Below is the extensive US Preview for Boston (minus a ton of photos) that appeared in the March/April issue of New England Runner. Pay particular attention to Shalane Flanaga, Desi Linden, Jordan Hasay and Molly Huddle. Your female winner at Boston could very well come from this quartet despite a strong international field.
Update: Molly Huddle set the US Half Marathon Record as listed below and then won the US 15K Championships. She hasn’t lost to an American in several years, including Hasay at both the US Half & 15K champs. Coach Ray Treacy told us if not for a head cold he believes Huddle would have broken 1:07 in Houston. He since believes if she were running a flat course she could break 2:20:00.
Jordan Hasay has been off the charts in her two marathon appearances, her latest a 2:20:57 showing. She backed out of the World XC Championships but her training workouts are top notch.
Shalane Flanagan is the grande dame here but she’s coming off a victory in NYC where she dispatched two of the best Kenyans on the planet—Edna Kiplagat will be in Boston, Mary Keitany will not.
Desi Linden has come the closest to winning Boston-2 seconds out. In her last 4 appearances she’s placed no worse than 4th, including last year.
Experience, youth, take your choice but bet on this quartet!
Stars & Stripes: Why Not US!?
by Bob Fitzgerald
Remember the dark days when it was a moral victory at Boston for an American to crack the top 10 after wading through the wreckage of the foreign frontrunners who were actually contending for the podium. We’ve tried to process such thoughts from our collective consciousness, but they still rise like piranha to floating meat.
These roiling waters have smoothed, slowly but surely, through US marathoning ascendance, to the point we can now trumpet the best American field (evah!) since John Hancock began its principal sponsorship of the event in 1986. Now when we talk about favorites, or at least co-favorites (we’ll give defending champions Geoffrey Kirui and Edna Kiplagat their due) we can kick off for the first time with…
The WMM Club: Flanagan & Rupp
This is exclusive membership indeed. Up until Meb Keflezihgi won New York in 2009 and Boston in 2014, no American had won one of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors originating in 2006 with Boston, London, New York, Chicago and Berlin with Tokyo joining the group in 2013. This changed dramatically in 2017 as within the space of a month Oregon’s Galen Rupp won the Chicago Marathon and Bay State native Shalane Flanagan turned back two of the world’s premiere Kenyans to win the New York City Marathon.
Given Galen Rupp’s trajectory in the sport, the win in Chicago is not surprising. Rupp has been a phenom since his early teens. In 2004 at the age of 15, he ran 13:37.91 for 5,000m in Belgium to break Gerry Lindgren’s legendary 40-year-old record by 7-seconds. Rupp would close out his senior year at Portland, Oregon’s Central Catholic HS with a 10,000m time of 29:09.
(Quick Caveat: Rupp’s 5,000 run in Belgium also broke the US Junior record of 13:38.59 set by Franklin Sanchez while at Georgetown. There are those reading this who will remember the historic 1999 Mass. State indoor championship 2M clash between Sanchez of Lynn Tech and Andy Powell of Oliver Ames, eventually won by Sanchez in 8:49.60 with Stanford-bound Powell in his shadow at 8:50.29.)
Bay State native Alberto Salazar has been coaching Rupp since his teens and if there’s a cloud over Rupp it’s the cloud that hangs over Salazar and his Nike Oregon Project group. There have been allegations from past coach’s and athletes over the misuse of medications and supplements, prompting an investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency that seems forever mired in mud until Fancy Bear, a Russian hacking group, occasionally releases hacked USADA memos that produce a skein of denials from Salazar and his athletes, including double gold medalist Mo Farah, 1500m gold medalist Matt Centrowitz, and Rupp. In 2015, Rupp was the most drug tested US track athlete; in 2017, Centrowitz was the most drug tested US track athlete. So it goes, this is worth mentioning but as NER sees it the cloud isn’t white and it isn’t black but a peculiar grey.
