BOSTON - This is the year the Kenyans will face a homegrown challenge at the Boston Marathon, and it's not from the American runners or the undulations of Heartbreak Hill.
It's the New England weather: wet and windy and certain only to make things unpredictable when the world's longest-running annual marathon leaves Hopkinton for the 26.2-mile slog to Boston's Back Bay this morning.
"We are not used to that," said Joseph Kigora, part of a strong contingent trying to bring Kenya its 15th men's victory in 17 years.
Defending champions Robert Cheruiyot and Rita Jeptoo are back, but the weather won't be at all like the calm and clear 53-degree weather for last year's Kenyan sweep. Forecasts call for 3 to 5 inches of rain, start temperatures in the mid to upper 30s and wind gusts blowing in runners' faces at up to 25 mph.
The foul weather is certain to slow the pace for the top runners a year after Cheruiyot broke the course record in 2 hours, 7 minutes, 14 seconds.
"I don't think they'll like it, but they're still great competitors," four-time winner Bill Rodgers said. "What happens is you get upsets. The top runners are so used to being up front and fighting for the win, and that can be disastrous."
Although Kenyans certainly have run in the cold at high altitudes back home - and in all kinds of weather when they train abroad - several said that they are not used to fighting against strong winds.
"The problem is that wind," Stanley Leleito said. "But only rainy is OK."
A slow pace usually leads to a more tactical - and more exciting - race up front. More of a concern for organizers is how the weather will affect the 20,000 also-rans, who will be out longer and more likely to need medical care.
"The interest is to get them out of the elements as quickly as possible," race director Dave McGillivray said between meetings with state and local officials on how to handle the storm. "With hypothermia, you can't take something to make it go away. You have to get into a warmer environment."
McGillivray said organizers will take buses used to drive runners out to the start and station them along the course, to provide shelter and a ride back for dropouts. More shelters are being arranged in schools and other buildings along the route.
Pumps have been stationed at low-lying areas in case of flooding. Ponchos will be provided for workers assigned outdoors. Runners were warned in an e-mail blast to wear appropriate clothing.
"We've played out every scenario possible," McGillivray said.
Adding to the logistical struggle is a new starting time - 10 a.m. for the main field, after more than 100 years of noon starts - that was adopted in part because of a few years of afternoon heat.
The earlier start also will allow the cities and towns along the route to have their roads back sooner. "It was a long time coming," McGillivray said. "Basically, 110 years." Cheruiyot won Boston in 2003 and again last year, then went on to win the Chicago race in a bizarre finish. As he raised his hands to celebrate, he slipped on the slickened finish line and banged his head on the pavement. Although at first it wasn't even clear he made it to the end, his torso bounced across the line as he fell. "I thought maybe it was the end of my career," he said. Cheruiyot said he did not sleep for more than a month. He needed therapy for his back and sometimes experienced blurry vision. It's not entirely clear - even to him - whether he has fully recovered from the accident: Three weeks ago, he went back to the hospital after getting headaches about 15 miles into a training run. But if he makes it to the tape this time, he promises to be more careful. "I don't think there is something to slide on," he said with a smile. Cheruiyot's dual victories last year put him in first place in the race for the first World Marathon Majors $500,000 bonus; a win today would all but clinch it. On the women's side, New York champion Jelena Prokopcuka leads with 40 points (25 points are awarded for a win, 15 for second), and defending Boston champion Rita Jeptoo is tied for second with Berhane Adere at 30 points apiece. Deena Kastor, the top American hope and the defending London champion, is tied for fourth. The bonuses will be paid to the top men and women after the world championships in Osaka, Japan, and fall marathons in Berlin, Chicago and New York. Another side race going on in Boston is the U.S. women's marathon championships. The top American in the women's field will earn the national title, a $25,000 bonus and a spot in the world championship field.comments powered by Disqus