Marathon Monday: The Competition

This year, the greatest footrace in the world will be packed with strategy, drama, heartache, and of course: Heartbreak.

Photo by Peter Morville/Flickr

The 2012 Boston Marathon is just days away. The runners have already put in all the work, but for the fans, the work is just beginning. I love watching competitive races, especially the Boston Marathon. There’s strategy, drama, heartache, and, of course, Heartbreak.

On Marathon Monday, we can all witness the tremendous competition that has made the Boston Marathon famous. Unlike faster, flatter marathons with hordes of paid pace-setters, Boston pits man against man, and everyone against the hills. The result is always spectacular competition and this year’s elite field promises more of the same. Last year, Kenyan sensation Geoffrey Mutai stunned the world when he covered 26.2 miles faster than any human before. Pundits were shocked and critics claimed the wind drove him along. He returned to Boston a few months later and demolished the field at the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) 10k. He laid any remaining doubts aside when he destroyed the ING NYC Marathon field and lopped an astounding two-and-a-half minutes off the course record. Geoffrey Mutai is the best marathoner in the world, maybe the best runner, and he is returning to Boston to defend his title.

Mutai will be joined by a stellar field, including five other runners with personal bests under 2:06. These times were unheard of just a few years ago, but the recent marathon explosion has brought these races and their competitors to a new level. Mutai will face significant challenge from last year’s third place finisher and 2010 NYC marathon champion, the Ethiopian track star Gebregziabher Gebremariam.

Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot is another favorite who knows the course well. Cheruiyot won the Boston Marathon in 2010 in stunning fashion, breaking the longstanding course record by 1.5 minutes. He is a small — but powerful — runner who handles Heartbreak Hill like it’s just a bump in the road.

The top American men are Jason Hartmann and Nick Arciniaga. Having nearly identical personal bests of 2:11, they will likely battle all the way to the finish in splendid fashion. This will be the first time racing Boston for either of these gentleman, so you can expect an acceleration from whoever is feeling stronger coming out of the hills.

One of the top local runners to look out for is David Bedoya, of Somerville, who’s been the top Massachusetts finisher in the past and qualified with a stellar 2:21:53 from the Philadelphia Marathon. He will get stiff competition from former BU standout Paul Ryan, who is aiming for a 2:24 in his second Boston Marathon. They will be joined Nick Wheeler who, while a Maine resident, will be wearing the blue and yellow of the B.A.A. Other top B.A.A. runners to cheer for are Dan Smith (Cambridge), Colman Hatton (Boston), and Jonathan Baker (Cambridge). Kevin Jillson (Worcester) and Thomas Deeg (Eastham) will also be challenging for position as top Massachusetts finisher after their terrific runs at last year’s Boston Marathon.

The women’s field promises to be equally exciting. Last year, Caroline Kilel, of Kenya, won in one of the most exciting finishes in Boston Marathon history when she beat out American Desiree Davila by just two seconds. It was the fourth consecutive year that the women’s race was won by a margin of less than three seconds. Caroline, a veteran of more than 12 international marathons, will need her experience this year when she goes against Ethiopia’s Firehiwot Dado, the 2011 NYC Marathon champion. Meanwhile, Russia’s Galina Bogomolova has the fastest time in the field at 2:20:47 and will surely challenge for the win.

Given the timing of the timing of the U.S. Olympic Trials and the upcoming Olympic Games, many of the top American women are sitting out Boston this year. Fortunately, some stellar local elites will be taking up the torch. Keep an eye out for the Cape Cod Marathon champ Hilary Dionne, of Charlestown. She recently won the New Bedford Half Marathon and will aim to carry that fitness to a 2:45 at Boston. She should receive a strong challenge from Harvard Business School standout Elle Pishny, who ran 2:45 at Boston last year to qualify for the US Olympic Trials. Lauren Philbrook, of Hopkinton, is the top Massachusetts qualifier coming off her outstanding performance at the Olympic Trials in January. Lindsay Willard, of Somerville, and Harvard University senior Kimberly O’Donnell are two more local elites to keep an eye out for.

The elite competitors in a race provide inspiration for all. Nearly all of us has run a mile at some point in our lives, whether it was part of the Presidential Fitness initiative in P.E. class or as part of a local charity 5k. So this Marathon Monday, think back to your fastest mile and appreciate the demonstration of the human potential when you see these elite men and women tearing down the road faster than 5:30 per mile for over two continuous hours.

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