A special all-Boston Sunday edition of Run the North

Tomorrow is Boston Marathon Monday! Who else is excited? GET EXCITED!

Hey, it’s Sunday! Why are you getting this newsletter? Well, because tomorrow is the Christmas Day of the road running world: It’s Boston Marathon Monday!

I didn’t want to send this newsletter out Monday morning, only for it to be irrelevant by noon, so you’re getting a very special all-Boston newsletter today.

Run the North will go back to it’s regularly scheduled Monday morning inbox drop next week, complete with post-Boston coverage.

17 runners to watch at Boston

This list is by no means scientific, it’s just the storylines I’m excited to see go down tomorrow in Boston.

The major question tied to each player is bold if you are like ‘damn this newsletter is way too long again, just give me the highlights.’

1. Krista DuChene

Have to lead with the top Canadian story, obviously.

How is Krista DuChene going to do a year after her surprise third-place finish?

I did a big round-up of Krista’s pre-Boston media in the last edition of Run the North.

New to the to-read-about-Krista-DuChene list is this profile of her from Women’s Running. Krista’s goal for 2019 is the same one she set in 2018: top three masters. And as the weather forecast looks bad again, Krista says bring it on:

The current forecast, though, looks a lot like that of 2018, which DuChene obviously doesn’t hate.

“I am maybe one of the few people that would welcome those conditions,” she said. “When people say, ‘Hopefully it’s better than last year,’ and I say, ‘No, I would love it to be that way.’ We have some pretty rough winters in Canada, and I’m able to grind it out in those conditions.”

Krista is also the subject of the most recent episode of CBC Sports’ series Inside an Athlete’s Head. You can only watch it on CBC Gem, but it’s free.

CBC Sports also talked to Krista about why the Boston marathon is so special:

“Before I did Boston, once I'd qualified, everyone was like 'Oh, you have to do Boston! You have to do Boston!' And I thought 'Oh good grief! There's other marathons!' But I did it, and I was like 'Yup, I get it now.' The way the fans are lined up, kilometre after kilometre, you're never alone. There's always someone there, cheering for you. You go from these small towns into Boston, so that's unique. The hills at the end are really difficult. It's the course layout as well as the deep history that make it such an epic event.”

2. Des Linden

Des Linden’s big win last year is now part of American running lore. But what makes it even more interesting is that after she won, she threw everything she knew out the window. She got a new coach and a new training plan.

The switch served up a decent but unspectacular sixth place finish in New York in 2018.

But now that it’s been a year — and she’s returning to the course that made her a sensation — what does the new Des Linden look like?

She’s returning to Boston with the intent of winning again. According to this profile in Runner’s World, she plans to be aggressive and see what happens:

“I want to be competitive,” she said in an interview with Runner’s World. “I’ve been top five here a bunch. I would love to win again. But I’m also willing to stick my neck out a little more than ever before to race aggressively. And if it all goes sideways, that’s a possibility, too. I’m comfortable putting myself on the line and risking that. Which is different than the past.” 

ESPN also profiled Des ahead of the race.

3. Yuki Kawauchi

The 2019 Boston Marathon will take place on Monday, April 15 (Patriot's Day). More info at
baa.org Boston Athletic Association @BAA. Photo of 2018 Men's Open Winner Yuki Kawauchi of Japan by @DanVernonPhoto. #bostonmarathon #bostonmarathon2019 #boston #bostonma

Yuki Kawauchi, like Des Linden, won last year in extreme conditions, winning hearts around the world. And Yuki, like Des, made big changes after the race. Yuki has always been known as the “citizen runner” because he ran a TON at an elite level while holding down a day job as an administrator at a school. Earlier in April, he quit his job and is now a full-time professional runner. He snagged a sponsorship with Asics, Yamaha and a few others.

How does Yuki handle Boston without a day job and without a weather disaster?

Japan Times has a piece about the transition, and how Yuki believes going pro is actually going to mean less pressure on him to perform:

“I’ve had bigger fears until now (as an amateur),” said Kawauchi, who previously held serious practices twice a week or so and ran as many as 780 km per month, while some of the top industrial athletes cover 1,000 km. “I was called the ‘Civil Service Runner’ and if I failed, complaint phone calls would ring, for example. There were things that were tougher than being a pro. Being a government worker, the phone number and address (for your workplace) are all open. That means you could directly get letters, you could directly get phone calls.

“Elsewhere, when I would go somewhere far to compete, people would ask me if I had to get back to work the next day. I was feeling sorry (for my workplace) that I would be away from work staying away from home.”