When we talked to Salazar pre-Boston last year he’d already declared that Rupp’s best distance would be the marathon. That has certainly borne out. Rupp was already an Olympic silver medalist at 10,000m when he ran his first marathon—the solar flare US Olympic Trials Marathon in L.A. where he ran away from Meb for the win. Disappointed in Rio with a 5th place finish in the Olympic 10,000m, Rupp rebounded with a bronze medal in the marathon. A strong runner-up showing in Boston followed on April 17, 2017 following a grueling duel with Kenya’s Geoffrey Kirui. Boston’s victor would win the IAAF World Marathon Championship in London four months later.
Rupp and Boston defending champion Kirui will each run their fifth marathon in Boston on Monday, April 16. In Rupp’s next marathon outing following Boston last April, he turned back a deep Chicago field including the defending champion to win in a PR 2:09:20.
Should we worry that Rupp hasn’t broken 2:09:00? Maybe, if he was running time trials; he’s not, he’s racing and Boston is a championship course. The good news is that in terms of time, Rupp was ranked 16th going into the 2017 race (Kirui was listed 11th) and he placed second; this year he appears in the 17th position.
In February, Rupp traded racing shoes for cross country spikes at the USATF Cross Country Championships in Tallahasse, Florida. Leading throughout much of the 10,000m course, Rupp was just nipped at the line by defending champion and 10,000m specialist Leonard Korir. Rupp finished in 29:17.8, a step behind Korir in 29:16.6. It was Rupp’s first cross country race in 11 years.
When Shalane Flanagan approached the finish line of the 2017 New York City Marathon moments from a huge win she released an expletive deleted we will translate as, ‘Well yah, it’s about time!’ Who can fault her? The 36-year-old has certainly labored for her craft, and certainly been victimized by it. Her 2008 Olympic bronze medal has since been upgraded to silver long after the fact. After Flanagan pushed the pace at the 2014 Boston Marathon it turns out eventual three-time Boston champion Rita Jeptoo was juiced to the gills, running the 24th mile in 4:47 and the final 5K just 2-seconds slower than men’s winner Meb Keflezihgi. Flanagan did secure the fastest US women’s time at Boston in 2:22:02, eclipsing the 2:22:38 run by Michigan’s Desi Linden when she came within 2-ticks of winning the women’s race in 2011.
A native of Marblehead, MA who still holds the state HS 2M record of 10:24, Flanagan proved she was far from done in the Olympic year of 2016. On June 26 at the B.A.A. 10K she lowered her own national 10K road record by 11 seconds to 30:52. In Rio she placed 6th in the Olympic Marathon in 2:25:26. In Dec. she learned she’d moved up in the 2014 Boston Marathon results with Jeptoo’s DQ.
The party was over in February of 2017, however, when Flanagan had to leave unfinished business in Boston behind, withdrawing from the Boston Marathon women’s field with a fracture to her lower back. Adding to this immense disappointment, Flanagan finished fourth in the US Outdoor 10,000m Championship qualifier for the IAAF World Championships in August, the first time since 2003 she’d failed to make an Olympic or World Championship national team.
Flanagan did have a strong track season nonetheless, including a 14:59 clocking for 5,000m. The four-time Olympian wasn’t having it and set her sights on New York. The prohibitive favorite was three-time defending champion Mary Keitany of Kenya, who had set a women’s only marathon record of 2:17:01 in London that April. Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat, winner of five major marathons, was also in the hunt.
After the field started slowly, Flanagan would run the second half in 1:10:35. In the 21st mile, Kiplagat had been turned back and it was Keitany, Flanagan and Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska. The trio ran the 22nd mile in 5:09 before Flanagan surged forward. Entering Central Park in the 23rd mile she was flying, running miles 23-24-25 in 5:08, 5:09 and 5:04.
In the race’s aftermath, Flanagan told reporters, “About nine months ago, I was heartbroken over the fact that I wouldn’t be able to race the Boston Marathon. But I just told myself that there would be delayed gratification and a moment that would make up for it. I’ve dreamed of a moment like this since I was a little girl. It means a lot to me and my family and hopefully inspires the next generation of American women to be patient.”
There was talk that Flanagan was considering retirement with a good showing at New York. Just how good a showing it was warranted huddling with her Nike Bowerman TC coaches Jerry Schumacher and Pascal Dobert with a look to the immediate horizon.
