Edna Kiplagat had the streets of Boston to herself Monday. Running her first Boston Marathon, the 37-year-old veteran Kenyan racer stayed with the lead pack of women until the 19-mile mark. Then came the Newton hills, and there went Kiplagat, surging ahead with a confident stride. She quickly dusted the competition.
Kiplagat ran Mile 20, an uphill stretch, in 5 minutes, 1 second, the fastest women’s split of the day, and after that, she quickly ran away from her last chasers, Rose Chelimo of Bahrain and American Jordan Hasay, to rush across the line in 2:21:52.
Chelimo, eighth in the Olympic marathon in Rio, was second in 2:22:51. Hasay, a 25-year-old also running her debut, held on for third in 2:23:00, breaking the record for a debut marathon by an American woman.
American Desiree Linden, who led much of the first half of the race, held on for fourth place in 2:25:06. For the first time since 1991, two American women finished in the top four.
“When an American breaks the tape, it’s going to be a big day,’’ said Linden. “They are going to be really excited.’’
The 2017 race belonged to Kiplagat, who ran nearly solo for the last 6 miles.
“I’m feeling very happy coming to Boston for the first time,’’ said Kiplagat. “And I feel so great and humbled to win the race.’’
Kiplagat said her children supported her in her preparations for the race. But her competitors were not prepared to deal with her speed.
“When I was running, my body was feeling good,’’ Kiplagat said. “When we were at the hills, I tried to increase the pace and see if I can survive. I tried to push hard and I assume my fellow athletes weren’t picking up the pace, so I pulled away.’’
Chelimo, 27, was at first a step back in second, but very soon 10 meters back. Hasay, making an impressive debut at the distance, was a few more steps back in third.
Two and three never challenged one again, as Kiplagat ran away, her long stride eating up the miles as the course dropped down into Boston. Spectators from Cleveland Circle to Boylston Street saw a one-woman race.
Kiplagat has experience at the front. She is the 2011 and 2013 IAAF World Champion in the marathon and has won the London, Los Angeles, and New York City marathons. She won the Abbott World Marathon Majors Series in 2013-14.
But Boston was a new course. Every course has ups and downs. For Kiplagat, it was not the hills that slowed her, but a water station stopped her in her tracks. Not long after she first took her first big lead, Kiplagat swerved into a water station, and fumbled with a bottle while she came to a complete stop.
“I was a little bit worried because I missed a [water] station at 30k,’’ she said. “Then I grabbed the wrong bottle at the next station. I had to put back something that was not mine.’’
Kiplagat recovered and continued her confident run to Boston.
When she got there, she was met by two of her five children. Wendy (9) and Carlos (13) were soon hanging on to their mother’s arms as she held on to the winner’s trophy. She also has two adopted children from her sister, who died of breast cancer in 2003, and one from a neighbor who died in childbirth in 2013, according to a report from The Guardian.
An American woman has not won the Boston Marathon since Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach in 1985. For the first half of the race Monday, it looked as if Linden might be the next. She was in the lead pack from the start, and went to the front at about 4 miles. The pack of 14 started dwindling as Linden pushed the pace. She stayed at the lead, dropping contenders, including defending champion Atsede Baysa, until she herself fell off the pace near Mile 17.
“I was being patient the first 10k or so,’’ said Linden, after a 5:55 first mile established a slow pace. “It was respectable pace, I was just going to tuck in. But there were so many fast track runners in there that I can’t let it be too slow. The [half-marathoners] are all going to kill me over the second half so after that 10k mark I knew I had to put the foot on the gas just a little bit. Nothing too big but I knew I had to put pressure on the rest of the field.
“So then I was a little bit burnt out by the later parts of the race.’’
By Mile 19, the lead group had dwindled to three, Hasay, Chelimo, and Kiplagat all running strong. Suddenly, it was one.
Kiplagat had said earlier she didn’t plan on making a move until there was 5k remaining. But she changed her plan.
“My body reacted very well,’’ she said, “and so I said I’m not going to wait until the last 5k to make my move.’’
Kiplagat’s sudden speed burst left little for the other runners to reach for. The back of Kiplagat’s singlet just disappeared from view.
“When she went it was very impressive,’’ said Hasay.
“I was feeling pretty good and I was confident . . . but when she did go, she went so hard that I thought ‘I don’t think I can go with this.’ ’’
Instead the Boston Marathon has another Kenyan champion.
“Boston is a great race,’’ said Kiplagat, who now has titles from four major marathons. “I’ve been looking forward to come and run and I was fortunate to run this year. My preparation was good. I knew I had to increase my strength. In every race, you have to know the course so you know what to expect. I have been watching this course to prepare.’’