Why Your Boston Marathon Pick Will And Won't Win

The 123rd Boston Marathon is this upcoming Monday, April 15. The buzz surrounding pre-race favorites and contenders seems even more significant in the wake of last year’s stunning victories by Des Linden and Yuki Kawauchi; more so than ever, athletes and fans are frantically checking the weather forecast for any sign that 2019 could resemble the calamity of the 2018 race.

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While we eagerly await the final forecast and ultimately, Marathon Monday, let’s take a look at the primary contenders for the men’s and women’s titles and why they should, and shouldn’t, be optimistic about their chances.

Lelisa Desisa (ETH) 2:04:45 PB

Boston History: 1st 2013, DNF 2014, 1st 2015, 2nd 2016, DNF 2018

Will Win - Best Resumé In Field

The 29-year-old Ethiopian has twice won Boston and enters the 2019 race with momentum after winning New York last November. Upsetting Geoffrey Kamworor proved that Desisa still has what it takes to be one of the best marathoners in the world.

Won’t Win - He Hasn’t Won Two Straight Marathons Since 2013

For all his success in the 26.2 distance over the last six years, Desisa has not strung together back-to-back wins since 2013. Elite marathoning is rife with parity in races not including Eliud Kipchoge, and it’s always safer to pick the field over any one individual. Desisa will still need to be at his best to win on Monday, and that’s never a guarantee in this event.

Geoffrey Kirui (KEN) 2:06:27 PB

Boston History: 1st 2017, 2nd 2018

Will Win - He Won In 2017 And Finished Runner-Up In 2018

Geoffrey Kirui’s claim to fame in Boston was defeating Galen Rupp for the title in 2017, and despite struggling mightily over the final miles last year, he still took second in absolutely horrendous conditions. The Kenyan likes this course, and at just 26 years old, should still be on the upswing of his marathon arc.

Won’t Win - He Was Thoroughly Out-Classed In Chicago

While Desisa enters Boston coming off the high of a New York victory, Kirui will be looking to bounce back after a mediocre sixth place finish in Chicago last October. Boston’s tricky course suits his tactical skills more than the flat Chicago terrain, but a loss to fellow Boston competitor Kenneth Kipkemoi in the Windy City removes some of the shine surrounding his Beantown success.

Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (ERI) 2:07:46 PB

Boston History: First Appearance

Will Win - At His Best In Tactical Marathons

The Eritrean Ghebreslassie is somehow (officially) just 23 years old, but it feels like he’s been around forever in the marathon. That’s probably due to the fact that he won the world title way back in 2015 and then New York just over a year later. He also notched a fourth place Olympic finish in between those races to bolster his reputation as a tactical master. In a vacuum, Boston’s rolling course sets up perfectly for his grinding nature.  

Won’t Win - DNF’d Last 3 Marathons

You can’t win a race if you don’t finish, and Ghebreslassie has failed to cross the finish line in each of his last three attempts at the marathon. For many a marathoner, a trend like that signals that their days atop major podiums are likely over; see former world record holder Dennis Kimetto for proof. If momentum is a real thing, Ghebreslassie has none of it coming into Boston.

Kenneth Kipkemoi (KEN) 2:05:44 PB

Boston History: First Appearance

Will Win - He’s Run 2:05 In Back-To-Back Marathons

After going nearly five years without running a marathon, Kipkemoi picked up the distance again last year, and did so with resounding success-- the Kenyan won 2018 Rotterdam in 2:05:44 before notching an impressive fourth-place finish in Chicago last October. Despite a rocky 2:17 debut in 2013 that may have had a lot to do with his lengthy hiatus from the event, Kipkemoi truly seems built for the race.

Won’t Win - Never Podium'd At A Major Marathon

Kipkemoi’s age (34) and his relative inexperience at the marathon suggests that his ceiling is limited. We also have no indication how he will fare in tough conditions, so the question marks outweigh any excitement surrounding his career renaissance in the marathon.

Lawrence Cherono (KEN) 2:04:06 PB

Boston History: First Appearance

Will Win - Fastest PB In The Field (2:04:06)

Not only does Cherono own the fastest PB in the field, but more importantly he ran that 2:04:06 in his victory last October in Amsterdam. You can’t ignore the fastest man in the field, especially when he set that mark in his previous marathon.

