Monday’s Boston Marathon wasn’t decided in the Newton Hills, a 24th-mile run in 4:31, or a big surge on Hereford. Instead, it came down to the final meters, where Lawrence Cherono pushed past Lelisa Desisa in the last strides to win his first marathon major.
The final margin—two seconds, 2:07:57 to 2:07:59—was greater because Desisa relented when he knew Cherono went past.
“I kept on focusing and at the end I matched the winner. So I am so happy,” said Cherono, who scored the thrilling victory in his Boston debut.
Just 400 meters earlier, Desisa looked like he was on his way to his third Boston title as he broke away from Cherono and Kenneth Kipkemoi. But on Boylston Street, Cherono had a response. As Kipkemoi dropped back, Cherono moved up to challenge Desisa. As Desisa moved across the road to make things harder for the 30-year-old from Kenya, Cherono latched on. With around 100m meters to go, he threw one last move at Desisa.
It was enough. Barely.
The victory was the first major marathon victory for Cherono, the 30-year-from Kenya whose best finish came last fall when he ran 2:04:06 to win the Amsterdam Marathon.
The dramatic finish was preceded by a calm beginning to the race. There were no defining moves in the early stages of the race as the pack was mostly content to run together through a halfway split of 1:04:28. A 22nd mile of 4:46, followed by a 4:48 and a 4:31 broke apart the pack of 15. After 2017 champion Geoffrey Kirui fell off the pace, only Cherono, Desisa and Kipkemoi remained.
But the outcome was still in doubt, and with a relatively conservative start, all three looked to have plenty left in their legs for the finish. A 25th mile of 4:39 did nothing to create separation. It wasn’t until Desisa’s move just before the turn onto Boylston that the trio broke apart. But Cherono didn’t appear flustered, tracking Desisa as he drifted subtly across the road, partly due to fatigue, but also under duress from a fast closing Cherono.
The two-second gap is tied for the fourth-closest finish in the history of the race.
Scott Fauble, who ran with the leaders (often doing some of the leading himself), was the first American across the line as he placed seventh in a personal best of 2:09:09. Jared Ward finished behind him in eighth. His time, 2:09:25, is also a lifetime best. Both men, by virtue of their top-ten finish, earned qualifying standards for the 2020 Olympics.
The sub-2:10 performances by Fauble and Ward represented significant breakthroughs for the men themselves and for U.S. men's marathoning overall. Aside from Galen Rupp, no American had broken 2:10 since Meb Keflezighi did so in his Boston victory five years ago.
"It's about dang time," Ward exclaimed to laughs in the post-race press conference.
“Today it came together for Scott and I (sub-2:10), and I think in the fall maybe it comes together for someone else. I think the talent’s there, it’s just getting the right race at the right time.”
Fauble chopped a gigantic 3:19 off his personal best, while Ward lowered his by 2:05.
2018 champion Yuki Kawauchi placed 17th in 2:15:29, while American Dathan Ritzenhein took 19th in 2:16:19.