New York rivals Edna Kiplagat, the defending Boston champion and two-time World champion, along with Mamitu Daska, the two-time Frankfurt champion, will be in Boston. So will 2016 Olympic Marathon silver medalist Eunice Kirwa of Bahrain…but if Flanagan can temper a Boston showing somewhere between her first half in 2014 (1:09:27) and her recent second half in New York…hello!
The Nike Oregon Project’s Jordan Hasay and Saucony runner Molly Huddle have but three marathons between them—all World Marathon Majors—and have placed no worse than third at Boston, Chicago or New York.
Hasay is a Californian from the west coast; Huddle is a NY native living in Providence, RI on the east coast. Hasay is coached by Alberto Salazar. Huddle is coached by Ray Treacy. There is star power afoot here. The engines will be revved and ready to roar on Patriots’ Day. We will start with Jordan Hasay as she has seniority with two marathons under her belt.
Like Rupp, Hasay was a high school phenom who came to Salazar’s attention, albeit much later than Rupp. Before Hasay even entered high school she twice set US records for 1500m and 3000m at the US Junior Olympics. The following year, as a freshman at Mission College Prep HS in San Luis Obispo, she won the Foot Locker XC National Championships.
After a collegiate career at Oregon where she garnered 18 All American plaudits, Hasay turned pro. Injury and track times that met with success (but weren’t competitive on the highest stage globally) augered a welcome transition to the roads. Hasay loved the crowds, the less pressured environment, and in 2016 she made her half marathon debut in Houston’s high humidity, running 1:08:40. Hasay is that rare athlete who is already great at shorter distances, who then jumps a level as the distance increases. This was glaringly apparent at Boston in 2017 as Hasay would place third overall in 2:23-flat, just 9-seconds behind runner-up Rose Chelimo in history’s fastest debut marathon. (Edna Kiplagat would win in 2:21:52.)
Hasay then improved another two minutes at Chicago to place third in 2:20:57, history’s second fastest US time behind Deena Kastor’s American record 2:19:36 run at London in 2006. Will the third time be the charm?
When we first observed Molly Huddle she was 16-years-old and placing third in the 2001 Chris Thater 5K (Binghamton, NY). Her time was 16:45 and we had to ask, “Who’s the teenager in third?” We found out Huddle attended Notre Dame HS where she was a cross country ‘team of one’ in her senior year (Notre Dame had no HS XC team).
Graduating as a 10-time All American from Notre Dame University, Huddle turned pro in 2007 and made the move to live and train in Providence, RI under the tutelage of Providence College coach Ray Treacy. The two-time Olympian has now won 25 US Championships. A former US record holder at 5,000m (14:44.76, 2010) Huddle set the US 10,000m record of 30:13.17 at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Her subsequent marathon debut on a breezy day at NYC netted a third-place 2:28:13 showing, just 12-seconds out of second.
“Molly only had 10-12 weeks of preparation for New York coming off the Olympics. The lead-up to Boston leaves a proper amount of time to prepare and set some goals along the way,” Treacy pointed out, with one of those goals being the Houston Half Marathon on Jan. 14. Here, Huddle would break Deena Kastor’s US 10M (51:31), US 20K (1:03:48) and US Half Marathon (1:07:34) records in splitting 50:52 – 1:03:48 – 1:07:25. Hasay would run 1:08:38.
“Molly was sick with a cold two days before the race, otherwise she would have broken 1:07, at least that’s my feeling,” says Treacy. “Since then the training has been great. Molly will run the Gate River 15K in March and then it’s on to Boston. Against the caliber of talent there you have to be one hundred percent prepared and healthy and thinking you can win it. I know Molly wants to stick her nose in it, to stay up front as long as possible and see what happens.”
The Hometown Hero
New England being “hometown” New Haven, CT’s Tim Ritchie more than fills the bill. The Worcester, MA native and former Boston College ace joined the B.A.A. after graduation in 2009 and worked as an asst. coach at The Heights. More recently he became a member of the elite Saucony Freedom TC to run full time as a pro. Non-related to that he also moved to Connecticut. Always a national talent, Ritchie’s first marathon attempt in 2013 at Boston wasn’t as stellar as he’d have liked. Live and learn.
