Boston, Mass - Clear skies and a starting time temperature of 67 degrees greeted an event record 5,253 runners at the 11th Annual Boston Half Marathon, presented by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund. For the second consecutive year, the race started in Franklin Park, and took runners out and back along the Emerald Necklace Park System through Brookline and Boston. Ethiopian Ali Abdosh (1:03:36) and Janet Cherobon-Bawcom from Rome, Georgia (1:11:58) took the titles, though their respective races unfolded under opposing circumstances.
In the men’s race, Abdosh was one of five key runners who at any time seemed capable to jump to the front and take the title. Among them were returning champion John Korir (KEN), Sam Chelanga (KEN), Gilbert Okari (KEN) and Samuel Ndereba (KEN). While the quintet jostled through the leafy roadways of the Emerald Necklace, it was Abdosh who outlasted them all, prevailing over newcomer Chelanga in the remaining half mile.
Once the gun went off, the field was immediately dominated by a pack of 10, including Abdosh, Chelanga, Okari, Ndereba, Korir, and surprise front runner, Daniel Berry from local Greater Springfield Harriers. A comfortable 4:42 opening mile split kept the leaders in tight quarters, with perhaps Okari the only one wanting to stick his neck out in front the core group.
At mile two (9:38), while the media scrambled to find out who he was, Berry remained ahead of some of the best runners on the road racing circuit. Berry not only decided to push the pace through two miles, but he kept his intentions all the way up to three miles (14:34). It was there, however, that reality set in, and the Kenyan crew and Abdosh soon engulfed Berry, essentially ending his 15 minutes of fame.
Once the African contingency regained control, it was a pack mentality that would dictate the latter stages of the race. Mile marks of 19:19 (four miles), 24:13 (five miles), and 28:55 (six miles) followed, with no particular runner wanting to take the risk of pushing too soon under the warming conditions. But by the 10k point of 29:56, Abdosh was ready to turn up the heat; forcing a single file line of runners behind him.
Overall times of 33:50 (seven miles) and 38:51 (eight miles) greeted the pack of lead runners, now down to only Abdosh, Korir and Ndereba. But the eighth mile found them not only hitting the hill near the Arnold Arboretum, but also bunching back up, with Chelanga and Okari finding themselves back in the hunt for the title. The time at eight miles (43:42) showed the change in road conditions with a sluggish 5:01 mile split.
The group hit ten miles in 48:39 and 11 miles at 53:22. It was then that Abdosh decided to make his second and most decisive move in the race by gaining five meters on Chelanga and Okari. John Korir, one of the most successful road racers over the past decade, fell of the back end of the pack at this point; leaving only Ndereba with any possible chance to upset Abdosh’s plans for victory.
The runners entered the Franklin Park Zoo, passing miles 12 and 13 with no change in order. Chelanga kept his chances of winning with the approach of White Stadium and the finish line area. It was only after entering the stadium grounds did Abdosh finally establish himself as the clear victor in 1:03:36, winning over Chelanga (1:03:41) by five seconds. Third place went to Gilbert Okari (1:03:48), fourth to Samuel Ndereba (1:04:01), and John Korir (1:04:37) rounding out the top five. Top American honors went to B.A.A. club member Timothy Richie (1:05:29), which gave him a seventh place overall.
“I still thought I could win once we got near the stadium”, said Chelanga. “But once we hit the track, it was second place for me”. Chelanga, who was 4th place at the B.A.A. 10K last June, was very happy with his race, despite the runner-up placing. “This is a longer race than I usually run, and I just wanted to see how it would feel. But I really like running here in Boston, so I’m happy with my race”.
The women’s race once again saw two strong runners dual it out from the start. Janet Cherobon-Bawcom (USA) and Caroline Rotich (KEN) returned to renew their epic battle from 2010. Both of them lead through miles one and two, with only Jane Kibii (KEN) keeping pace. The trio hit mile three in 15:24, and by this time it looked as though Kibii was ready to relinquish her chances of winning, allowing Cherobon-Bawcom and Rotich to open up a 100 meter lead by mile four (20:40).
From that point forward it would be a mirror image of last years race with both women running side by side seemingly gauging each other’s fitness. Miles 5 (26:06) and 6 (31:30) saw no change in order of first through third. However, the race would soon take a dramatic turn as the women entered the Arnold Arboretum and the 8 mile split.
“I don’t really remember what happened for the first half of the race”, commented Cherobon-Bawcom. “But we got to the seven or seven point five mile mark, and next thing I knew I looked back and Caroline was falling off”.
Mile eight (42:33) saw Cherobon-Bawcom open up her lead to almost 30 meters. She then increased that to almost 40 seconds by mile nine (48:04). “I don’t really like looking back, so if she was going to come again, there was really nothing I was planning on doing”, said Cherobon-Bawcom.
With every passing mile, Cherbon-Bawcom furthered her lead, closing in on victory, and getting closer to taking home the $5,000 first place prize. Cruising into White Stadium with a bright smile on her face, Cherobon-Bawcom waved to the crowd and avenged her second place finish from last year. Caroline Rotich (1:13:33) finished a minute and 35 seconds behind to take second.
Behind Cherobon-Bawcom and Rotich at the finish line was Heather Cappello of the B.A.A. Running Club, who finished third with a time of 1:13:44. A native of Arlington, MA, Cappello closed to within 11 seconds of Cherobon-Bawcom in the last few miles to claim her spot on the podium. Jane Kibii of Kenya finished fourth with a time of 1:16:18, and Diana Bowser of Needham, and also of the B.A.A. Running Club placed fifth with a time of 1:17:37.
In the Men’s Wheelchair Division, Tony Nogueira of Glen Ridge, New Jersey won his sixth title in the B.A.A. Half with a time of 56:26. After a one-year hiatus from the race, the 43-year-old extended his lead as the winningest competitor in race history. Defending champion Gary Brendel of Sterling Massachusetts finished second with a time of 59:44. The 52 –year-old finished more than three minutes behind Nogueira. Jason Fowler of Belmont, Massachusetts finished third in 1:06:31. In the Women’s Wheelchair Division, Carla Trodella of Newburyport, Massachusetts took victory with a time of 2:41:49.
Behind them, were thousands of smiling faces, including nearly 500 runners from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Running the Race Against Cancer Team. Representing 17 different states, the Dana-Farber runners in the B.A.A. Half Marathon raised more than $300,000 to help fund scientists and clinicians at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Also in the crowd was former member of the New England Patriots Tedy Bruschi and his wife Heidi. Finishing together with an official time of 2:10:04 for Heidi and 2:10:05 for Tedy, it was the furthest distance the former linebacker has ever covered.
Next up for the B.A.A. are the Mayor’s Cup Cross Country Races in Franklin Park on Sunday, October 23, and the Bill Rodgers Jingle Bell Run on Sunday December 11, at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Boston.
- Story by Marc Davis