When the men's lead pack of the 115th Boston Marathon finished the first half in 1:01:58, the crowds in Boston knew this was going to be a fast race. But the final eye-popping time of 2:03:02 by Kenya's Geoffrey Mutai, the fastest marathon ever recorded, was even more impressive on Boston's notoriously difficult and hilly course.
The world record will not count according to IAAF guidelines, because Boston is a point-to-point course - a straight line from Hopkinton, MA to Boston - rather than a loop course, which has a more equal number of uphills and downhills.
Second place for the men was Moses Mosop (Kenya) with 2:03:06, third was Gebregziabher Gebremariam (Ethiopia) with 2:04:53 and American favorite Ryan Hall finished fourth with 2:04:53.
On the women's side, American Desiree Davila battled it out with Kenyans Caroline Kilel and Sharon Cherop for a breathtaking finish that almost ended a 26-year drought of American women winning the Boston Marathon. Kilel finished in 2:22:36 and Davila finished in 2:22:38. Cherop finished in third with 2:22:42. American Kara Goucher, running her first marathon since giving birth six and a half months ago, finished fifth in 2:24:52.
The sunny weather, cool but not cold temperatures, and strong 20 mph tailwind for most of the race combined in a perfect storm for the runners to set world records.
"I couldn't be more pleased," Hall said at the finish line. "I wouldn't mind putting this time on a lower course," he added. Hall PRed by a whopping 1:24, over his 2008 London Marathon, and ran more than four minutes faster than his Boston time last year. Hall, who said he had a difficult winter after trying to recover from an intestinal parasite that had him struggling to complete 30 minute runs as little as three months ago, said he knew it was possible to run a fast time at Boston with a good tailwind. "I spoke with [four-time Boston and New York champion] Bill Rogers, who said he ran one year with a good wind, stopped five times, and still finished in 2:09, so I knew it was possible."
Mutai, who is not related to London marathon champion Emmanuel Mutai, said he prepared for Boston by training almost exclusively in the hilly areas of his native Kenya. Mutai ran most of the race alone with Moses Mosop, and said that the isolation allowed him to push himself even further. "When I am alone I know how to control my pace, but when someone comes to me I don't know how to go," he said after the race.
Hall said he learned from his fourth-place finish in the 2010 Boston Marathon that he needed to stay in his own rhythm, rather than be swept by the emotional surges of the leaders. "I also learned from last year that I needed to stay closer, so when there was a surge I did pick up the pace," he said. Still, he added, "I couldn't believe I was running 2:04 and I couldn't even see the leaders. Those guys showed us what's possible."
The second-biggest story of the day was the incredible showing by Davila, who almost became the first American to win the women's race in 26 years. The final surgest between Kilel, Davila, and Cherop were so dramatic that it wasn't clear until the final seconds of the race which woman would win. Every time Davila pulled ahead in the last mile, the crowd went wild, chanting "USA! USA!" and "Go Davila!"
"At the end I was just trying to keep contact, to give myself a shot down the last straight away," Davila said after the race. "The whole race I was thinking don't let it settle, don't let it get too slow so that everyone will be on dead legs at the end. [At the very end] I thought maybe there's a little more, but my legs were just shot... I threw down everything I had, she was just better."
Davila added that the last six miles were "the most excitement I've had in a race, ever."
Goucher, who PRed by a minute, said that even though this was her first race back since the birth of her son Colt, she still harbored hopes of being the woman to break the streak of foreign winners. "I want to win here, Desi wants to win, we all want to be the one that ends that drought," she said. Goucher's son also watched his mother cross the finish line for the first time. "At the finish, he was like, 'Why are you tired? Pick me up!'" said Goucher.
Both Davila and Goucher said this will be their last marathon before the 2012 Olympic Marathon Team Trials, which will be held in Houston on January 14, 2012.
Officials from the Boston Athletic Association, the running club that organizes the nation's oldest annual marathon, refused to comment on the fact that the blistering times won't count for world records. Mutai will still recieve a $50,000 bonus for setting both course and world record times, in addition to the $100,000 purse for first place. But the fast times set the running world atwitter that a sub 2-hour marathon might be possible in the next few years.
--Melanie Lidman (text and photos)