What Liliya Shobukhova lacked in marathon experience she made up for with track speed. And on a day when the women were content to play a cat-and-mouse game relying on slow pace and strategy, Shobukhova was able take advantage of her strengths. In only her second race at the distance, Shobukhova won the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in 2:25:56. The time was a minute and a half slower than her previous PR in London earlier this year, but it was apparent from the start that the women’s race wasn’t going to set any records this year.
With pre-race favorites American Deena Kastor and German Irina Mikitenko both returning from injuries, it appeared that no one wanted to set the early pace. American Tera Moody, who’s PR was a good 15 minutes slower than the expected leaders, even found the pace too slow for her liking.
“I wasn’t really frustrated, but I was shocked,” she said. “I wondered, ‘Where is everybody?’”
Moody, who grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago and went to St. Charles High School, took the lead early in the race for several miles before the rest of the women’s pack caught her.
“I just wanted to run my own race and not worry about anything else,” she said. “But I’ll tell you, it was really great leading the race. I love this event and the crowd support was unbelievable.”
Moody would run just about event splits between the first and second half of the race to finish in 2:32:59, becoming the second American woman to finish and setting a PR in the process.
A group of nine women eventually overtook Moody and stayed together for the most part through the halfway point, which they crossed in 1:15:04. This lead group included Shobukhova, Kastor, Mikitenko, Teyba Erkesso of Ethiopia (PR of 2:24:18 in Houston this year), last year’s Chicago Marathon winner Lidiya Grigoryeva of Russia (2:25:10 PR) and Berhane Adere of Ethiopia, who has a PR of 2:20:42 and won the Chicago Marathon in back-to-back years in 2006 and 2007.
The large group stuck together much longer than anyone expected. Kastor was dropped just past 21 miles when she had trouble grabbing her water bottle and had to slow down to get it.
At mile 23, Adere was dropped from the final group of five, leaving Erkesso, Mikitenko, Grigoryeva and Shobukhova. Of the remaining women, Shobukhova had the speed, with a sliver medal at the 2006 European Championships in the 5,000 meters. At one time she held the 3,000-meter indoor world record.
So as expected, Shobukhova made a move and the rest of the women couldn’t keep up. She went on to win the race by 35 seconds. Mikitenko of Germany, who had previously won London and Boston, finished second in her first U.S. marathon in 2:26:31. Grigoryeva of Russia joined her countrywoman on the podium by finishing third in 2:26:47.
Kastor ended up in sixth in 2:28:50. But she was all smiles after the race, despite the disappointing finish and a series of unfortunate events throughout the race. This was her first marathon since she broke her foot during the Olympic Marathon in Beijing in 2008.
“I’m really grateful to be out there today,” she said. “I’m actually really happy with the way my training is going.”
Kastor had trouble finding her bottle at two different water stations, and then had to stop for a bathroom break with two miles to go.
“To see the finishing time and knowing what I could have done if I’d been up there is a little disappointing,” she admitted. “But I’m still ecstatic about the way I’ve been able to get back into (marathon shape).”
Shobukhova was obviously happy with her performance as well.
“It’s only my second marathon. And it’s a crazy surprise to win only my second marathon,” she said through a translator. “I’m very happy.”
As for the slow time, Shobukhova thinks she’ll be able to go faster in the future.
“It was very cold, and I was disappointed in the personal time,” she said. “If it were warmer, I was hoping to get the Russian national record. But not today.”