A Spectator's Guide to the Boston Marathon

Even if you don't run marathons, there's nothing quite like seeing some of the most awe-inspiring athletes on the planet battle it out over 26.2 miles. The Boston Marathon has always been special, with it's long history, unique course (everyone's heard of heartbreak hill) and legendary races. It started the year after the first Olympic Marathon in 1897 on Patriot's Day, and many Bostonians take off work just to watch the race. Despite the fact that the course is not eligible for records owing to its point-to-point layout and its elevation drop of greater than 1 m/km, it draws much of the world's top talent every year.

While the highly competitive fields are dominated by athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia, Americans often contribute to the excitement. Bill Rogers won four times between 1975 and 1980, and Joan Benoit and Alberto Salazar had exciting victories early in their careers. The last American champions were Greg Meyer in 1983 and Lisa Larsen Weidenbach in 1985. In 2011 Ryan Hall galloped at world record pace for much of the race, enabling Kenya's Geoffrey Mutai to run 57 seconds under the recognized world record at the time, in 2:03:02. Hall himself ran the fastest time by an American in 2:04:58 for 4th place. That same year, Desiree Linden (née Davila) nearly won in a thrilling finish, surging and exchaning the lead with Caroline Kilel twice in the final 400 meters finishing just two seconds apart! Jason Hartmann was 4th the last two years in a row, an impressive achievement in itself.

Here are some of the many possible contenders:

Lelisa Desisa. This 24 year-old Ethiopian is Boston's defending champion, who ran a great race in January, winning in Dubai with a very quick 2:04:45. He's probably the favorite, though a win is far from guaranteed.

Dennis Kimetto. 30 year-old Kenyan is the Chicago Marathon champion and course-record holder in 2:03:45. He also won Tokyo and was second at Berlin 2012, where some think he lost on purpose to his training partner Georrrey Mutai, who picked up a $500,000 bonus. If it weren't for a surprisingly slow half marathon in March, he'd be the overwhelming favorite. Kimetto was a farmer who did not start competing until he was 27.

Tilahun Regassa. 24 year-old Ethiopian with a 2:05:27 personal best in Chicago 2012, won Rotterdam last year. He's ready to go for an even bigger win in Boston. As a teenager, Regassa was a homeless orphan. He still has stomach problems related to malnutrition from those years.

Wilson Chebet. At 28, this Kenyan is already a veteran of five marathons at 2:06:12 or faster since 2010, with a 2:05:27 pb in Rotterdam 2011.

Ryan Hall. The 31 year-old American ran his 2:04:58 pb in flamboyant style at Boston 2011. His career has been up and down, but he has been 100% healthy lately, training in Ethiopia, feeling confident and ready to move up a level. Of course in this field he could still have the race of his life and be 5th, or run great and be 10th.

Micah Kogo. Kenya, 27, 2:06:56 in Chicago 2013.
Markos Geneti. Ethiopia, 29, 2:04:54 in Dubai 2012.
Gebre Gebremariam. Ethiopia, 29, 2:04:53 in Boston 2011.
Paul Lonyangata. Kenya, 21, 2:07:44 in Xiamen 2013.
Franklin Chepkwony. Kenya, 30, 2:06:11 in Eindhoven 2012.
Joel Kimurer. Kenya, 26, 2:07:48 in Kwangju.
Adil Annani. Morocco, 33, 2:07:43 in London 2012.
Lusapho April. South Africa, 31, 2:08:32 in Hannover 2013.
Abdi Abdirahman. USA, 37, 2:08:56 in Chicago 2006.
Mebrahtom Keflezighi. USA, 38, 2:09:08 in Houston 2012.

Additional elite runners include Americans Jason Hartmann, Brett Gotcher, Nicholas Arciniaga and Jeffrey Eggleston.

Rita Jeptoo. This 33 year-old Kenyan's pedigree is perfect. The two-time Boston defending champion has also won in Chicago (where she ran her pb of 2:19:57), Eldoret, Stokholm and Milan. She is by far the favorite.

Sharon Cherop. The 30 year-old Kenyan has been on the podium at Boston for three straight years, winning in 2012. She's run her pb of 2:22:42 twice in a row at Toronto Waterfront 2010 and Boston 2011.

Jemima Jelagat Sumgong. 29 year-old Kenyan is the Rotterdam 2013 champion, and runner-up to Jeptoo in Chicago in a pb 2:20:48.

Caroline Kilel. The 33 year-old Kenyan won Boston in 2011 in a pb of 2:22:34, and twice in Frankfurt.

Shalane Flanagan. The 32 year-old American is very accomplished on the track, with four American records and a bronze metal in the 2008 Olympic 10,000 meter. She had a great debut in the 2010 New York City Marathon as runner-up, but her pb is only 2:25:38. A Boston native, Flanagan been focusing on this race, and will be a contender if she runs the race of her life. A million of her hometown supporters will be there to cheer for her.

Desiree Linden. The 30 year-old American's best race by far was her nail-biting runner-up performance at Boston 2011 in 2:22:38. She was unable to finish the 2012 Olympic Marathon due to a stress fracture.

Mare Dibaba. Ethiopia, 24, 2:19:52 in Dubai 2012.
Buzunesh Deba. Ethiopia, 26, 2:23:31 in San Diego 2011.
Tatiana Petrova Arkhipova. Russia, 31, 2:23:29 in the London Olympic Marathon 2012.
Meselech Melkamu. Kenya, 29, 2:21:01 in Frankfurt 2012.
Eunice Kirwa. Kenya, 29, 2:21:41 in Amsterdam 2012.
Flomena Chepchichir. Kenya, 32, 2:23:00 in Frankfurt 2013.
Aleksandra Duliba. Belarus, 25, 2:23:44 in Chicago 2013.
Yeshi Esayias. Ethiopia, 28, 2:24:06 in Frankfurt 2013.
Philes Ongori. Kenya, 27, 2:24:20 in Rotterdam 2011.
Belaynesh Oljira. Ethiopia, 23, 2:25:01 in Dubai 2013.

With the challenging qualifying standards, it's an accomplishment in itself to make it to Boston. Be sure to give friends, family and co-workers who are participating encouragement this weekend! Universal Sports and UniversalSports.com will provide TV and online coverage on Monday, April 21, 8:30 a.m. EST. If you have your own Boston Marathon story, share below!

Tony has been a runner for over three decades, competing in cross country and track in high school and college, and road races for various clubs. He's served as team captain for several Corporate Challenge teams at YMCA of the USA, and has informally coached many friends over the years.

Tags: Y, YMCA, Run, Running, Jog, fitness, boston marathon, spectator, elite runners, competitors, champions

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