When Caroline Kilel crossed the finish line a winner of Monday’s Boston Marathon, the 30-year-old Kenyan runner collapsed to the pavement in total exhaustion.
She has Desiree Davila to thank for that.
Davila turned the 115th edition of the historic race into one of the all-time classics with her gutsy effort the final five miles. The California native and former All American from Arizona State University pushed the pace from the crest of Heartbreak Hill until the finish at Copley Square.
When it looked like she had expanded all her energy coming down the final stretch on Boylston Street, she put in one last surge only to have Kilel somehow answer it and hold on for a two-second victory with her time of 2 hours, 22 minutes, 36 seconds.
“During the last 800 meters, my legs were fried,” said Davila, after her 2:22:38 clocking, the fastest time by a U.S. runner at Boston. “I was just trying to keep contact, keep contact. You keep bargaining with yourself, saying I did well, people will be happy with my performance. But then you also encourage yourself to catch up. It’s a lot of back and forth. I knew she was just better today.”
Kilel did turn out to be better on Patriots Day, and became the fourth women from Kenya to snare the laurel wreath. But Davila’s stunning performance, where she improved on her personal best by more than four minutes, ranks high on this scribe’s list as the best he’s seen in more than a decade of covering the event and an additional 20 more of witnessing the race as a spectator.
On an absolute ideal morning for racing with temperatures in the high 40s and a strong tailwind, the Kilel-Davila showdown provided the perfect opener for what would unfold less than 10 minutes later when the first male runner made his way to the finish line.
Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai claimed the top prize, setting an astonishing course record and world best of 2:03:02. That’s a time that was just four seconds ahead of countryman and runner-up finisher Moses Mosop. Ethiopia’s Gebregziabher Gebremariam was third at 2:04:53 and U.S. runner Ryan Hall only added to the history-making event by placing fourth in 2:04:58, the fastest time ever recorded by an American at Boston or anywhere else.
“I see this (as a) gift from God,” Mutai said. “I’m happy. I don’t have any more words to add.”
Indeed, it was a special day in Boston; one that only adds to the marathon’s lore over the last 115 years.
But the one big question that arises out of Mutai’s performance is was the IAAF, the national governing body for athletes (track and field), correct in not recognizing his time as a world record. When he broke the tape at Copley Square just a few minutes after 12 noon, Mutai smashed the time of the great Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrelassie, who ran the current world record of 2:03:59 at the Berlin Marathon in 2008.
Mutai certainly had the credentials to run a fast time, considering what he’s done in his previous two marathons. Last April, he finished second at the Rotterdam Marathon with a 2:04:55 effort. Six months later he placed second again at the Berlin Marathon in October, running a 2:05:10.
The IAAF’s decision to not count Mutai’s time at Boston as a world record was based on the fact that Boston is susceptible to fast times because it is technically a downhill course. There are the four miles of hills in Newton (AKA Heartbreak Hill), but the elevation drops from 145 meters (475 feet) at the start in Hopkinton to five meters (16 feet) at the finish in Copley Square. That works out to more than three meters per kilometer for the 26.2-mile course. For the record to have any consideration, according to the IAAF regulations, a course cannot exceed one meter per kilometer. The other factor that is figured into the equation is the point-to-point issue. On days like this past Monday, runners can benefit from a tailwind at Boston, a point-to-point course. In contrast, a loop course, one that starts and ends at the same point, runners also have to deal with the ramifications of a headwind.
Former Cumberland High standout and elite marathoner Tom Grundy had mixed feelings about the decision of a non-world record for Mutai, but was leaning against what the IAAF decided. Grundy, a two-time winner of the now-defunct Ocean State Marathon in the late 1970s and early 80s and also a competitor at the 1980 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, competed at Boston four times. He ran his best time in the storied race in 1978 when he finished 66th overall with a time of 2:24:34.
“I think any marathon is tough on any day,” said Grundy, who twice ran 2:19 for the marathon in his career. “Boston can be a very tough course at times. The times I ran it, it always seemed to be a hot day. There’s other day when it can be pretty fast with the right conditions.
Grundy, who was at Monday’s race, feels races should have guidelines as far as elevation, but thinks the current guidelines may be a little steep.
“I think a world record at Boston should count in this case,” he said. “I think they have to establish something, maybe between 600 to 1,000 feet is more reasonable. I think what is established is too tight.”
Grundy made the point that if you don’t have guidelines for races, it would certainly not be a fair representation of a time that was recorded.
“You can’t have a race start at the top of Pike’s Peak,” he said. “I think you got to have some rules.”
As far as the wind, Grundy feels that shouldn’t be a factor.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “A lot of times it’s gusty and you may catch a tailwind one way and it may gust the other way. Some times you get lucky and some times you don’t.”
Former St. Raphael Academy and current Bishop Hendricken track and cross-country coach Jim Doyle, whose late brother Bobby Doyle excelled at Boston, running a best of 2:14 in 1979, believes a world record should be given to Mutai and an American record to Hall.
“I have never raced there, but I have been there many, many times,” said Doyle, who owns a personal best of 2:43 for the marathon. “I disagree with the decision. I think it definitely should be a world record and (Hall’s time) an American record.”
Doyle was one of the thousands of spectators on Monday with members of his Hendricken squad. His argument was that, yes there was a tailwind, but it didn’t completely benefit the top runners in the field.
“When they went by me, most of them were running in a large pack,” he said. “The guys in the middle of the pack have no benefit from a tailwind. That’s my opinion. Over the distance of a marathon, I don’t believe it as that much of a benefit.”
Doyle also doesn’t feel the drop in elevation should be another determining factor.
“People make it sound like it is all downhill,” he said. “It’s not! It takes its toll on your legs. I always remember Bobby talking about it as being one of the toughest courses he’s ever run. What makes it fast is the point-to-point.”
Since 1984 when Welsh runner Steve Jones set a world record of 2:08:05 at the relatively-flat Chicago Marathon, the world record has been broken eight times. Not surprisingly, all the marks were achieved at out-and-back courses that had limited hills, including Rotterdam, London, Chicago and Berlin, where the last three records were set.
“There’s a lot of downhill running (at Boston), but there are some rolling hills that set you up,” Doyle said. “One of the biggest hills is at mile 16 over Route 128. That takes its toll on your legs. The hills, especially between 17 ½ miles and 21, they are significant. I look at what these guys did as unbelievable. This is not a flat course. It was an amazing achievement. If you’re going to measure wind (and elevation), measure the degrees of toughness.”
Record or no record, Grundy and Doyle both agreed it was an amazing day at Boston.
Grundy lists the 1979 race where four-time winner Bill Rodgers held of Japan’s Toshihiko Seko to win with his best and an American record of 2:09:27 and 1982 when Alberto Salazar ran a course record of 2:08:52 to edge Dick Beardsley by two seconds in the “Duel in the Sun” as two classics that come to mind.
“This one is right up there,” he said. “It was obviously the fastest one.”
“It was an amazing achievement,” Doyle said. “These guys just ran a tremendous race.”
Local finishers at Monday’s Boston Marathon
709. Jason Reilly, 28, Cumberland 2:52:09
2,118. David Constantino, 41, Cumberland 3:04:46
4,063. Robert Lux, 45, Cumberland 3:15:39
5,756. William McGinnis, 56, Cumberland 3:23:16
11,380. Maria Chevalier, 36, Cumberland 3:43:03
20,560. Jessyca Katz, 42, Cumberland 4:29:59
21,109. Bill Geary, 52, Cumberland 4:36:14
21,504. Pamela Roche, 34, Cumberland 4:41:25
22,650. Timothy Lynch, 45, Cumberland 5:01:50
23,685. Joe Goddard, 40, Cumberland 5:45:14
3,817. Sean O’Hearn, 45, Lincoln 3:14:29
6,541. Michael Theroux, 47, Lincoln 3:26:13
15,836. Scott Caldwell, 55, Manville 3:58:37
16,540. Poyee Oster, 50, Lincoln 4:01:31
22,220. Lisa Lamontagne, 38, Lincoln 4:53:47
22,744. Scott Lucy, 23, Lincoln 5:04:40
3,715. Ryan Bank, 27, East Providence 3:14:02
18,341. Carol Crutchfield, 51, East Providence 4:12:28
10,204. Serge McKhann, 46, Rumford 3:38:48
21,217. Brian Bursell, 40, North Smithfield 4:37:36
21,766. Micah Smith, 32, Woonsocket 4:45:40
22,167. Michaela Corrente, 24, Pawtucket 4:52:42