Prior to today, Worknesh Degefa had no experience with the Boston Marathon course.
Not in a race.
Not even in a training run.
On Monday, she ran like someone completely unaware of the hills and other pitfalls on the historic course, building an insurmountable lead early in the race and holding on for victory in 2:23:41. It was the first World Marathon Major victory for the 28-year-old from Ethiopia who raced all her previous marathons on the flat and fast course in Dubai.
Her most recent performance in Dubai, a second-place finish in 2:17:41 in January, was the fifth-fastest women’s performance of all-time. That time should have made her an overwhelming favorite in this race, but Boston and Dubai have virtually nothing in common, making her debut at this race a bit of a mystery.
However, it only took her a few miles to determine she was the one to beat on Monday. After a fifth mile of 5:16, she was all alone. She passed the halfway mark in 1:10:40—almost two-and-a-half minutes ahead of a nine-woman chase pack that featured Edna Kiplagat and Americans Desiree Linden and Jordan Hasay.
Was the big lead the sign of a naive move from a Boston rookie, or the affirmation that Degefa is one of the world’s top marathoners?
Her lead grew to 2:59 at 30K before she began to slow in the Newton Hills. She ran her 21st mile in 5:48, the first sign that Boston was leaving its mark on Degefa. Meanwhile, Kiplagat broke away from the chase pack and began whacking away at Degefa’s lead. The move scattered the chase pack.
Two miles later, the Degefa’s lead was down to 1:57, and by the 40K mark, it was only 1:08. But as fast as Kiplagat was closing, there simply wasn’t enough miles left in the race. By the time Degefa turned onto Boylston, she knew she had the race and began to celebrate. She crossed the line in 2:23:41—42 seconds ahead of Kiplagat, who turned in another top-five marathon performance.
Jordan Hasay placed third, running 2:25:20. This was her third top-three World Marathon Major finish, and the first since suffering a stress fracture that caused her to drop out of last year’s race.
Hasay had to pull out of the 2018 Boston Marathon the night before after a last minute MRI revealed the injury. Then the fracture returned in the fall, forcing Hasay out of the Chicago Marathon, too.
Hasay was happy to be on the start line again after 18 months away from the marathon, and her third place finish on Monday should serve as a big springboard for the 27-year-old going forward.
“I just felt grateful to be toeing the line again and it gave me a whole new perspective. It really just took the pressure off," said Hasay.
“One of my idols, Paula Radcliffe (marathon world record holder) texted me last night and she just said, ‘Just enjoy being back out there where you belong.’ I just wanted to prove that I belong out there in the marathon.”
In the press conference aftewards, Hasay announced that she will run the 2019 Chicago Marathon in October, where she intends to chase Deena Kastor's 2:19:36 American record.
“I think I was fit enough last year (in 2017, when she ran U.S. #2 all-time 2:20:57)…I think this gives me confidence. I’m thankful that the marathon is kind of my distance," she said.
Linden was in eighth place at 35K before rallying back to take fifth in 2:27:00—the ninth top-five finish at a major in her career.
Linden celebrated another top-five Boston finish by cracking a beer in the press conference: