By Jonathan Gault
October 8, 2021
BOSTON — Man if feels good to type a dateline from a major marathon again. It’s been 907 days since the last Boston Marathon, and 587 since the LetsRun.com crew was at a big-time marathon, last year’s US Olympic Trials. Now we’ve got two to deal with in the same weekend. Bring it on.
So far I’ve been previewing the races based on results databases and phone calls, but today was media day and time for some boots-on-the-ground reporting. The first big piece of news dropped minutes before this afternoon’s press conference at the Fairmont Copley Plaza: Molly Huddle, the American record holder at 10,000 meters and the half marathon, has withdrawn from Monday’s Boston Marathon as she and her husband Kurt Benninger are expecting their first child. She wasn’t the only key player to withdraw in Boston; Kenya’s Angela Tanui, the #3 seed coming off a 2:20:08 win in Tuscany in April, is also a scratch as she could not get her visa sorted in time (2:06 man Thomas Kiplagat is also out).
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But dozens of pros, agents, and coaches did make it to Boston (Huddle was even there as well). Scroll down to find out what I learned from an hour of media availability on Friday (for all of our Chicago coverage, click here). But first, enter our $200,021 Boston and Chicago Marathons Prediction Contest, where you can win a free pair of On shoes and a free LetsRun.com Supporters Club membership.
And also today was the Bank of America Chicago press conference. Our main take away from that one is Galen Rupp is very fit. We did a live video show talking about Boston and Chicago today which you can view below or as a Supporters Club podcast.
Huddle has been battling a nagging ankle injury since her buildup to the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials, and in 2021 added a hip issue that caused her to withdraw from the Olympic Track Trials. And as she began her Boston Marathon buildup, those injuries had yet to subside. Which also created the opportunity to start trying for a baby, something Huddle had wanted to do with husband Kurt.
“I always approached it as give yourself as many chances to run well and do things you want to do and then try and fit this in while you’re still physically young enough and able to,” said the 37-year-old Huddle. “So I feel like I was at that spot now with my ankle injury taking so long, it felt like a good time to do it.”
Huddle found out she was pregnant in August and hasn’t stopped training entirely — she’s still doing about half her usual volume and plans to keep running for as long as she can until the due date in April. From there, she is targeting a fall 2022 marathon for her return to racing.
Huddle is grateful for the new addition to her family and grateful that so many of her friends, from Alysia Montaño to Kim Smith to Roisin McGettigan, are also athlete-mothers who will be able to help guide her through her return to the sport.
“I have so many people that have good advice,” Huddle said.
At the last Boston Marathon, Fauble ran the race of his life, finishing as the top American in 7th in 2:09:09. So after finishing as top American in a fast time, where does Fauble go from here?
“People are going to say it’s cocky, but I want to win,” he said. “I was in the lead group here for 22 miles. I was in the lead at 22 miles. And yeah, I got beat by a minute, maybe more, in the last four miles, but I got there. I was close. And that’s what I want. That’s what I want to do: I want to win, and I want to give myself a shot to win. A couple things need to break my way, but if they do, that’s where I want to be.
“If I can come to this race [and] New York, these races that fit me, enough times, with good enough fitness every single time, probably not every single one’s gonna go my way. But that’s the formula. You look at the people who have success in New York and Boston: Meb and Des and Shalane. It was not the first time they had run those races. It was not the second time they had run those races. But they came to these races over and over again in really good shape and one of the days, their A+ day lined up with a race that broke their way, and they got glory. And that’s kind of my mentality.”
You can understand Fauble’s thinking. He’s one of the best marathoners in the United States. It’s audacious, yes, but what other goal is going to motivate him than the win?
But if that is to become a reality, he has to show progress. Because right now Fauble is not close to the level Meb Keflezighi, Des Linden, and Shalane Flanagan were at before their breakthroughs. When Meb won NYC, he was an Olympic silver medalist and had finished 2nd and 3rd in New York and 3rd in Boston. Linden was a two-time Olympian and has seven top-5’s in majors, including two 2nd’s. Flanagan had finished 9th and 6th in the Olympic marathon and had four top-5’s in majors. Fauble’s best finish in a major is 7th, and he was only 4th at the Marathon Project last year, behind three other Americans (none of whom made the Olympics).