His race schedule isn’t slowing down, however, according to his website he has eight marathons planned in 2019, including the BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 5, just after Boston.

Oh and the best part? Yuki’s mom is running Boston too!

4. Hiroto Inoue

I love Yuki (Who doesn’t?) but if the weather is anything better than it was last year, the Japanese runner with the best chance to win is Hiroto Inoue. His PB is 2:06:54, he’s the 2018 Asian Games marathon champion, and he crushed his half-marathon tune-up run, running his second-fastest half-marathon ever.

Can Hiroto breakout and become a bigger name in the running world outside Asia?

And he’s headed to Boston with the win in mind, according to Japanese Running News:

Pursuing racing instead of a faster time since his 2:06:54, Inoue arrives in Boston off his best half marathon in four years, a 1:02:12 win at the Mar. 3 Tamana Half Marathon. After training for Boston in New Zealand he told Japanese media, "More than just running it I want to win."

5. Sara Hall

Sara Hall does her own thing and for the most part has stayed away from the major marathons that are staples of her colleagues. But she does have a PB of 2:26:20, which is the 10th fastest American woman’s marathon time ever. And since she ran that PB in Ottawa, I’ve got a soft spot for her. Take the Canadian connections where you can get them!

This is Sara’s first time running Boston. Race day is also Sara’s birthday! Her career has been up and down as she’s battled injuries. Most recently, she dropped out of the Frankfurt marathon. But she’s currently in good health and is in it to see what she can do.

Can Sara deliver a performance that puts her in the conversation with Shalane Flanagan, Molly Huddle and Des Linden?

From a recent Runner’s World profile:

She couldn’t help but wonder how fast she could have run without the injury. But that unsatisfied feeling is part of what drives her.

“The marathon just keeps drawing you back. You know there’s more there and you want to see what your potential is,” she said. “Even if you’re healthy and had a great build-up going in, it’s still so hard to nail every part of that race. There’s always something that you feel like you could do better next time. You want to keep perfecting your craft.”

Sara was also on I’ll Have Another with Lindsey Hein this week.

The Morning Shakeout also talked to her husband, American marathon great Ryan Hall, about why he stepped away from running and now is all-in on lifting weights, raising his family and coaching/supporting Sara. Throwing this link in as bonus content because it’s a good interview.

Sara and Ryan adopted four sisters from Ethiopia a few years ago. The oldest is now a state cross-country champion. This article from WBUR does a good job of summing up that journey.

6. Jordan Hasay

American Jordan Hasay debuted in Boston two years ago, running 2:23:00, the fastest debut marathon by an American woman ever. She followed that up with a 2:20:57 performance in Chicago, which was the second fastest American woman’s marathon time ever. Bur she’s been injured ever since, pulling out of both Boston and Chicago in 2018.

If we ever see Jordan reach her potential, we might be looking at one of the greatest marathon runners ever. But if injuries hold her back, we might just be thinking wistfully about what could have been.

Can Jordan come back and get even better? Or have we seen the best of her already?

Jordan talked to Women’s Running in advance of the race. She’s feeling good about where she’s at, despite having to completely rebuild after her injury:

“As much as I hated starting completely from scratch, it’s been neat to see how far I’ve come and feel really fresh, too. Some marathons, like Chicago, I felt like I needed the taper. I was on the edge of being burned out and pushing too much. This time I’m raring to go. I feel mentally really fresh and really good. It’s a really great spot to be in.”

Runner’s World also profiled Jordan ahead of Boston.

7. Edna Kiplagat

In 2018, Edna Kiplagat became the first elite marathoner to run all six world marathon majors. She’s won Boston, London and New York.

Yeah, she’s 39 years old but don’t count her out. Edna comes to compete. Her PB is 2:19:50, but that was set in 2012. She’s still putting out elite times, though.

How long can Edna remain this good?

Oh, and she has five kids. She’s super humble and her life revolves around family, faith and running.

From a Citizen profile earlier this year:

With his husband Gilbert Koech doubling up as her coach, Kiplagat said the prospect of working together as a family in training gives her extra motivation and has urged young athletes to also take their families seriously if they want to succeed in their careers.

“We have been training with my husband since I started competing in road races and I can attest that it has been a wonderful experience especially after he (her husband) went on to study  nutrition which has played a critical in my career.

I would urge young athletes to also focus on their families first because when you have a stable family then you will definitely succeed in your athletics career,” added Kiplagat.

