New England fall foliage replaced the blooming daffodils; trademark mylar blankets appeared along with masks. After a 30-month absence, the pandemic-delayed Boston Marathon returned Monday. Despite several differences, the smaller, socially distanced race ended in a very familiar way.
Race organizers had their work cut out for them. They needed to manage a changing pandemic that forced them to cancel the race last year—the first time since a group of Bostonians returned from the 1896 Athens Olympics and decided to stage a marathon of their own.
Since then, the race has persisted through World Wars and even the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. But it was first postponed, then canceled last year, and then postponed from the spring in 2021.
Monday’s marathon was also the first time the event hasn’t been held on the third Monday in April as part of the Patriots’ Day holiday. The day commemorates the start of the Revolutionary War with battles of Lexington and Concord.
“This year, with a pandemic, everything is different,” Boston Athletic Association President Tom Grilk told journalists ahead of the 125th edition of the world’s longest-running long run.
This year’s medals were different too. They were larger—and golden—to commemorate the anniversary.
Marathon training is hard work: Runners must control their diets, sleep schedules, exercise, and many other aspects of their lives. Having just talked about prize-winning runners, the Bible says, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 9:25)
Thirty months after Lawrence Cherono and Worknesh Degefa broke the tape to win in 2019, the Boston Marathon returned for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak.
Organizers put runners through COVID-19 safety protocols and asked spectators to keep some distance. But there were still sizable crowds lining the route in spots from Hopkinton to Boston.
Participants in the field of 18,000—down from more than 30,000 in pre-pandemic days—needed to test negative for the coronavirus or prove they were vaccinated before picking up their bib numbers. Boston mandates masks indoors, and race officials required them on the buses out to the start in Hopkinton. Volunteers also handed out masks along with the finishers’ medals and fruit at the finish.
The race also began earlier and with a rolling send-off to avoid the usual crowding in the starting corrals and on the course.
None of the changes proved a problem for the Kenyan competitors.
Benson Kipruto and Diana Kipyogei completed a Kenyan sweep—the eighth since 2000 at the world’s oldest and most prestigious 26.2-miler.
“There’s not a lot different on the course,” Kipruto says. He broke away from the lead pack with about three miles to go and broke the tape in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 51 seconds. Colin Bennie of Princeton, Massachusetts, was the top American, in seventh.
Kipyogei claimed the women’s title, a gilded olive wreath, and the $150,000 first prize. She finished in 2:24:45 in her major marathon debut.
Marcel Hug won the men’s wheelchair race despite making a wrong turn in the final mile. He finished the slightly detoured route just seven seconds off his course record in 1:08:11. Hug, who has raced Boston eight times and has five victories here, cost himself a $50,000 course record bonus with that wrong turn. Manuela Schär won the women’s wheelchair race in 1:35:21.
Recreational runners streamed across the finish line into the afternoon, including Ben Beach, who completed his 54th consecutive Boston Marathon—the longest active streak—finishing in 5:47:27.
For the most part, the fall timing worked out well. Still, marathon association president Grilk says the race will move back to April per usual—despite the autumn colors and their fleet-footed fans.
“You guys have beautiful fall foliage here,” says 2018 Boston winner Des Linden. “Who knew?”
(Benson Kipruto, left, and Diana Kipyogei, both of Kenya, celebrate winning the men’s and women’s divisions of the 125th Boston Marathon on Monday, October 11, 2021. AP/Winslow Townson)