Training and competitions were sometimes compromised by Ritchie’s coaching schedule. Despite this, he broke 4-minutes in the mile in 2012 and in 2013 ran 2:14:50 in the US Marathon Championships. In 2015 he won the Philadelphia Half Marathon in a breakthrough 1:01:23. Tim Ritchie was getting known! Well, sort of…One of the headlines regarding his Philly win started off “Little-Known Massachusetts Native…”
In 2017 the advantages of being a full-time runner with still untapped potential bore fruit. The Hartford Half Marathon was the low hanging stuff. Ritchie had been under 1:03:00 on three occasions before setting the Hartford course record of 1:02:41 last Oct. This was a prep for the ‘high hanging’ stuff at the Cal International Marathon in December. The race served as the US Marathon Championship and Ritchie held himself at the back of the main pack before pouring it on past 20 miles. He split the 24th mile in 4:51 to ice the win in a PR 2:11:55.
So what to expect for Boston? It’s Feb. 19 at this writing, still a long way out, so we thought it best to check in with Tim and see what he had to convey to NER:
“Training is going pretty well so far. I took a few weeks off, a few weeks easy and now I’m getting back into the full swing. I was just down in Tallahassee for two weeks with the Saucony Freedom Track Club, which was a great way to kick start the hard work. I am still training primarily alone down in New Haven, so those mini training camps with the team are great for me to reconnect and feel a part of the group. We are following a similar plan to CIM and doing some shorter speedy work now before getting into the higher volume and marathon specific work. Being a full time runner definitely has its benefits, there’s time to rest, the ability to travel to Florida for training, the flexibility to add in strength work, but I do have my own personal athletes that I coach and the Yale track team to keep me busy and sane.
“My hope for Boston is to take another step forward. I can’t assume that my race at CIM will automatically recreate itself in Boston. I know I have to work even harder now. I want to gain more valuable experience on the course, challenge the best runners in the U.S. and the world and hopefully have gas in the tank to run hard Beacon to Boylston. I miss my days of running the Newton Hills week after week when I was at Boston College for eleven years, so I am definitely excited to go home and run the greatest race in the world. I was 25th there in 2013 during my debut marathon. Let’s hope I can improve on that!”
Give Desi Her Due!
What makes Desiree Linden’s story so compelling is that, unlike nearly all her contemporaries mentioned in this section, when Linden (nee Davila) graduated from Arizona State University as a two-time All American, she was not pursued by any organization offering a professional contract. That runs from the 800-lb. Gorilla (read: Nike) right on down.
Now a two-time Olympian who came within two seconds of winning the 2011 Boston Marathon, Linden initially had to interview with Michigan’s Hanson brothers just to become part of their distance camp. This also speaks to the success of the multitude of “start-up” training camps that sprouted like mushrooms following a hard rain in response to American distance running bottoming out.
Embracing a blue collar work ethic, Linden started grinding out marathons with accelerating success. Her debut was somewhat inauspicious—a 19th place 2:44:56 finish at the 2007 Boston Marathon. The following year at the US Olympic Marathon Team Trials in Boston, she would improve to 2:37:15 in placing 13th. That fall produced a solid 5th place showing at the Chicago Marathon in a time of 2:31:33. One year later, Linden placed second in Chicago in 2:28:20. Then came Boston in 2011 and a thrilling duel down Boylston St. as Linden attempted to become the first American woman to win Boston since Lisa Larsen Weidenbach in 1985. Falling two seconds short, Linden’s time of 2:22:38 was the fastest ever at Boston by a US female.
Linden then qualified for the 2012 US Olympic Marathon team but a stress fracture to the femur ruined any competitive bid in London and necessitated a rare dnf. Linden would return late in 2013 and run both the 2014 and 2015 Boston Marathons. In the super fast 2014 race she ran 2:23:54 as second US woman behind Shalane Flanagan in 2:22:02 (eclipsing Linden’s US best at Boston). In 2015, Linden was fourth overall, top US, in 2:25:39.
In the Olympic year of 2016, Linden placed second to Flanagan’s third at the molten US Trials in L.A. and then spotted Flanagan a place in Rio to place 7th to Flanagan’s 6th in 2:26:08.
