BOSTON — Years from now, Boston Marathon fans will look back to Monday’s 116th running and not remember that the dominating Kenyan elite runners swept all three podium places in the men’s and women’s races.
They will, however, surely remember the weather, much more suited for a sun-soaked day at the beach than a sweat-soaked endeavor covering 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to downtown Boston.
Marathon officials offered entrants the option to defer their entries into the 2013 race and strongly encouraged unfit, untrained and inexperienced runners to take a pass on Monday’s race. Of the 22,853 athletes who retrieved their registration packets, just 426 did not run, leaving 22,426 official starters.
With all the pre-race hype, the heat did not disappoint. Runners already were sweating before the gun went off. Reports said the mercury was rising to 77 by 10 a.m. and did reach 88 during the afternoon as expected. Fortunately, the humidity was fairly low and dropped throughout the race.
Both women and men proceeded cautiously, and the winning times reflected it. Wesley Korir and Sharon Cherop broke the finish tape on Boylston Avenue in 2:12:40 and 2:31:50, respectively. Just a year ago, by stark contrast, Mutai and women’s champion Caroline Kilel rode near-perfect weather last year to triumph in 2:03:02 and 2:22:36, respectively, both more than nine minutes faster.
It was the second-slowest men’s winning time since 1985. But it was the 19th Kenyan win for the men in the past 22 years. For the Kenyan women, it was the ninth win since 2000.
Korir, 29, was content to sit back for most of the race and let countrymen Levy Matebo and Mathew Kisorio wear down each other in the Newton Hills from miles 18 to 21. At the top of Heartbreak Hill, Matebo had gapped Kisorio by seven seconds and Korir, who was second in Chicago last fall in 2:06:15, was not even in sight behind them.
But he whittled down the deficit and finally caught Kisorio and then Matebo by 25 miles. He briefly ran stride for stride with Matebo, until Korir finally put some real estate between the two by the Mass Avenue underpass.
“Somebody shouted on the side of the road that I was No.6,” said Korir, a permanent U.S. resident seeking citizenship here who earned $150,000 for the victory.
Metabo, 22, followed Korir to the finish in 2:13:06, far off his 2:05:16 personal best last fall in Frankfurt, Germany, but good for $75,000. Bernard Kipyego was third in 2:13:13 and American Jason Hartmann moved up from seventh to take fourth in 2:14:31.
For Cherop, 28, it was redemption as well. A year ago, she lost in a three-way battle to the finish here, ending third some six seconds from first. She also took bronze at the World Championships four months later. But in the meantime, she said she studied the Boston course and Monday she tore away from friend Jemima Jelagat Sumgong coming around the final turn from Hereford Street onto Boylston with 600 meters to go.
Sumgong, 27, made a last-ditch sprint and nearly caught Cherop, ending up two seconds shy of the triumph. Georgina Rono was third in 2:33:09 as Kenya took the top five of six spots. Sheri Piers of Maine was top American in 2:41:55.
Local runners all agreed it was a rough time out there.
“It was really tough,” said experienced marathoner Chris Bain of Takoma Park. “A lot harder than I thought it would be. I went out at 1:18 for the half marathon and I thought that was conservative. I came back in 1:28. I started feeling it at mile eight, a little chill, like the first sign of heat stroke. So I started slowing at 14 miles. I ran Boston in 2004 [one of the hottest in history] but this was worse than 2004.”
A veteran of 35 marathons, Bain said he did not even consider deferring to next year’s race.
“No, I had a Boston streak to keep alive,” said Bain, a 34-year-old software developer who now has completed 15 consecutive Boston Marathons and runs for the Georgetown Running Company.
David Haaga of Rockville, a professor of psychology at American University, was running Monday to celebrate his 50th birthday by running 2:50.
“This wasn’t the day for a best time,” Haaga said. “My legs were pretty beat up after the hills. My thought was to just keep going, just get to Wellesley, just get to the Newton Hills. I was overheating just walking to the start.”
He ended up finishing in 2:54, remarkably not far off his first Boston time in 1983, 2:49.
Leading the entire field to the finish were the wheelchair racers. Joshua Cassidy of Canada broke the course record by two seconds in 1:18:25, while Shirley Reilly of Tucson, Ariz., nipped defending champ Wakako Tsuchida of Japan by less than a chairlength in 1:37:36.