Last weekend was the Boston Marathon. The unsurprising results were in the wheelchair division: Tatyana McFadden and Marcel Hug. In the non-wheelchair division the results were complete surprises–Yuki Kawauchi won the men’s and Desiree Linden won the women’s race. Only one Kenyan in either podium positions–Geoffrey Kirui came second in the men’s race. No Ethiopian, and the women’s podium had 3 North Americans.
The weather contributed a lot to the results. Conditions were horrid, cold and windy and rainy. Which made Kawauchi’s and Linden’s victories all that special.
Desiree Linden is an experienced marathoner, representing the US in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and came 4th at Boston last year. She is also a fabulous team player, slowing down mid-race to wait for Shalane Flanagan and again helping Molly Huddle try to close the gap on the leaders. If that isn’t the epitome of sportsmanship, what is.
Yuki Kawauchi is the first Japanese winner and he’s always been a legend. He participates in an average of one marathon per month. Just this year alone he’s run 4 marathons and look at his results:
- Marshfield Road Runners–first
- New Taipei City Wan Jin Shi–first
What’s more amazing is he’s still classified as an amateur–he has a full-time job working for the government of Saitama prefecture and unusually for Japanese runners, is not part of an ekiden. Because of his amateur status, he doesn’t have a sponsor although he is eligible to receive prize money. [Edit: he announced after Boston that he is turning pro.]
Brett Larner at japan running news has a detailed account of Kawauchi’s career leading up to Boston. He ran 2:08:27 at Tokyo 2011 and started looking at entering races abroad. Before this year his work schedule didn’t allow him to run Boston, which takes place on a monday. He has run NYC 3 times because the november race falls in a long weekend in japan.
The planning for Boston 2018 began one year earlier. Brett tells the story of meeting Bill Rodgers at a Red Sox game in 2017 and him recording a short video for Kawauchi. The message: “I know you haven’t run Boston yet. You HAVE TO run Boston.”
Kawauchi’s 2018 results show how versatile and tough he is. He finished 3rd on the brutal downhill 6th stage at the Hakone ekiden which shows he can tackle downhill. He won the Marshfield New Year marathon, Marshfield being south of Boston and it was sub-zero in January. Wan Ji Shi in Taiwan was in hot and humid conditions. All his bases were covered as far as possible Boston weather conditions.
That left strategising against the competition. The Kenyans, the Ethiopians, and the Americans, especially Chicago winner Galen Rupp. What became clear was it’s historically impossible to win Boston by going out fast, leading for the first 25k, and not fast enough in the last 10k. Nobody who goes out hard wins Boston.
So what did Kawauchi do?
He went out hard, very hard, 4:37 first mile. He made everyone in the field go out hard too, and played a little psychological warfare with them. They knew they shouldn’t be going out fast, but had to keep up with him, and at the back of their minds is the conventional wisdom of not going out hard. It must have played on the minds of the others. And then he started breaking them one by one. Rupp broke and ended up DNF, as did many others. The only remaining obstacle was Geoffrey Kirui, and he got passed at around 35k.
Kawauchi came to Boston fully prepared for any situation. In the words of outside:
On a day when the conventional running wisdom dictated that it would be absolute suicide to take the lead early and bear the brunt of the gale-force winds, Kawauchi not only took the lead, but jetted out at sub-world record pace for the first mile, opening up a huge gap between himself and the rest of the field.
He controlled the race. And that’s why he won.