve been anxiously awaiting Boston Monday.
The US had the deepest field of elite women I’ve ever seen, and there was plenty of hype around breaking the 33-year drought since the last time an American woman won. The depth of the field fed the hopes of running fans everywhere as we had not one runner to pin our dreams on, but four. Shalane Flanagan, Des Linden, Jordan Hasay, and Molly Huddle all had a realistic shot at the crown. Having a “team” to count on certainly spread some of the pressure off of those individuals as well. Kara Goucher recounted that pressure in her blog.
The depth of the field certainly helped when Sunday evening Jordan Hasay withdrew from the competition due to a stress reaction in her heel. While I was certainly sad for her, it wasn’t nearly as devastating a blow as it would have been if she was the only contender.
Now, to set the scene for the race:
Boston Marathon pic.twitter.com/624jMKKQBu
— Alistair Cragg (@alistaircragg) April 16, 2018
It was the coldest start in 30 years. 30 degrees at the start with 20 mph winds and driving rain. Normally you see women running marathons in bun huggers and crop tops, but the race director printed a second set of numbers, so everyone could keep on their jackets and discard them along the way if they warmed up. Most of them didn’t. It looked miserable.
The race started off relatively slow – 19:17 for the first 5k. Whoever was brave enough to lead was subject to the pack squeezing in behind her to try to escape the wind. At one point, the leader started zig-zagging across the road in an effort to annoy and/or shake off the drafters.
At 12 miles in, Shalane Flanagan did the unthinkable and ran off the course for a bathroom break. Someone posted that they timed it at just 13-14 seconds, so it was a quick stop, but still a crazy move. Des Linden dropped off the back of the lead pack and kept looking over her shoulder until Shalane caught her, and then together they caught up to the main pack.
This was the first of many tearful moments for me. We found out later in post-race interviews that Des told Shalane early in the race – just a few miles in – that she wasn’t feeling well and might not finish, so if Shalane needed anything to let her know. These women are teammates only in nationality and run for different clubs/sponsors. They are competitors in every sense of the word. To see the level of class and sports(wo)manship was touching.
Back to the race – apologies for the vagueness ahead but I don’t remember exactly when/who did what besides Des. At some point (I believe after halfway), one of the lead Ethiopian women took off and broke open a nice gap between herself and the field. She had 27 seconds on the chase pack which Des was leading.
Side note: announcers never know how to talk about Des Linden. The woman is a metronome who sticks to her race place regardless of the whims of the other athletes. Sometimes this makes it look like she’s falling “off the pace” when really the pack has just surged some, and she catches them later when they slow down. Her confident, charging stride while leading the chase pack (which was stringing out) was awesome to watch, and all the announcers had to say was how she seemed to be “back from the dead.” Lots of eye rolls.
5km later and we still have the Ethiopian with a 25 second lead on Des and another one with a 2 second lead on her just ahead. I am worried at this point because she only made up 2 seconds over that 5km, and there wasn’t that much of the race left (maybe 10-15k?).
Then you see Des catching second place and leaving her in the dust. She’s severely closed the gap on first. Is this really happening?
Des catches the lead runner and is in first with about 10k to go. The lead runner doesn’t respond at all, Des pulls away, and it looks like as long as she finishes, she’s got this race wrapped up.
The real crying starts now. I can’t help it. The woman who got 2nd place by 2 seconds in this race back in 2011 is dominating the field and is about to get her first Marathon Major win. The crowds are losing their minds as she makes her way right on Hereford and left on Boylston to the finish. She crosses in 2:39:54 and the first American woman to win in 33 years.
That is significant. That is inspiring and heartwarming and all sorts of other feel good adjectives. But to add to the significance:
- American Sarah Sellars placed 2nd
- American Rachel Hyland placed 4th
- American Jessica Chichester placed 5th
- American (and Georgian!) Nicole Dimercurio placed 6th
- American Shalane Flanagan place 7th
- American Kimi Reed placed 8th
You might notice that none of those names except Shalane were in the elite field preview. Heck, Jessica Chichester wasn’t even part of the elite field and started with the first wave of runners! The significance of the day came from the fact that the US put 7 in the top 10 including a champion and absolutely dominated the field. A lot of these women aren’t professional runners and work full time. That’s unheard of!
On a day with less than ideal racing conditions (to put it lightly), American women persevered, and it paid off. Big time.