By James O’Brien
It wasn’t so long ago that Boston Marathon Weekend was just that - a weekend devoted solely to the legendary Marathon. The 26.2 miler remains, unquestionably, the focal point of this three day running celebration; but, the shorter distance races now held on the day prior to Patriot’s Day are, these days, just as integral a part of this road running celebration.
Sunday morning’s events kick off with the 6000 strong 5K; but, that race is quickly followed by the Middle School 1K, the Scholastic Mile and, the blue ribbon event, the Professional Mile. Not surprisingly, this year - as every year - these events were marked by intensity, strategy and blistering home straight speed.
A degree of flamboyancy also came into the mix in the first male race, the Boys’ Middle School 1K, comprising 1.75 laps around a course beginning on Boylston Street, looping around onto Exeter Street and back onto Boylston to finish beneath the celebrated Marathon finishing arch. From the gun, 15 year-old John Lara from Boston, surged into the lead, opening an immediate three meters and passing through the finish line for the first time in 1:15 with a two second lead on Jovan Talavera, also from Boston. From that point on, there was never any question about the outcome.
Lara scorched around the second lap in splendid isolation, so confident in victory that, as he charged into the short home stretch for the final time, he waved to the crowd, exhorting them to encourage him home - which they did raucously. At the line, his time of 2:54.7, gave him a more than 10 second advantage. In claiming the win, he became the first Bostonian to take this title. (Last year, he placed second).
“It was crazy,” he said of the wild applause that he encountered. “And, right here, in my home town.”
Talavera held on for second in an isolated 3:05.1, with the real race being for third. That spot went to Ashland’s Maxwell Freeman, who prevailed over Gal Fudim (Newton), 3:15.9 to 3:16.3.
Next up was the Scholastic Mile, a race that proved just as thrilling as its forerunner on the schedule. Run over a little more than three loops of the same course, where the Middle School event had been an exercise in dominance, this race was characterized by home straight speed and courage.
Gabe Montague from Newton was the early aggressor, charging to the forefront and forging a comfortable two stride lead that he held into the bell lap. Even then, he looked poised and in control, with his contenders close, but not close enough to threaten. That was a misconception. Swinging onto Exeter Street for the final time, Montague was joined by Tim Bolick and Corey Branch, both from Hopkinton; not just joined - challenged, indeed overtaken. Along Exeter and back towards Boylston, it was all to play for. Montague was back in third, but he was far from dropped. In fact, he was far from even pressured.
As the trio turned into the home straight for the final time, Montague turned on some jets that even NASA might never have seen. He blasted through the finish line, and although two seconds covered the first three finishers, there was never any question as to who was the class of the field. For the record, the times were 4:34 for Montague, 4:34 for Bolick and 4:36 for Branch.
“The half way split (2:15) gave me a lot of confidence,” explained the winner. “I knew I could run faster than 4:30.”
The thrills of the under-age races set the stage for a spectacular display by the pros. With Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis (NZL) fronting the field with his PR of 3:50.66, it was assured that this would not be a race for the faint of heart. That fact was made all the more evident by the presence of US Olympian Donn Cabral, British Olympian (and 3:52 performer) Ross Murray and South African road mile specialist Peter van der Westhuizen. What the crowd that packed the bleachers anticipated was exactly what they got - a thriller.
The first lap was fronted by Arizona’s Ben Bruce, the third placed finisher here 12 months ago. With the clock showing 1:26, he was closely shadowed by Murray, competing in his first race since last summer’s Olympic Games. “I had septic tonsilitis, an achilles problem and a soleus problem,” the Briton later revealed. “I was out from October to February.”
Into Exeter Street for the second time, Murray gave no evidence of ailments, nor retience, for that matter. He blasted past Bruce and into a three stride lead that gave every indication that he intended to run away from this world class field. “I felt him (Bruce) start to slow,” said Murray, “so I thought I’d push it. I didn’t know what to expect.”
It was a bold move, but one that took him to the bell in 2:48, but with Willis an uncomfortably close one second behind. Back onto Exeter, it was live by the sword, die by the sword. Just as Murray had blasted into the lead one lap previously, Willis did exactly the same. Then, coming into the home straight, he took a leaf from the book of 1K winner John Lara, waving to the crowd and encouraging them to relish his impending win. At the line, he was dominant - 4:03, to Murray’s 4:08. Van der Westhuizen came through for third in 4:10, holding off Indiana’s De’Sean Turner by a single second.
“I thought I would go with 300 to go,” explained Willis of his decisive tactics. “It worked out prefectly. I’m not physically capable of running really well week after week after week; but, when I do a chunk of training and pick my races I can peak quite well. This is huge for my confidence. Now, I’m taking it just one race at a time.”
Murray, too, was thrilled with his result. “I’m delighted with this result,” he said. “This is my first time in the US. I’m going back home tonight. That’s rock and roll.”
With so many excellent races and so many gallant winners, it can be difficult to keep in mind that the weekend of world class racing in Boston has only just begun.