The 127th Boston Marathon is bound to be historic, for two main reasons: it’s the 10-year anniversary of the 2013 Boston bombing. And the men’s marathon will host the world’s fastest marathoner, Eliud Kipchoge, for the first time. Kipchoge is obviously the favorite to win, as he furthers his quest for all six Abbott World Marathon Majors. But nothing comes easy, and here’s why Boston might be Kipchoge’s toughest test yet.
The course and weather
The Boston Marathon course looks like it should be fast, but it isn’t. You start out in the distant suburb of Hopkinton, 150 m above sea level, and cruise downhill for the first eight miles before heading back uphill to finish at sea level in downtown Boston. The course runs almost entirely from west to east, meaning the wind will either be with or against you, which adds variability to the results.
What’s the weather going to be like on Marathon Monday? Not the best. The forecast shows a high of 14 C and winds from the east of 22 km/h (ie, a headwind), plus an 80 per cent chance of precipitation.
Earlier this month, Kipchoge told Nation that he’s ready for any challenges the Boston course throws at him. “The weather can be unpredictable, but I am trying to be an all-weather man,” said the reigning back-to-back Olympic marathon champion. Kipchoge also said he and his training partners designed a hilly long-run route in Kaptagat, Kenya to emulate the Boston hills, involving 40+ kilometers of rolling hills at 2,500 meters above sea level.
Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai holds the course record of 2:03:02 from the 2011 Boston Marathon, when there was a 20 km/h tailwind. Unlike at other marathon majors, pacers are not allowed at Boston, meaning Kipchoge will have to set a 2:02 pace from the get-go if he wants the course record.
The 2023 Boston Marathon features five of the last six marathon majors winners (the only one missing is Amos Kiprutowho will attempt to defend his London Marathon crown on April 23).
Usually, the former Boston champion is the favorite heading into race week, but that isn’t the case when you have the world record holder making his first appearance.
Last year, reigning Boston champion Evans Chebet had a season to remember, becoming the first marathoner to win Boston and NYC in the same year since Mutai did it in 2011. Chebet is fast, and he’s a bit of a tactician, which can work in his favor if Kipchoge mistimes his move. Chebet’s best performance is from the 2020 Valencia Marathon, where he took the win in 2:03:00 (the eighth fastest time in history).
Chebet’s training partner and Kenyan compatriot, Benson Kipruto, is one of the best tactical marathoners in the world. He’s a two-time major marathon champion (Chicago 2023 and Boston 2022) and in both wins he has showcased his ridiculous speed, dropping a 13-high 5K split between kilometers 35 and 40. Kipchoge will need to find a strategy to manage the two -headed dragon of Kipruto and Chebet, who are both familiar with the course and know what it takes to win.
Kipchoge, Kipruto and Chebet will be the main contenders to watch, but there are a few other candidates who could either pull off an upset or get dropped by Kipchoge around kilometre 35, starting with Tanzania’s Gabriel Geay. Geay has always been the bridesmaid but never the bride–he was second in Valencia last December, fourth at Boston in 2022 and seventh at the 2022 World Championships. The 2:03-flat runner ranks inside the top 10 for all-time in the marathon but has yet to win a major–will he get his first win in Boston?
Shura Kitata of Ethiopia was the last man to beat Kipchoge in a major marathon, which happened on a wet day at the 2020 London Marathon. Kitata’s results have been up and down since his 2020 win, but he bounced back last fall, placing second at the 2022 NYC Marathon. Similar to Kipruto, Kitata is much more of a tactical racer than a speedy one. His personal best of 2:04:49 was set as a 21-year-old at the 2018 London Marathon.
A dark horse who might be a familiar name to many Canadians is the 2022 Ottawa Marathon champion, Adualem Shiferaw of Ethiopia. Shiferaw won Ottawa in a course record 2:06:04 on a warm and windy day in the nation’s capital, and has only lost one marathon since 2018 (where he was 2nd at the 2022 Riyadh Marathon). This is Shiferaw’s first major marathon, and he has little to lose. If you are looking for a sleeper pick, Shiferaw could certainly catch a few people by surprise.
Kipchoge will win this race, but he won’t do it in course record time. The conditions won’t be perfect, and there’s too much uncertainty and variability around the Boston course for him to go out at a 2:01 or 2:02 pace. If I had to guess, Kipchoge will execute a similar race strategy as he did in the Tokyo Olympic marathon, where he sat with the lead group for 25 km and then took matters into his own hands, winning by a minute and a half.
Although he may not have the Boston experience, he is the fastest athlete in the field. What matters to Kipchoge first and foremost is getting the victory, and he’ll execute whatever race strategy it takes to get the job done. Look for him to sit on former champions Chebet and Kipruto early on, and make his move around the 25- to 27-kilometre mark before the Newton Hills, then ride the roar of the crowd home to Boylston Street.
canadian running pick: Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) – 2:05-mid
How to watch
The 2023 Boston Marathon will be broadcast on TSN 5 beginning at 8:30 am ET on Monday, April 17. The men’s open race will begin at 9:37 am ET and will likely conclude around noon ET
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