Hall Hauls, Merga Stays the Course
by Bob Fitzgerald
If just a half hour earlier the elite women had reacted to the start of Boston like wary pedestrians during rush hour in Times Square, then Ryan Hall was the guy bouncing in the cockpit of a drag racer waiting for Red to turn to Yellow to turn to Green….Screeech, and with a puff of smoke wafting over Hopkinton Green, the men’s race was on.
Hall’s first downhill mile passed in 4:40. Following the second mile in 9:22 he eased back into the pack momentarily before forging ahead once again. “My plan is to run my own race from the get-go,” Hall would later confide. “I like to run fast so that’s how it went.”
The Ashland 5K mark was reached in 14:34; the Framingham 10K mark in 29:28ÛÓ39 seconds under course record pace…and yet all the players were thereÛÓthe US hope and 12 Africans, any seven of which had a good shot of winning, including three unrelated Kenyans by the name of Cheruiyot.
The least dangerous of the three (on paper) was Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, winner of the 2008 Frankfurt Marathon in a course record 2:07:21; then there’s Evans Cheruiyot, with a 59:05 half marathon from 2007 and winner of his last two marathonsÛÓMilan in 2007 and Chicago in 2008. His 2:06:25 from Chicago seeded him second fastest in the race behind Hall’s 2:06:17 from London in 2008.
Then, of course, there’s Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, the Boston course record holder at 2:07:14, striding along with fellow four-time winners Gerard Cote and Bill Rodgers. Cheruiyot ran 1:00:05 at the Lisbon Half Marathon in anticipation of an unprecedented fourth straight laurel wreath at Boston. The tallest man in the field at 6 feet 2, Cheruiyot is an imposing presence.
Despite this, the adjective “dangerous” in pre-race banter has most often been applied to Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga, who was with the leaders in the Newton Hills in 2006 before dropping out. The 28 year-old from Addis Ababa was in or shared the lead at the Beijing Olympics until the final miles. He entered the Olympic stadium in third but faltered badly and wound up fourth. In Jan. of 2009, he ran a course record 2:07:52 at the Houston Marathon and then ran a 59:18 half marathon in February.
Everyone was still in contention as the halfway mark in Wellesley was reached in 1:03:38. Following the long downhill from Wellesley into Newton Lower Falls, former Boston champion Timothy Cherigat and 2007 third-placer Stephen Kiogora made a bold move uphill over the route 128 bridge.
Passing Newton Wellesley Hospital and heading to the Newton Fire Station, Merga made the move that changed the race. Photo by Victah/Photo Run
This was the wake-up call for Merga, who had planned a move in the Newton hils but now moved up the timetable, catching the frontrunners by Newton Wellesley Hospital and surging ahead before the Newton Fire Station and the move east onto Commonwealth Avenue into an increasingly persistent headwind.
Countryman Solomon Molla, the 2008 Seoul champion, and Kenya’s Daniel Rono, the 2008 Rotterdam runner-up in 2:06:58, followed suit.
Merga covered the 17th mile in 4:48. Molla was dropped on the first Newton Hill with Hall 12 seconds back in ninth and course record holder Cheryuiyot in sixth. Cheruiyot would drop out in Cleveland Circle, be taken to a local hospital and then released.
At 18 miles, Hall was 15 seconds back in seventh; on the second Newton hill by City Hall he was fourth and by Heartbreak he was in third, only 30m behind Rono but 30 seconds behind Merga. Page 1 of 9 pages of coverage in the current issue