8. Joan Benoit Samuelson

Joan Benoit Samuelson won the Boston marathon 40 years ago, and would go on to have a stellar professional career, including winning the first-ever women’s Olympic marathon in 1984. She has a fun and interesting goal for this year’s race: she wants to run less than 40 minutes slower than her 1979 winning time of 2:35:15. This makes her goal time 3:15:35.

Can she do it?

Women’s Running has a great rundown of why Joan is an icon, and how she influenced women’s marathoning:

She came of age in the era when the distances women were allowed to compete in were restricted, when it was thought that female runners would do lasting bodily damage—specifically to their reproductive system—if they raced longer than a mile.

Twelve years later, when Benoit Samuelson ran through the tunnel into the Los Angeles Olympic Stadium to claim the first gold medal in the marathon for women, it was an empowering image for women around everywhere—and a message that strength and endurance were not exclusive to men. She showed the world that when granted equal opportunities, women defeat all perceived limitations. It helped to trigger a new kind of running boom—one in which women of all abilities realized they, too, could run farther than ever before.

Joan talked to Boston.com about taking on Boston in 2019. In this Q+A, she reflects on her big win and running into her 60s.

9. Philemon Rono

Philemon Rono is the two-time Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront marathon winner. He ran his personal best at Toronto in 2017, which also happens to be the fastest marathon ever run on Canadian soil.

2018 was not kind to Philemon: he DNFed Boston and finished ninth in Toronto, but I have to root for a guy who keeps coming back to Canada.

Can Philemon find his best running self again?

You might have heard of his training partner: Eliud Kipchoge. From an old Athletics Illustrated profile:

“He inspires me,” Rono admits proudly. “Mostly when we see Eliud and how he acts. When it is time to go for training, it is time for training. When it is time for rest we rest; when it’s time to jog it’s time for jogging. We watch everything he does.

“Sometimes he comes to my room because we are close. He comes to my room and Eliud says: ‘focus on what comes to your mind.’ He tells me everything is possible.”

10. Lelisa Desisa

Lelisa Desisa has won Boston twice. And he won New York in 2018, when the race became a sprint to the finish and resulted in the second, third and fourth fastest marathons ever run at NYC. His PB is 2:04:45 — it’s from Dubai in 2013, but he’s still running super competitive times and when he’s on a starting line, he’s a contender. The guy is fast, he knows the course and he can compete. He DNFed Boston last year, but don’t hold that against him.

Can Lelisa win it all?

He told Competitor Running he’s in great shape and is ready to run for the win:

He blames his DNF at last year’s Boston entirely on the historically adverse weather conditions—a deluge. “Last year, I come here—bad weather. So I don’t finish,” he said. “After that, I win New York. Now I come better and better when I run.”

He’s had no training interruptions or injury for two years of steadily improving training. “I’m very OK,” Desisa said.

Asked his race plan for Monday, he said simply, “I think I will run better than New York pace. I won that last year in 2:05. This year, better, I think.”

Desisa is not committing to take it out at that pace, however.

“I will see, what pace the athletes run,” he said. “I will see.”

I think he’s the favourite to win. But MY favourite to win it all is…

11. Geoffrey Kirui

Geoffrey Kirui finished second in Boston last year and has a PB of 2:06:27. He was leading for most of it, before being passed by Yuki near the end. And he won Boston the year before. He can compete and, as last year’s Boston results shows, he can handle terrible conditions better than most.

So can he win tomorrow?

I liked this 2017 profile of him from Athletics Africa, which paints him as an originally-reluctant-runner-turned-Eliud-Kipchoge-disciple:

Kirui confessed that Athletics was never his thing — after all. He is a good story teller, he wore different facial expressions as he narrated his athletics journey.

There wasn’t a shade of regret, just a bit of sadness, but beaming face of victory subsided other expressions. His life wasn’t easy. He owned only a pair of sports shoes, he got pricked by thorns.

“I didn’t know I would run, I didn’t care much about running. I never ran in primary school, I never liked athletics. I could refuse and hide during athletics events and the teacher would find me and force me to run. While in class 8, I ran 10,000m that is when I knew I could run,” said Kirui.

12. Sarah Sellers

Sarah Sellers was the surprise second place finisher at Boston last year. No one knew who she was, and then the media became obsessed with her. Then people became sceptical.

Sarah seems to have kept a level head amidst the attention. When she ran New York last year, she set reasonable goals: the Olympic B standard and a personal best, which she both accomplished, and a low 2:30s finish time, which she did not.

What I love about Sarah is how she represents all the runners that go through the daily grind — she works about 30 hours a week as a nurse anaesthetist — and how she’s trying to stay focused on her own game.

