BOSTON — It was not until 1972 that the Boston Marathon’s organizers allowed women to race as official entrants. Before then, those who were brave enough to defy the ban were often jeered or forcibly pulled off the course. Among the rationales cited? That women were “physiologically incapable” of running 26.2 miles.
It all seems so painfully misguided now, of course, but that pockmarked piece of the event’s history was worth remembering Monday as Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya and Ababel Yeshaneh of Ethiopia charged through Kenmore Square, in the shadow of Fenway Park, not far from the finish line. The rest of a decorated women’s field had splintered in their wake, and now Jepchirchir and Yeshaneh went back and forth, trading the lead several times as they staged a memorable duel.
Finally, with one last push, Jepchirchir lengthened her stride to create some separation as she sprinted to the finish, her narrow win coming 50 years after women first vied for Boston Marathon glory. Perhaps the only person surprised by the outcome was Jepchirchir herself.
“I was not expecting to win,” said Jepchirchir, the reigning Olympic champion. “But I’m feeling grateful, and now I can say that I believe in myself more.”
For the first time since 2019, the Boston Marathon returned to its traditional slot on the calendar. Until the coronavirus pandemic, the marathon had been staged every April since 1897. But in 2020, the race was canceled for the first time in its history. And last year, the race was pushed to October, when it competed for elite entrants with a cluster of other marathons.
Order was restored this year, as a full field of about 30,000 participants — runners, wheelchair racers, para athletes, hand cyclists — formed a giant wave from Hopkinton, Mass., to Boston on a cool, sun-splashed day.
No one shined brighter than Jepchirchir, 28, who finished in 2 hours 21 minutes 1 second, just four seconds ahead of Yeshaneh. Mary Ngugi of Kenya placed third after running a smart race: She knew enough to pace herself when Jepchirchir and Yeshaneh pounded the gas, blowing away the field.
“I’m glad I didn’t follow them and just die,” Ngugi said.
Establishing herself as the most formidable female marathoner on the planet, Jepchirchir has now won her last five marathons and three in the last eight months: After surviving extraordinarily hot conditions to win at the Tokyo Games in August, Jepchirchir won the New York City Marathon in November. Now, after another triumph, she is already looking ahead.
“I still have more to do,” she said.
Kenyans swept the men’s podium. Evans Chebet, 33, won his first world marathon major when he broke clear of a large pack, finishing in 2:06:51. Lawrence Cherono was second, and Benson Kipruto, last year’s winner, was third.
The pack began to dissolve behind Chebet after he covered the 22nd mile in 4:27, a preposterous tempo. Crushing his opposition only seemed to spur him forward.
“My counterparts were nowhere close to me,” he said through a translator, “and that gave me the motivation and the determination to hit it off and seize the win.”
On Monday, fortune largely favored the brave — but not everyone. CJ Albertson, a 28-year-old Californian who trains for marathons by doing marathons, pushed the pace from the start.
“My only chance to really win or be up there in the top is to kind of break some people,” he said. “I had the mind-set that I’m invincible, and you kind of have to run like that.”
The problem: “There are limits,” he said.
Albertson faded to a 13th-place finish in 2:10:23, which was still a personal best. Scott Fauble, 30, was the top American man, in seventh. “I think I do well with hills,” he said.
“I had to make the difficult call to stop at a medical tent to avoid really damaging anything,” she said.
Seidel, the bronze medalist in the women’s marathon at the Tokyo Games, was coming off a fourth-place finish at the New York City Marathon with broken ribs.
Nell Rojas was the fastest American woman, finishing 10th in 2:25:57.
Many runners were drawn to this year’s race by the opportunity to accomplish a one-of-a-kind feat: running back-to-back Boston Marathons mere months apart.
“It feels almost a little bit too soon,” said Joyce Lee, who was running her sixth Boston Marathon after serving as guide for a visually impaired runner in the October race.
Many were also grateful for the chance to compete on the 50th anniversary of women’s official inclusion in the marathon. “It’s incredible to think that was a thing back then and women had to work so hard to participate in this event,” said Christine Valdes, 46. “They paved the way for us.”
Sport is seldom immune from global politics, and this year’s marathon was no different. Amid the war in Ukraine, runners from Russia and Belarus were barred from competing by the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the race. (Citizens of Russia and Belarus who are residents of other countries were still allowed to take part.)
And there were, as always, reminders of the terror that tore through the marathon nine years ago. Henry Richard, 20, crossed the finish line at 2:52 p.m., and the timing could not have been more poignant: It was around that time in 2013 when two bombs exploded and killed his 8-year-old brother, Martin, and two other people, and wounded 264 others.
“I know Martin would have been doing it with me,” Richard said after the race on Monday. “That’s all I could think about.”
Richard finished in 4:02:20. “I did it for both of us, and my sister and the rest of our family,” he said. “I couldn’t be more happy now. I’m going to do it again.”
In her own subtle way, Jepchirchir offered a counterpoint to some of the world’s divisions. In the race’s late stages, she and Yeshaneh appeared to work together to extend their lead. At one point, Jepchirchir offered Yeshaneh some of her water.
It all seemed straight from the Jepchirchir playbook. Consider her performance in New York last year, when she encouraged Viola Cheptoo, a fellow Kenyan, to stick with her as they entered Central Park side by side. Jepchirchir eventually pulled away, but Cheptoo lauded her sportsmanship.
On Monday, it was more of the same, all those years after eight women broke the gender barrier by racing against more than a thousand men.
“I love my competitors,” Jepchirchir said, “because I can’t do it by myself.”
Remy Tumin contributed reporting from New York.