Won’t Win - This Is Just His Second Major Ever

The 30-year-old has six marathon victories to his credit, but his first foray into WMM racing was humbling as he was just seventh last April in London. Cherono has also never beaten a field with the depth he’ll see in Boston.

Lemi Berhanu (ETH) 2:04:33 PB

Boston History: 1st 2016, DNF 2017, DNF 2018

Will Win - He’s A Former Boston Champion

Berhanu legitimized his Dubai success (a win in 2015, 2:04 runner-up in 2016) with a Boston victory in 2016, and he’s clearly comfortable on the course since he’s lined up in Hopkinton each of the last three years. But...

Won’t Win - He’s DNF’d The Last Two Years

Berhanu is a wildcard after dropping out of Boston in 2017 and 2018. The 24-year-old’s fastest time since the beginning of 2017 is just 2:08:27, another knock on his chances.

Sisay Lemma (ETH) 2:04:08 PB

Boston History: DNF 2017

Will Win - Ran 2:04 Last October (In A Race Where Second Place Was 2:08)

Lemma is another Dubai frequent-flyer-- he’s run it four times-- who has yet to break out at a major, but his final race in 2018 shows he could be a threat in Boston. The Ethiopian won October’s Ljubljana (Slovenia) Marathon in 2:04:58 in a race where the runner-up finished nearly four minutes behind him. 

Won’t Win - He Was Crushed By Galen Rupp In The Final Miles At Prague

If 2017 Chicago champion and Boston Marathon runner-up Galen Rupp typifies the caliber of athlete that usually wins major marathons, then Lemma’s 55-second loss to the American last May in Prague dampens his chances just a tad. It’s difficult to imagine the Ethiopian winning Boston against multiple athletes at or above the level of Rupp with Prague still fresh in the memory.

Yuki Kawauchi (JPN) 2:08:14 PB

Boston History: 1st 2018

Will Win - The Conditions Are Looking Yuki Approved

Bring on the Yuki-cane!

Won’t Win - (Psst...Last Year Was A Fluke)

Kawauchi’s winning time being the slowest in 42 years in Boston coupled with his gigantic 2:25 margin of victory tells you all you need to know about last year’s absurd conditions. The weather may be inclement again, but the odds of a guy who finished 19th in Chicago last October repeating in Boston are incredibly long.

The American Men: Dathan Ritzenhein, Jared Ward, Shadrack Biwott, Scott Fauble

Boston History: Ritzenhein (7th 2015), Ward (10th 2017), Biwott (3rd 2018, 4th 2017), Fauble (First Appearance)

Will Win - Breakout Race Combined With A Lot Of Help

One can squint and see a reason for optimism for each of the four American men listed above: Ritzenhein just ran a 61:24 half marathon and appears to be finally healthy. Ward is consistent and believes he can run 2:09, while Fauble finished just four seconds behind Ward in NYC. Meanwhile, Biwott has become the model of consistency, finishing top 10 at five straight majors.

There’s no doubt, though, that these four will need a slew of East Africans to falter and a perfect race themselves to score just the second win by an American male in the last 35 years.

Won’t Win - Talent Gap Is Too Much

Only Ritzenhein has broken 2:10 in this group and it’s been nearly six years since he’s done that. The 36-year-old Ritz also hasn’t completed a marathon in nearly four years. Yuki Kawauchi’s win last year showed that anything is possible, but it’s far likelier that one of the 12 sub-2:07 guys snaps the tape on Boylston.

Des Linden (USA) 2:22:38 PB

Boston History: 1st 2018, 4th 2017, 4th 2015, 8th 2014, 2nd 2011, 18th 2007

Will Win - Confidence & Experience

Shalane Flanagan recently spoke about the swagger that American women have in the wake of two recent major marathon victories, and perhaps no one exudes swagger more than defending Boston champion Des Linden. As much as Kawauchi’s victory was viewed as a one year break from the reality of East African dominance, Linden’s win was the culmination of her “Keep Showing Up” mantra that has netted her a whopping 12 career top 10 major marathons finishes, including four top fives at Boston. Her victory was certainly no fluke and she has a great shot at repeating.

