A day that started with thunderstorms led to sunshine and victories at the finish line of the 123rd Boston Marathon for four athletes; among them: first-time winners, debut racers and one repeat champion.
The drama began early in the day when Worknesh Degefa, 28, of Ethiopia, broke away around mile 4 and held the lead in the women's race for the entirety of her Boston debut, crossing the famed Boylston Street finish line in 2:23:31. Close behind came 39-year-old Edna Kiplagat, the 2017 Boston Marathon winner from Kenya, who finished in 2:24:13 after lodging a fierce attempt to pull back Degefa’s lead, followed by American Jordan Hasay, 27, in third, with a time of 2:25:20.
Through a translator, Degefa told CBS Boston that she worried a little bit about breaking away early, but kept pushing with support from the crowds lining the roads from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to Boston. “I hope I will be back,” she said.
Degefa’s breakaway victory is a rare occurrence in Boston, where the elite racers tend to stick together in a pack early on, splitting off in the later miles of the race. This was Degefa’s first time running Boston; she’s previously run only three marathons, all in Dubai, placing first, second and fourth. Defending champion Desiree Linden, 35, from the United States, finished fifth in 2:27, calling a top-five finish in Boston a win in and of itself.
“The fans just carried me from 18 in and made it a really special day,” she said afterward in an interview with CBS Boston.
After a stunning solo victory on the women’s side, the men’s race came down to the final steps for two racers. Lelisa Desisa, 29, the 2013 and 2015 Boston winner from Ethiopia, paced stride for stride with Lawrence Cherono, 30, of Kenya, who pulled out the win in his first-ever Boston Marathon with a time of 2:07:57.
“I was so focused because I have never won a major marathon but I was so determined to win,” Cherono told CBS Boston after his finish. “I am so grateful, so thankful. The people of Boston, they were so amazing, they were cheerful.”
The elite racers, including the push-rim wheelchair competitors, started the day with thunder and rain in Hopkinton, but with thick crowds packed into the grandstands for the send-off.
In a push-rim division stacked with former champions, women’s 2017 champion and course record holder (1:28:17) Manuela Schär of Switzerland took the lead early and held on, crossing the finish line for her second victory, with a time of 1:34:19.
“I felt so much better than last year,” Shcär, who dropped out of the 2018 race, told CBS Boston. “It feels so great to be back. I had my best experience here and I had my worst experience here.”
American Daniel Romanchuk followed up his third-place finish last year with a win in the men’s division, becoming the youngest push-rim athlete to win in Boston and placing ahead of prior champs Ernst Van Dyk, of South Africa, and Marcel Hug, of Switzerland. The 20-year-old is the first American push-rim champion since 1993 and crossed the finish line in 1:21:36.
Spectators stretched the full length of the course starting early on despite the morning rain, with finishers commenting on the volume of crowds in Wellesley and on Boylston Street.
“It was amazing as always, just electric,” said Meredith Aziz, 33, of London, Ontario, who completed her fifth Boston Marathon today. Though the conditions were too hot for the Canadian, she said the weather is always part of the challenge of running Boston. “I think every runner should do Boston. There’s no other race like it.”
In his first Boston Marathon, Ray Josephs was among the qualifiers who finished during a period of sun, though he faced similar struggles with the heat when the clouds parted.
“My race today was not as planned. Around mile 19 I started cramping up,” he said, yet overall, he described the experience of running Boston for the first time as “awesome.”
“The burst of energy you get when you turn a corner and there are 20,000 people screaming is definitely interesting,” Josephs said. “I’m pretty motivated to just go out and work out and not need other stuff but having [a cheering crowd] definitely makes the experience.”
Josephs, who focuses more on triathlon than running, said he picks and chooses his standalone running races, but that he’ll be back to run Boston again.
“I have to come back to conquer it, but I don’t know when.”
Spectators remained along Boylston Street late into the afternoon, cheering on the final runners as periods of sun began to dry out the rain-soaked course.
Approximately 9,500 volunteers aided runners from Hopkinton to Boston, coordinating shuttle buses, staffing aid stations and passing out coveted finisher medals.