The American was in the hunt for victory all the way to the finish line.
Written by: Sabrina Grotewold
Times keep getting faster at the Boston Marathon: Last year’s women’s race was won in 2:26:11 by Ethiopia’s Tebya Erkesso; this year, six women clocked faster finish times, and Desiree Davila of Rochester Hills, Mich., ran the fastest Boston ever by an American woman, a feat that earned her second place. Kenyan Caroline Kilel won the race in 2:22:36.
Kim Smith, multiple New Zealand record-holder, took control of the race from the gun, assuming a 20-meter lead roughly one minute and 30 seconds into the women’s race. The 29-year-old Smith’s galloping stride is a departure from the cat-like fluidity demonstrated by many of the Kenyan and Ethiopian elites, but she appeared comfortable running alone—she clocked the fastest-ever half-marathon on U.S. soil at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Half-Marathon in February, running alone. Sadly, the Providence College alum would prove unable to pull off a wire-to-wire win today.
“I think [Kim Smith’s] pace was a little too difficult,” Davila said after the race. “There was a lot of emotional running going on—the pace would drop down below 5:30 when we arrived in the next town and it got loud, and then it would slow down and then I’d pick up the pace and close the gap. Then the same thing would happen in the next town.”
The chase pack began closing the gap when Smith grimaced in pain, pulled off the course and grabbed her right knee for a few seconds before stepping back onto the road. The pack of Kenyans and Ethiopians swallowed Smith up around the 30K mark and she fell to the back of the pack, and Frankfurt and Ljubljana Marathon course record-holder Caroline Kilel assumed the lead.
While Smith faded, Desiree Davila, the under-the-radar, patient pure marathoner who is now the superstar of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, passed Smith in the Newton Hills, and slid into sixth place.
While Kara Goucher was the top American woman through the halfway mark, Davila, who finished 18th at the 2007 Boston Marathon and fourth at the 2010 Chicago Marathon, joined the lead pack of Kenyans: Kilel, 2010 Amsterdam Marathon champion Alice Timbilili and 2010 Hamburg and Toronto Waterfront Marathon winner Sharon Cherop. Davila traded the lead with Kilel and Cherop on Beacon Street, but maintained the smoothest, most relaxed form.
“I knew if the pace got any slower than 5:30 during the race, I would push the pace in front,” Davila said. “Anytime the pace got soft, I would go to the front and make it honest again. I wasn’t going to let anyone settle.”
Smith dropped out somewhere between 30-35K.
Making the turn onto Boylston Street for the last 600 meters, Davila made one gargantuan effort to take the lead, but marathon veteran Kilel found another gear that Davila couldn’t match. American hearts raced as fans dotting the home stretch down Boylston Street to the finish shouted, “USA, USA!” in an effort to bring their girl home. “In the last 800 meters, my legs were fried. I would kind of regroup and catch up and I threw down everything I had,” Davila said in a post-race press conference.
Kilel maintained the pace of her final surge and broke the tape in 2:22:36. She quickly collapsed onto the street and could only stand up again with assistance. “I wasn’t expecting that I would win,” Kilel said after the race. “I didn’t have any plan.”
Davila held on for second in 2:22:38, an effort that moved her up to the number three spot on the all-time U.S. women’s marathon list, just under the legendary Joan Benoit-Samuelson, who finished this year’s race in 2:51 at age 53. “I felt that I could run with anyone today; I know that’s a bold statement, but I don’t think I would have placed where I did if I didn’t feel that way,” Davila said. “As it unfolded, it just went perfect for me, minus not winning.”
Both Davila and Goucher lowered their personal records today—Davila by four minutes and Goucher by one. Goucher finished fifth in 2:24:52.
“I wanted to win here, Desi wanted to win here; we all want to end the [American] drought,” a somewhat disappointed Goucher said in the post-race press conference. “My goal hasn’t wavered; this was my first step back, it was a solid performance, but it wasn’t good enough today.”
Cherop finished third in 2:22:42.