Augustus Maiyo was 5th at the 2020 Olympic Trials as a member of the US Army’s World-Class Athlete Program. But Army regulations state that, after three years, WCAP athletes should return to regular duty in their field of training. Exceptions may be made for those who truly excel, but the standards are high. Maiyo made a World Championship team in 2017 and was 4th at the Pan Am Games in 2019, but he didn’t make the Olympics, which is the big measure of success for the Army higher-ups.
As a result, Maiyo is no longer on the WCAP team (he’s being sponsored by Asics for this race), but since he’s still a staff sergeant in the Army, he is going to be deployed overseas next year. I asked Maiyo whether that created extra pressure on Monday’s race — a potential last hurrah before deployment — but he isn’t viewing it that way. Instead, he’s just pleased to get a chance to run another marathon — he was forced to withdraw from the Marathon Project at the last minute last year when the Army prevented him from traveling due to the COVID situation.
“I don’t even think about [being deployed],” Maiyo said. “I’m just excited to be here.”
And don’t think you’ve heard the last of Maiyo. He may be 38 years old, but he says he plans on continuing to train while overseas and that he’ll be back and expects to run at the 2024 Olympic Trials.
Kirui has run Boston three times, winning in his first appearance in 2017 before finishing second in the rainstorm of 2018 and fifth in 2019. With under five miles to go in 2018, Kirui led by 91 seconds and looked set for a third straight major victory to go with his 2017 Boston and world titles. But the cold finally got to him and Yuki Kawauchi wound up running him down for the win. Since then, he has struggled to find the same form. He was only 14th at the 2019 Worlds in steamy Doha, and in his most recent marathon, Valencia in December, he was forced to drop out with a hamstring injury.
Kirui, who typically trains at high elevation in Keringet, Kenya, spent the last three weeks of his buildup training in Eliud Kipchoge‘s camp in Kaptagat. And he was refreshingly honest about his fitness coming in. Before a major marathon, the overwhelming majority of athletes will tell you everything went great in their buildup, even if that wasn’t the case. But when I asked Kirui if he could run 2:09 on Monday, as he did to win in 2017, he offered no false modesty.
“I’m not sure if that is possible,” Kirui said. “…Let’s just wait. The day will tell.”
Looking at the start lists for Boston can be overwhelming. There are a lot of fast personal bests, but a large chunk of the field hasn’t raced recently. Who to pick for the win?
In taking the temperature of the press room, it was difficult to land on one favorite in either race, but Boston elite coordinator Mary Kate Shea told me that a number of the Ethiopians come into Boston on the strength of strong training blocks. On the men’s side, that would be top seed Asefa Mengstu (2:04:06 pb), Dejene Debela (2nd at ’19 Chicago), Kelkile Gezahegn (has won nine of 14 career marathons), and Lelisa Desisa, who is motivated after dropping out of the Olympic marathon in August.
On the women’s side, meanwhile, 2:20 women Worknesh Edesa and Sutume Kebede are reportedly fit, as is 2:19 woman Mare Dibaba. Of that group, Dibaba may be the biggest talent, winning Chicago in 2014 and Worlds in 2015 and taking bronze at the Olympics in 2016. (She also ran her 2:19:52 pb in the pre-supershoe era of 2015). The problem is, Dibaba hasn’t done much recently — this is her first race in two years, and she didn’t run Valencia after considering it last year because she wasn’t fit enough. But her pedigree and her experience in Boston (she was 2nd in 2014 and 2015) could make her dangerous come race day. She says she is in the same shape as she was at the 2016 Olympics, for what it’s worth.
Outside of the Ethiopians, Shea said Kenyans Edna Kiplagat (the 2017 champ who is now 41 years old) and Felix Kandie (4th in Boston in ’19) have been training well.
And keep an eye on debutants Jemal Yimer and Caroline Chepkoech. Both boast gaudy pbs (26:54/58:33 for Yimer, 14:27/65:07 for Chepkoech) and while I wasn’t able to speak with Chepkoech, I did talk to Yimer through the help of a translator and his agent Malcolm Anderson. Yimer said his preparation has gone very well, and his confidence in his training was obvious in speaking to him. When I asked him his goal, he responded simply: “to be the winner.” And when I asked him if he was nervous making his debut on the notoriously tricky Boston course (technically Yimer debuted at Valencia last year but he DNF’d), Yimer responded that he had no concerns — it was his training that will determine his result, and his training went great. As of Friday, he had still not seen the course in-person, but he has watched videos of old Boston Marathons to get a feel for it, including the rainy year of 2018.
Watch our Chicago and Boston preview show below: