The day started out on a joyous note. The weather was glorious, the atmosphere enthusiastic, a perfect day for Monday’s Boston Marathon.
There was much anticipation about the elite men’s and women’s races — particularly the latter because Marblehead native Shalane Flanagan was one of the favorites.
Before the innocence of the event was shattered by two explosions near the finish line, the Boston Athletic Association crowned champions in Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia, who won the men’s race in 2 hours, 10 minutes, 22 seconds, and Rita Jeptoo of Kenya, who captured first in 2:26:25. Flanagan finished fourth (2:27:08).
The men’s race was exceedingly tight. As the 23-mile mark approached, the lead pack consisted of Geb Gebremariam, Desisa, and Micah Kogo, with defending champion Wesley Korir just behind. It was the same trio at Mile 24. They had run the previous mile in 4:36, the fastest of the day. Kogo was leading but wasn’t pulling ahead, as he attempted to win Boston in his first attempt at the distance.
As they hit Kenmore Square, no one had made a move. With less than a mile to go, they still ran together. They spread out as they hit the final turn and Boylston Street, with Desisa pulling away and Gebremariam behind. Desisa, 23, raised his arms as he crossed first, just his second time ever at the distance.
Kogo passed Gebremariam to finish second, five seconds back. The top American, Jason Hartmann, took fourth for the second straight year in 2:12.12.
On the women’s side, Jeptoo was jubilant as she crossed the finish line to earn her second laurel wreath. Jeptoo also won Boston in 2006 before taking a two-year hiatus in which she gave birth to a child. She returned to racing in 2011 and showed impressive form Monday.
“I want to say thank you for today,’’ said Jeptoo. “I am happy to come to run the Boston Marathon again. Last year, I wasn’t ready. But this year, I was ready to come and run. My training was good in Kenya and I must thank my coach because he put me here today.’’
Coming out of Cleveland Circle, roughly 4 miles from the finish, Jeptoo started her pursuit of Portuguese runner Ana Dulce Felix, who was alone in front. But once Jeptoo made up her mind, she led a small group that overtook Felix.
That group included Flanagan, Ethiopian runner-up Meseret Hailu (2:26.58), and third-place finisher Sharon Cherop (2:27.01).
For Flanagan, it was a bittersweet day. She had chills because of the crowd support, and there were moments her ears hurt because of the noise level.
She and running partner Kara Goucher felt strong and ready, guided by coach Jerry Schumacher. But a victory in her inaugural Boston Marathon was not to be. When Flanagan crossed the finish line, the emotions took over and she tried unsuccessfully to fight back tears.
Flanagan dreamed of winning the race, and as much as her heart wanted to realize that, her legs wouldn’t allow it.
“I’m very grateful for today,’’ said Flanagan, 31. “I’ve been thinking about this moment and running in this race for a really long time. So I’m extremely happy I fulfilled a lifelong goal of mine, but I dreamt of winning today. I dreamt of a laurel wreath on my head and it didn’t happen. But that’s the reason why dreams and goals are big and they’re hard.’’
Flanagan listened to her coach, who wanted her to keep the top contenders close, but she elected not to go when first Yolanda Caballero took off, and then Felix.
“It’s really hard as a competitor to watch two women pull away from the field and say, ‘We’re going to catch them,’ and have that faith,” said Flanagan. “So I was really antsy. I did not like not having a full group together.
“It made for a great race with great drama. I just wish I had more in me, more in my legs to be able to compete all the way to the finish. I genuinely felt like they wanted the win as much as I did today and that’s inspiring as an athlete.’’
Flanagan said her legs balked as Jeptoo raced ahead.
“It hurt, a lot,’’ said Flanagan. “My legs felt like Jell-o, and when she went, I just said, ‘Keep it close, don’t give them too much room,’ but I was suffering and we still had quite a bit to go. So I just said, ‘I have to have one more gear, just in case.’
“I really suffered when they pulled away on the downhills. The downhills, again, were really hard. They made some really strong moves on downhills. I thought I was going to be able to keep it close and really not let them take too much room from me. But those downhills, that’s where they sealed the deal, right there.”
It was Flanagan’s fourth marathon, and she believes the American women are in good shape for the future. She and Goucher, who finished sixth, are not going away any time soon.
“I have full faith that Kara and I and our coach will break this race down, but he already told me he’s really proud of me,’’ said Flanagan. “All we can ask of ourselves is to put ourselves in position to capitalize on the day.
“We’ll go back and assess, but I’m genuinely proud of my buildup and I’m proud of my race.”
Sadly, though, what should have been great memories of the 117th Marathon no longer really mattered.