The New York Times wrote a feature on Sarah, focusing on her schedule, and how balancing a job with an elite running schedule is probably good for her:

Her decision to keep working at Banner-University Medical Center Tucson is not about the money or fearing that she will lose her career in medicine if she runs full time. She says doing it this way is going to help her run faster, especially now that her struggles with disordered eating are behind her.

“If I quit my job and trained full time, I don’t see it going well,” she said in an interview last month in New York, before she ran the New York City Half-Marathon. “I’d be a stress case and I’d be more injury prone. When I balance the two, I think I have better perspective.”

Can Sarah Sellers deliver a solid performance tomorrow now that all eyes are on her?

She admits that the attention and newfound expectations took their toll, in this profile with Self:

 “I struggled with my relationship with running,” says Sellers. The constant attention started to wear on her. She had a bout of difficult races that summer —including the New York Mini 10K, and the Deseret News 10K — and felt drained from not meeting her own high standards.

“I felt like running had always been so simple and natural. Just put on a pair of running shoes, go out in the dark, and go on a run,” she says. The aftermath of Boston complicated that. “The actual act of going out running was becoming a negative, stressful thing.”

So she took a step back. She remembered that she loved running simply because she loved running. Not because she got second in the Boston Marathon. Not because she won $75,000 in prize money. Not because it brought her overnight fame.

She’s in a good place now, and ready to tackle her goals: At Boston, she’s looking to break 2:30 and/or be top 10, which would be a stellar result for her.

Women’s Running also has a profile of Sarah worth reading ahead of the race.

Oh, and so does Sports Illustrated.

13. Gene Dykes

Gene Dykes is a 71-year-old American runner chasing Ed Whitlock’s 70+ world record of 2:54:48. Last year, in Toronto, Gene almost broke it, missing it by 29 seconds. Then he did break it in Jackonsville in December, running 2:54:23, but afterwards learned that marathon was not a record-sanctioned course.

Dykes has publicly stated he’s not going after Ed’s record at Boston — his goal he says his sub 3:00. That time would give him a Boston age group course record.

How many records will Gene break at Boston?

Part of the reason Gene is so popular is that running experts deemed Ed’s record untouchable. And here’s Gene, running pretty damn close almost every time he goes out. Strava profiled Gene shortly after his Jacksonville run:

So, of course, the question everyone is asking is, how has Gene managed to reach such a remarkable level of fitness at 70-years old? Gene points to three key factors. “Don’t forget there’s a difference between longevity and success in later years. I’ve only been racing for 12 years, so we can talk about longevity if I start challenging the records Ed Whitlock set in his mid 80’s. Rather, the fact that I am still relatively new to the game is the first major key to being successful at an advanced age. My body hasn’t been ravaged by decades of hard training and races. Being an accomplished younger runner is a very strong predictor of not being all that strong later in life,” he explains. “Another key I cite is good coaching. I’d still be a nobody without the coach I hired five years ago. The third key, that works for me at least, is to maintain a strong base by doing lots of ultra trail races. Lots and lots.”

14. Jim Willett

A few issues back, I wrote about Jim Willett, the man running from Around the Bay to Boston. He’s been chronicling his progress on his Instagram. Canadian Running wrote an update about where he’s at and CBC News also picked the story up, complete with running advice everyone should follow:

"Running is such a simple thing and every step that you take forward is literally another decision you make to move forward so there's really two options — you can stop or you can go —it's simple but it's powerful."

He has two weeks to complete the 875K journey, which averages to about 60K a day. He told Canadian Running that “I thought it would be cool to connect the oldest race in North America with the second-oldest race in North America.” This year, the races are only two weeks apart (they are usually three), making it an ideal year to give it a go.

Can Jim Willett complete his 875K goal?

He has a GoFundMe raising money for his cause. He’s already passed his goal of $5,000, but if you want to support him you can do that here. From his fundraising page:

For many runners, qualifying for and running the prestigious Boston marathon is their ultimate goal. For me, I've always believed in the power of the journey. Life has taught me to look for the beauty in the struggle. From a childhood of relying on social assistance programs and sometimes not having a roof over my head, to my battle with cancer, to running ultramarathons on 5 continents, my mantra has become "take another step". Sometimes what seems like the smallest act, or tiniest step, can have a profound impact.

15., 16. & 17. The American men

Yeah, I know I broke a bunch of American women out separately and then dumped the men — specifically Scott Fauble, Jared Ward and Shadrack Biwott — all together. But I am running out of space and, frankly, the women’s storylines are more interesting.

