by James O’Brien
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In 2011, Geoffrey Mutai blistered the Boston course in an epoch-defining 2:03:02. For this year’s race, the course was simply blistering. At 10am, when the elite men’s field was all set to go, the temperature on the Hopkinton starting line was 79.2 degrees. At the half way mark it had inched above 82. By the finishing line it was 84.8. Last year, it was all about the hot pace. This year it was just plain hot.
The pedestrian opening miles were not unexpected, therefore. Glenn Randall from Mesa, CO took the pole position through the opening mile in 4:51 and 5K in 15:05 - last year, it was 14:32 - by which time he held a lead of 80m or so on the chasing pack. Everybody - including Randall - knew, however, that the chasing pack was where the real interest lay and that the early leader was never going to be a late leader.
At four miles (19:25), Randall held a lead of 22 seconds over a pack that included defending champion - and the fastest man in history - Geoffrey Mutai (KEN), last year’s third placed finisher Gebregziabher Gebremariam (ETH), Fukuoka second placer Levy Matebo (KEN), Amsterdam and Rotterdam winner Wilson Chebet (KEN), plus Laban Korir (KEN), Wesley Korir (KEN), Mathew Kisorio (KEN) and a handful of others, including Nick Arciniaga (AZ), Jason Hartmann (CO) and Michel Butter from Holland. By 10K (31:02), the gap had been entirely erased and Randall was gone, never to be seen again. (He ultimately placed 54th in 2:37:13).
By this stage, equally as significant as the split times was the increasing mercury, which had nudged its way over 80 degrees before the leaders hit seven miles. In the direct sunlight, the rays felt all the more intense. Notably, between mile five and mile 14, no single mile for the lead pack was faster than 5:00. At half way, the clock read 1:06:11. Twelve months previously, the leaders had hit that mark at 1:01:58.
The first move of note came close to the 14.5 mile mark when Mathew Kisorio, the eighth place finisher in New York last November, injected a surge that instantaneously stretched the lead pack of 16 and pruned it to a pack of six. But this was not a deciding blow; it was more of a feeler, a probing move to see who had what and whether they could use it. As quickly as they had given ground, all the favorites - Mutai, Chebet, Wesley Korir, Gebremariam, etc - re-grouped, composing themselves for the demands of the Newton Hills, which they knew were fast approaching.
From 14 to 15, spurred by Kisorio’s aggression, the tempo increased to a 4:53 split. From 15 to 16, it ratcheted up to 4:43. Kisorio, Matebo, second in Frankfurt last year, Mutei, Chebet and Laban and Wesley Korir were the men still in contention - Gebremariam, surprisingly was not - and, at the toughest part of the course, with conditions at their most severe, the race was on.
A 17 mile split of 1:25:05 revealed a previous mile of 4:50. As the group made the right turn at the Newton firehouse with the Newton Hills, and Heartbreak, immediately before them, Kisorio and Matebo decided - or maybe just felt - that it was time to do some damage. It wasn’t a surge; more an application of pressure. The consequence was that the two leaders quickly opened ground on the other contenders, though with Mutai paying especially close attention, hanging just two strides off the pace. A further 10 meters back, Wilson Chebet - a four-time sub-60 minute half marathoner - worked to hold close, with Laban Korir a further five meters in arrears. But the race was underway and the hills and the heat and the continuing pressure of the leaders was about to tell all the tales.
By 17.5 the two leaders had built their lead still further and Mutei, defending champion, the fastest marathoner in history, was gone from the fray. Half a mile later, he walked off the the course, a victim of stomach cramps. The 18 mile split of 1:30:01 showed an uphill mile of 4:56 with Kisorio and Matebo running side by side. That was how it stayed through 20 miles (1:39:50), though shortly thereafter the consequences of Kisorio’s earlier aggression began to take their toll. Inexorably, a gap began to appear, and while Mutebo remained composed - despite the hills, despite the hills, despite the sustained tempo - Kisorio, who had previously looked so powerful, quickly succumbed to the heat of the battle.
The winner was evident, it appeared. Matebo maintained his tempo, opening a lead that quickly stretched to the best part of 150m. At 23 miles (1:55:35), the race was over - except that it wasn’t. Though Mutebo appeared composed, he was quickly running out of gas. Wesley Korir, in contrast, was launching into overdrive. By 24.5 miles, an insurmountable lead had been reduced to totally surmountable. Korir drew alongside the weakening leader, conceded 15m approaching the 25 mile water station, then surged ahead, this time determining the outcome for good.
The winning time was slow - 2:12:40 - but it was decisive (Matebo crossed in 2:13:06) and it was thrilling. Sometimes, a race is just about winning.
“I didn’t know that I could catch up, but I knew that I had to keep them in sight,” stated Korir, evidently as surprised by his win as anybody. “At mile 20, somebody shouted that I was sixth. Then I moved into fifth and I thought that if I finished fifth in the Boston Marathon, that would be great. Then I got fourth. Then I moved into third and I thought, ‘I’m going to finish on the podium.’ It just happened. One by one, it just happened.”
For his win, Korir claimed $150,000 of the $806,000 in prize money that was on offer in this year’s race.
Just as Korir moved through to deny Matebo the win, so too Bernard Kipyego took advantage of the attrition, stealing third in 2:13:13. Similarly, fourth place went to the Boulder-based Jason Hartmann who, having been among the leaders early on, picked them off one by one in the latter stages to claim fourth place in 2:14:31.
“When those guys took off at 16, 17, I just stayed under control,” explained Hartmann. “A lot of people went with the front group, and I was able to pick a few of those guys off, fortunately for me. It was just a battle.”
In the masters’ competition, Uli Steidl, a German national now based in Seattle, WA scored a one minute victory over Franklin Tenorio from Boulder, CO, 2:23:08 to 2:24:04, with third place going to Tracy Lokken from Marquette, MI in 2:31:06.
In the men’s wheelchair competition, Joshua Cassidy from Toronto, ON scored a superb world record victory over 2011 second placed finisher, Kurt Fearnley from Hamilton, Australia. Although South Africa’s Ernst Van Dyk was in search of his 10th Boston victory, once the racing began, it was all about Cassidy. At finish line, his 1:18:25 victory trimmed two seconds from Van Dyk’s world and course record, set in 2004, and gave him a full 3:14 advantage over the second placed Fearnley’s 1:21:39. Third place went to Kota Hokinoue from Japan in 1:23:26.
“I knew if I could get close to the top of Heartbreak Hill without Kurt catching me, I’d probably be OK,” explained Cassidy. “I was keeping time and I knew there was a chance, so I kept pushing it.”
With the 2012 B.A.A. Boston Marathon in the books, much conversation in the immediate aftermath was about the heat. Scorching though it was, the lingering memories should, instead, be about all that was sensational.