Won’t Win - Repeating Is Hard

If you remove convicted doper Rita Jeptoo, no woman has gone back-to-back in Boston since Kenyan great Catherine Ndereba did so in 2005. It feels safe to pick Linden to finish on the podium-- especially if it rains as expected-- but with recent history and eight women with faster PBs going against her, a repeat will be challenging.

Worknesh Degefa (ETH) 2:17:41 PB

Boston History: First Appearance

Will Win - Fastest PB By Nearly 2 Minutes

Degefa didn’t even win January’s Dubai Marathon and yet her astonishing 2:17:41 made her the fourth-fastest woman ever. I don’t care that it came in Dubai, 2:17 is a flashing sign screaming that the Ethiopian can win a major. 

Won’t Win - Dubai Success Doesn’t Always Translate

Female Dubai champions over the last 10 years have combined to win just two major marathons in their collective careers, adding fuel to the “Dubai results mean squat outside of Dubai” fire. 2:17 shows that Degefa is wicked talented, but how her talent translates outside of a pancake-flat course with pacers is TBD.

Edna Kiplagat (KEN) 2:19:50 PB

Boston History: 8th 2018, 1st 2017

Will Win - She’s Won Five Majors

The 39-year-old Kiplagat is one of the most prolific female marathoners in history and even entering her 22nd race at the distance, she remains a threat at the highest level. Her 2:19 days may be over, but the two-time world champion ran 2:21 in Berlin last September and won Boston just two years ago. Experience matters in this race and no one has more of it than Kiplagat.

Won’t Win - At 39, Kiplagat Is Past Her Prime

Even though she has shown remarkable consistency by finishing top five at a major every year since 2011, Kiplagat has won just once since 2015. 

Aselefech Mergia (ETH) 2:19:31 PB

Boston History: DNF 2018

Will Win - Four Career Marathon Victories

Mergia is the winningest woman in Dubai history, which could be a good or a bad omen for Boston depending on how you choose to look at it. The 34-year-old’s most relevant result of late is her third-place finish in London in 2017, although she finished more than five minutes behind second place. 

Won’t Win - She Hasn’t Really Been Close To A Win Since 2015

It’s unlikely that Mergia will score the biggest win of her career nearly four years after she last contended for such a victory. The Ethiopian still has the ability to run decent times, but her last two marathons-- 12th in the 2017 World Championships and a Boston DNF-- don’t inspire a lot of confidence.

Meskerem Assefa (ETH) 2:20:36 PB

Boston History: First Appearance

Will Win - Has Won Four Of Her Last Six Marathons

Assefa enters on a bit of a hot streak, having won two straight marathons and four of her last six. Her latest win in Frankfurt last October came with a 2:20:36 PB, a sign that the former 1500m runner is starting to figure out the distance.

Won’t Win - Barely Any Majors Experience

This big of a stage is largely unfamiliar territory for the 27-year-old. Her last appearance in a major was four years ago, and that was just a sixth-place finish in Chicago.

Jordan Hasay (USA) 2:20:57 PB

Boston History: 3rd 2017

Will Win - When Healthy, Hasay Is A Marathon Phenom

Hasay’s marathon career set off at breakneck speed when she ran 2:23:00 in her debut in Boston 2017 (fastest U.S. debut by nearly three minutes) and then became the second-fastest American period with her 2:20:57 six months later in Chicago. At just 27 years old and with only two marathons in her legs, Hasay has a legitimate shot to become the greatest female U.S. marathoner ever if she can stay healthy.

Even a year and a half since her last marathon, Hasay has the talent to contend in Boston.

Won’t Win - Fitness A Huge Question Mark Coming Off Injury

It’s difficult to know what to expect from Hasay on Monday. She only resumed training last November after multiple foot fractures forced her out of Boston a year ago and kept her sidelined from Chicago as well. It would be unrealistic to expect a victory from Hasay in a race that seems more geared to simply setting her back on the right track.

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