The big storyline in American men’s marathoning is that no one can go under 2:10 anymore, except Galen Rupp, who’s injured right now. Runner’s World posed this question right before New York City in 2018, which had a stacked American field. I think to use this stat as a sign men’s marathoning in the States isn’t strong is a little extreme, and I’m not alone:

[O]ther current competitors and coaches remain bullish about American depth in the event after Rupp. They point to Jared Ward, who finished sixth in the marathon at the 2016 Olympics, when Rupp won bronze. On a humid day in Rio, Ward ran his PR, 2:11:30. The time might not have been fast, but he competed exceedingly well.

“I just laugh at these people who say, ‘Is Jared Ward the best we’ve got besides Rupp?’ What do you mean? Jared Ward was sixth in the Olympics!” said Ben Rosario, the coach of Northern Arizona Elite and three men who have run in the 2:12s for the marathon. “That’s just American sports fans; I think we’re in a very good spot.”

But with the new Olympic standard being 2:11:30 and with a lot of American guys who can run in the 2:12 range, Boston would be a good time for one of the non-Rupp contenders to have a breakout, score the standard and walk into the 2020 U.S. Olympic trials as a runner to beat. These three have the best shot, and they are all fun to follow, so here they are to round out the list.

Can an American man run sub 2:11:30 or, even better, sub 2:10 tomorrow?

How to watch

TSN2 will be airing the Boston marathon from 8:30 a.m. ET. It will also be available on TSN Live online for cable subscribers.

Strides: Links worth reading

The New York Times has an article about George Hirsch, who first ran Boston 50 years ago, in 1969:

Fifty years ago, in April 1969, I ran my first road race, and it was no local fun run or 5K. I decided to run the biggest road race there was: the Boston Marathon. I had no idea if I could finish the 26.2-mile grind, but I thought I should at least give myself a big challenge.

I chose Boston in part because I didn’t know any better, and mostly because the world of running was very different back then. There were few runners and fewer races — only a handful of marathons across the country.

Back then, Boston did not require runners to meet a qualifying standard. I was 34, and to run Boston you only had to send the race organizers $2 and a physician’s letter stating that you were healthy enough to run 26.2 miles. Since my longest training run had been 13 miles, I’m not sure how my doctor established my readiness, but he did.

Strava wrote about Rachel Hyland, the American sub-elite runner who came fourth last year. It covers her training and how, when the race got really, really hard, she put her head down and got it done:

In the final miles of the race, when her hands were going numb and her legs were starting to ache, Rachel was more determined than ever. It had been six years since she’d had the opportunity to run Boston. She had sacrificed so much to be here. And this wasn’t just another opportunity to impress sponsors or win prize money — this was her hometown race and she was going to give it her all.

Mark Sutcliffe wrote an article for iRun about what makes Boston so special:

For many runners, then, it becomes an itch that must someday be scratched. You must attempt it, as the explorer George Mallory once said of climbing Mount Everest, because it is there. And so it becomes a question of when and how, not if. You cannot be satisfied until you’ve earned your place in Hopkinton and run to that famous finish line in Copley Square.

BookRiot knows what I want: they made a list of books the elite women at Boston are reading. Lindsay Flanagan, Des Linden, Sarah Crouch and Becky Wade all shared recent reads including Michelle Obama’s memoir, Meb’s new book and the Theranos investigation book Bad Blood.

→ Two sisters, Laura Green and Sarah Bush, who survived the Columbine shooting in 1999, are running Boston together, almost exactly 20 years after two shooters killed 12 of their classmates and one of their teachers. ESPN wrote up their story. Both were cross-country runners in high school and found running helped them deal with what happened:

Sarah had held Laura on nights when the horrific images of the mass shooting were too much for her mind to handle. Laura had slept in Sarah's bed when she couldn't fall asleep alone. They were already incredibly close, but running helped them release their emotions. They were each other's therapists, up and running often by 5 a.m.

Running offered the sisters moments of levity, even if only for a couple of minutes every day. One of them would say something funny, the other would start giggling, and they'd slow down, hands on their knees, howling with laughter.

→ Need some marathon advice? LinkedIn rounded up advice from some of the top runners at Boson, including Des’s line “keep showing up” and Jared Ward’s “be your best self.”

The final kick

That’s it for this week! Thanks for reading, and keep on running!

As always, feel free to forward to a friend. If you have feedback, comments, questions, concerns or running advice, you can email me at runthenorthnews@gmail.com.