Cheruiyot Repeats as Boston Marathon Winner

Kenya's Robert Cheruiyot crosses the finish line to win the 111th Boston Marathon in a time of 2 hours, 14 minutes, 13 seconds.
Kenya's Robert Cheruiyot crosses the finish line to win the 111th Boston Marathon in a time of 2 hours, 14 minutes, 13 seconds. (C. Krupa - AP)
By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

BOSTON, April 16 -- A year after he set the course record here, Robert Cheruiyot felt like an amateur runner Monday as he slogged through the Boston Marathon. The Kenyan looked at his watch midway through the race -- wait, a six-minute mile ?-- and wondered what had gone wrong. His head hurt. His back ached. He hadn't run so slowly in a race for at least a decade.

"I thought maybe they changed the course," Cheruiyot said. "Like maybe they made it longer."

That Cheruiyot still managed to win in 2 hours 14 minutes 13 seconds stood as perhaps the greatest testament to the race's difficulty. Wet roads and fierce winds made for the slowest Boston Marathon in 30 years. Cheruiyot, 28, defended his title despite running seven minutes slower than he did last year; Russian Lidiya Grigoryeva's winning time -- 2:29:18 -- was the slowest for a first-place female finisher since 1984.

Cheruiyot became the eighth man to win at least three Boston Marathons, but he did so under conditions so severe they distorted his familiarity with the course. Runners continuously added and removed clothing to guard against temperatures in the 40s, and 30-mph wind gusts knocked runners off-balance. Sixteen elite men packed together to withstand the first 22 miles before Cheruiyot broke ahead and outraced two other Kenyans to the finish line by 20 seconds.

"The wind was very strong, so nobody wanted to go ahead," said Cheruiyot, whose winning time was the slowest since 1977. "Nobody wanted to be alone. But at the end, somebody had to go. I wanted to do it."

Cheruiyot called it the most humbling win of his career because he felt utterly helpless against the weather. A brutal storm hit Boston with three inches of rain Sunday night, and race organizers briefly considered postponing the marathon for the first time in its 111-year history. Instead, they lined the course with heated buses and doctors ready to treat hypothermia. Runners proceeded through fog and lightning. Almost 4,000 of the 23,000 registered racers never showed up at the starting line.

Those elite runners who did manage to survive all 26.2 miles described nightmarish conditions: a hilly course made worse by constant wind resistance; wet roads that threatened to soak feet and cause blisters; fewer fans cheering along the course.

"Boston is not so easy," Cheruiyot said. "And now it is even harder than before."

Cheruiyot persevered by sticking with the style that has made him perhaps the world's greatest marathoner over the past five years. He kept a conservative pace through the first 15 miles, even as Jared Nyamboki raced ahead of the pack by almost two minutes. Then, with about seven miles to go, Cheruiyot quickened his stride, passed Nyamboki and took the lead. He discarded James Kwambai about a mile from the finish line.

"I just wanted to finish at that point," Kwambai said. "I wish we could have been running in a flood, because it would have been faster than it was today. I could only push so hard, and [Cheruiyot] got stronger at the end."

So too did Grigoryeva, 33, who ran her fastest two miles at the end of the race to win her first Boston Marathon. Grigoryeva blew through the 25th mile in 5:10, which propelled her past two-time defending New York City Marathon champion Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia and Madai Perez of Mexico. The Russian walked into the postrace news conference with the champion's wreath still on her head. She sat in front of the microphone for 20 seconds before she spoke.

"I feel very nervous to talk," she said through an interpreter. "I don't speak English."

As has become the tradition at the Boston Marathon, the majority of the news conference unfolded in Swahili and Spanish, in Russian and Italian. Once again, Americans hardly impacted the most important marathon in the United States. Californian Peter Gilmore was eighth; no other American man ended up in the top 15.

Deena Kastor, a 2004 Olympic bronze medalist, ran with the front pack for the first 15 miles before stomach problems forced her into a bathroom for a 70-second break. By the time she returned to the course, Kastor had fallen too far behind to make a serious charge at the leaders. She settled for fifth place in 2:35:09.

"It's hard to deal with such a disappointing performance when you're so prepared for an event," said Kastor, who plans to take a year off from marathons. "I had to stop and go into the restroom. It wasn't really in my control.

"I just had a hard day out there. But I guess everybody else did, too."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company