Mutai Wins Boston Marathon in Fastest Time Ever Run

Geoffrey Mutai won the 2011 Boston Marathon on Monday in an incredible 2:03:02. Photo: PhotoRun.net

American Ryan Hall is fourth in 2:04:58.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

The Boston Marathon is not certified for official world records, because of its net-downhill, point-to-point format. The exclusion of the world’s oldest marathon from record relevance has been considered immaterial, however, because its frequent headwinds and the tough hills late in the race have generally made it slower than other events, such as the London and Berlin marathons. Not for decades had a world record-beating time been considered even a remote possibility in Boston. But today, Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai did the impossible, winning the 115th running of the Boston Marathon in 2:03:02, bettering by 57 seconds Haile Gebrselassie’s still-standing but much-diminished world record of 2:03:59. Mutai’s countryman, Moses Mosop, was also well under the record, finishing second in 2:03:06 after coming up short in a dramatic sprint down Boylston Street.

American Ryan Hall’s performance was no less shocking. After leading the race much of the way, he hung on gustily for fourth place behind Ethiopia’s Gebre Gebremariam, matching last year’s result, but greatly improving his time, crossing the line at 2:04:58, 40 seconds under Khalid Khannouchi’s American record of 2:05:38. But again, the mark does not count as an American record.

Weather conditions were nearly ideal when the elite men’s wave set off 32 minutes after the elite women at 10:00 am sharp: mostly sunny, with a stiff tailwind out of the west and an air temperature of 48 degrees. Kenya’s Robert Cheruiyot had raised the bar by smashing the course record with a winning time of 2:05:52 last year in less favorable weather. Would the bar be raised again?

A gifted downhill runner, Hall set the pace through the first mile, which drops 121 feet, just as he did in his first Boston Marathon two years ago. He was slightly more restrained this year, though, covering the distance in 4:36, versus 4:29 in 2009. A large group of Africans marked the American about 10 meters back, which seemed fine with Hall, who, judging by his pre-race comments about his strategy, was not trying to break away but simply to run his own race.

“I was just having fun out there,” Hall said after the race. “I felt smooth, comfortable, and relaxed.”

Ryan Hall pumps up the crowd around the halfway mark in Wellesley. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Hall’s 5K split was a sizzling 14:29. Behind him, defending champion Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot and the other chasers wore expressions of concern and discomfort. Approaching 5 miles (23:18), Hall settled back just enough to allow Cheruiyot to take a nominal lead. Only a dozen others, including pre-race favorite Gebre Gebremariam, had survived to that point.

As the pack entered Framingham, Peter Kamais moved to the front and lifted the tempo, and Hall quickly fell to the back of the group, next to Alistair Cragg of Ireland, who trains with the Mammoth Lakes group. A 4:41 seventh mile apparently wasn’t fast enough for Hall, though, and soon thereafter he was back off the front, putting the rest under heavy pressure. That pressure caused a pair of runners, including Cragg, to pop off the back, whittling the lead pack to 12 runners. That pack passed through 15K in 43:43, having averaged a “world-record” 4:42 pace through the race to that point.

Passing Wellesley College, Hall, back in front, put his right hand to his ear in a “let me hear you” gesture, as he had done the year before, when he finished fourth in 2:08:41, the fastest time ever recorded by an American in the Boston Marathon. Moments later the group of 12 passed the half-marathon mark in 1:01:54, three minutes and one second faster than Hall finished the New York City Half Marathon four weeks earlier—a performance that caused most pundits to give him no chance of contending in Boston.

At the 15-mile mark, Daba took off like a shot, as though he’d planned it all along. The top selection was immediately reduced to six. Survivors included Kenyans Geoffrey Mutai, Moses Mosop, Philip Sanga, Robert Kipchumba, and Ethiopians Abraham Cherkos and Gebremariam. Hall continued to run his own race, which meant allowing himself to fall 50 meters back. Within two miles, however, the surge had subsided and Hall had clawed his way back in contact.

“I learned from last year that I had to stay closer,” Hall said, “so when I got dropped, I picked up my rhythm a little bit so I could stay in the race.”

Mutai went next, after passing 30K in 1:23:23, and the lead group splintered again. Mosop and Gebremariam held on longest, but soon faded as well. Gebremariam dailed back his pace to avoid a complete implosion, but Mosop kept Mutai within range and at 22 miles pulled even with him. The pair flew down Beacon Street shoulder to shoulder, each trying to run the sprint out of the other’s legs.

Behing them, Hall caught Gebremariam for third place, and the pair began to work together. “When I saw the time at 40K, 58 [minutes], I thought, wow, we can run 2:04,” the defending New York City Marathon winner said.

With exactly one mile to go, Mutai accelerated once more. Mosop did not respond initially, but kept the gap to two strides and closed it over the next 100 meters. “I said I will wait and push it a little more at the finish,” Mutai said later. The pair turned the final corner together onto Bolyston Street and sprinted the final 600 meters. Mutai pulled away over the last 100 to complete the fastest marathon ever run.

“When I was coming to Boston I was not coming to break the world record,” Mutai said at a post-race press conference. “It’s like a gift from god.”

Shall we follow Mutai’s example and call it a world record anyway?

[sgi:MattFitzgerald]

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