World record-holder Eliud Kipchoge has the speed to outclass the rest of the field when he makes his Boston Marathon debut on Monday.
To win, he may have to slow things down.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist and 12-time major marathon champion knows that the 26.2-mile route from Hopkinton to Boston’s Back Bay isn’t like those flat and friendly courses where he established himself as perhaps the greatest distance runner of all time.
No matter, he said: Breaking the tape is what’s important.
Regardless of how long it takes.
“I don’t mind about time,” said Kipchoge, who set the world record of 2 hours, 1 minute, 9 seconds in Berlin in 2019 and also broke 2 hours in an exhibition in a Vienna park that year. “I trust it will be a fruitful race, a very fruitful race. But I will try to win.”
The hilly Boston course, which begins with a descent, hits Heartbreak Hill around 20 miles in and then drops down to sea level again on the way to the finish, has always rewarded smart tactics more than pure speed. Kipchoge, who had never seen the course before this week, won his majors in Berlin, London, Chicago and Tokyo — all flatter and faster.
Still, his personal best is almost 2 minutes better than the next-fastest runners in the field, defending champion Evans Chebet, also of Kenya, and Gabriel Geay of Tanzania (2:03:00).
“I trust the most prepared and planned person will take the day on Monday,” Kipchoge said. “I respect everybody. I respect the athletes, their condition. I respect their tactics. And if they are most prepared, I will shake their hands.”
In all, there are nearly a dozen runners in the field with times faster than the 2:05:52 that was the Boston record until a blistering 2011 race won by Geoffrey Mutai in 2:03:02 — at the time, the fastest marathon ever run. That year, cool temperatures and a strong tailwind helped create the perfect conditions for fast times.
“What’s capable on this course has been totally flipped upside down,” 2018 winner Des Linden said. “You can just feel the energy. You feel like something magical is going to happen. I get the vibe that something epic is going to happen.”
Monday’s weather is expected to be less cooperative, with rain and a headwind that is sure to crush anyone who gets distracted by the clock on the way to Copley Square.
Kipchoge may not have experience on the course, but Linden said he has enough experience to know it isn’t a time trial.
“He’s been out and he’s checked it out,” Linden said. “But I think there’s something about feeling your quads just being wrecked when you’re coming off of Heartbreak. That’s different. That’s a different thing that you have to experience.
“I’ve heard it described as: We know that the Boston sports is going to chew you up. It’s whether or not it spits you out,” she said. “We don’t know if it’s going to spit him out or not. We’re going to find out.”
Already a winner
No matter what, Edna Kiplagat is going home from Boston a winner.
The 2017 champion claimed her 2021 title in a brief ceremony in Copley Square on Thursday, inheriting the victory that was stripped from fellow Kenyan Diana Kipyokei after she tested positive for a banned substance. Kiplagat was given the winner’s medal and gilded olive wreath; she already had collected the first-prize money.
“It was not the same as when I won the other, but I appreciate the effort,” she said. “It was a good presentation. I was so happy about it.”
Kiplagat leads a women’s field that is also among Boston’s fastest. Amane Beriso of Ethiopia is one of three women ever to break 2:15:00, winning in Valencia, Spain, in December in 2:14:58.
Monday’s race will see the debut of a new division for nonbinary athletes.
The Boston Athletic Association added the category when registration opened last fall. In order to enter, nonbinary athletes needed to complete a marathon as a nonbinary participant during the qualifying window. Twenty-seven runners have signed up, the BAA said.
Five of the six major marathons include a nonbinary category, with Tokyo the exception.
The race will include 264 members of the One Fund community — survivors of the 2013 attack, along with friends and family of the victims and those raising money for related causes.
The 2013 race was interrupted when two backpack bombs exploded on Boylston Street, steps from the finish line. Three people were killed and nearly 300 injured, with 17 people losing limbs to the pressure-cooker bombs that were packed with nails and ball bearings.
The city marked 10 years since the bombing on Saturday, the calendar anniversary.
Big day in Boston
The Boston Red Sox hold their annual Patriots’ Day matinee on Monday, facing two-way Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani. First pitch is expected at around 11:10 a.m., about the time that the wheelchair racers will be zooming through Kenmore Square, the 1 Mile To Go marker.
On Monday night, the NHL-best Boston Bruins open their first-round playoff series against the Florida Panthers. (The Boston Celtics are off, with Game 2 of their series against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night.)
“It’s on, man,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I mean, if we could have done this on March 17th, that’d be the only way to make it bigger. That’s the only way this place would be more lit up.”