With Flanagan dealing with her own fracture last year and forced to miss Boston, Linden took over pacemaking duties, refusing to allow the field to dawdle. By 19 miles she had whittled the lead pack to four and two US women would place top-4—Hasay in third and Linden in fourth at 2:25:06.
Fast and fearless, Linden always turns it up a notch on Patriots’ Day. The long-time fan favorite will turn 35 three months post Boston.
Can ‘Ritz’ Put It On?
It seems all roads lead to Boston and if you’re a fan from the region you would have seen Michigan native Dathan Ritzenhein pushing the pace at both the 2017 B.A.A. 10K and B.A.A. Half Marathon. In 2015 he was the first American and 9th overall at Boston in 2:11:20.
We’ve been fans since watching Ritzenhein finish as the top US runner in the Senior race at the 2002 World XC Championships in Leopardstown, Dublin a year after he won bronze in the Junior race at the 2001 World Cross Country Championships in Belgium.
Prior to that Ritzenhein won the Foot Locker XC Championships twice against competition like Ryan Hall and Alan Webb. At Colorado U. he’d win the NCAA XC Championship and upon graduation carried the potential of being America’s next great marathoner. That mantle, however, would fall more to Ryan Hall and Meb Keflezighi. Ritzenhein would hold the US 5,000m record from 2009-2010 before losing it to Bernard Lagat. In 2009 he would run 1:00:00 for the half marathon distance to become the second fastest US runner at that distance behind Ryan Hall’s 59:43…but at the marathon distance Ritzenhein seemed the opposite of Jordan Hasay—his marathon times never commensurate to his shorter distance performances. Ritzenhein publicly stated he was done with the marathon (rescinded the following day) after placing fourth in the 2012 US Olympic Marathon Team Trials in a personal best 2:09:55 (8-seconds behind Abdi Abdirahman, also in this year’s Boston field.) Ritzenhein subsequently qualified for the US 10,000 team, running an Olympic ‘A’ standard of 27:45. Later in 2012, Ritzenhein showed a flash of brilliance at the Chicago Marathon, running 2:07:47.
At age 35, does Ritzenhein have another stellar effort left? This is what makes it interesting. After being sponsored by Nike for over a decade, his contract was up at the end of 2016 during a year that saw him 1) drop out of the US Olympic Marathon Team Trials, and 2) drop out of the NYC Marathon with a ruptured plantar fascia.
Ritzenhein moved from Oregon to his home state of Michigan to rehab with his wife and two small children. Two of the prospective suitors for his services were Keith and Kevin Hanson of the Hanson’s Distance Project. Ritzenhein has known both for over 20 years, liked the observations the pair made about his marathon preparation and results. The Hanson’s group is marathon-centric and ‘Ritz’ will tell you he’s a big fan of Hanson athletes like Brian Sell and, of course, Desi.
Although living two hours from the Hanson’s training facility, ‘Ritz’ was not above “grabbing a bunk” at the facility, especially during the marathon preparation period. He signed with Hanson’s in July of 2017 with renewed focus on Boston in 2018 and an attempt at a fourth Olympic team headed for Tokyo in 2020.
2018 Boston Marathon John Hancock Elite USA Team
Deena Kastor 2:19:36 (London, 2006)
Jordan Hasay 2:20:57 (Chicago, 2017)
Shalane Flanagan 2:21:14 (Berlin, 2014)
Desiree Linden 2:22:38 (Boston, 2011)
Serena Burla 2:26:53 (Osaka, 2017)
Sara Hall 2:27:21 (Frankfurt, 2017)
Molly Huddle 2:28:13 (New York City, 2016)
Kellyn Taylor 2:28:40 (Houston, 2015)
Dathan Ritzenhein 2:07:47 (Chicago, 2012)
Abdi Abdirahman 2:08:56 (Chicago, 2006)
Galen Rupp 2:09:20 (Chicago, 2017)
Ryan Vail 2:10:57 (London, 2014)
Tim Ritchie 2:11:56 (Sacramento, 2017)
Shadrack Biwott 2:12:01 (New York, 2016)
Scott Smith 2:12:21 (Frankfurt, 2017)
Andrew Bumbalough 2:13:58 (Tokyo, 2017)