Chances are there are fans elsewhere who will claim that their home city has a day that perfectly captures the competitiveness and camaraderie of sports like our Patriots Day.
Should you come across these creatures, don’t begrudge them their misguided daydream. They obviously haven’t been here on a day like Monday. They just cannot know any better.
Monday was one of those days, the kind you wish you could bottle up now and break open in the dead of February, when the winter refuses to end and the sports calendar doesn’t have much to boost a fan’s mood. The temperatures were not especially high, lingering in the upper 40s through the afternoon, but spirits were.
The Marathon, the 126th and the 50th since women were first allowed to compete, went off on Patriots Day for the first time since 2019, a span of 1,099 days, the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the race to be a virtual event in September 2020 and bumping it to October last year.
With the Red Sox holding up their end of the tradition with an 11 a.m. start against the Twins at Fenway Park a few blocks from the finish line, and the buzz of the Celtics’ last-second victory Sunday over the Nets still in the air, the collective good mood and good vibes were palpable.
That feeling was best captured by the women’s race, where competition and camaraderie ran stride for stride. Kenya’s Peres Jepchirchir won in a time of 2 hours 21 minutes 1 second, making the 28-year-old the first runner to win the Boston and New York marathons and an Olympic gold in the event.
Jepchirchir outran runner-up Ababel Yeshaneh of Ethiopia by 5 seconds in a race in which the two swapped the lead multiple times in the final mile. While the finish was thrilling, their remarkable mutual sportsmanship throughout the race also caught observers’ attention.
Jepchirchir pushed the pace the entire race, breaking ahead with a pack of 10 at mile 6. The group slimmed to four runners by mile 9, then just three. Jepchirchir, Yeshaneh, and Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei ran as a trio until Jepkosgei fell off the pace at mile 22 (she would finish seventh). For most of the race, Jepchirchir and Yeshaneh ran shoulder-to-shoulder, but it wasn’t their proximity that was surprising.
No, what was surprising was that, even as they were tearing off miles at roughly 5 minutes 30 seconds at a time, they were talking, occasionally sharing water, and, when they accidentally bumped between miles 17 and 18, shook hands as if to say, “no harm, no foul.” They were both trying to win, of course. But they seemed to be in it together.
Jepchirchir and Yeshaneh didn’t elaborate on what happened when they bumped or the specifics on what they were chatting about as they navigated the Boston course, the first time either had run this marathon. But they both acknowledged a friendship that seemed to bring out the best in both of them.
“For me, I can say that I love my competitor because I cannot [win] by myself,’’ said Jepchirchir. “I knew that if we pushed together we could run [a] good race. For me, I like helping my fellow [competitors] and I am grateful.”
Yeshaneh appeared to take the second-place finish hard, waving off cameras in the exhausted moments after she crossed the finish line. But she had a positive perspective when the top women finishers met with the media approximately 45 minutes after the race ended.
One of the greatest examples of sportsmanship at the elite athletic level I’ve ever seen. Boston Marathon winner Peres Jepchirchir hands water to her competitor Ababel Yeshanah 2 miles from the finish line. Peres later won the race by just 4 seconds. #WCVB— Josh Brogadir (@JoshBrogadirTV) April 18, 2022
📹: @pomeroyetc pic.twitter.com/oE1mfpLbnY
“[Jepchirchir] is a very good competitor,’’ she said. “She is a friend, too, and she always considers me as a friend. I’m glad that I run with her, and I’m also glad that I came [in] second.”
Unlike the two Boston novices who finished ahead of her, third-place finisher Mary Ngugi is familiar with the course, having finished third in the 2021 event last October. She espoused a sentiment that is echoed every year from returnees who somewhere along the way from Hopkinton to the finish line on Boylston Street began feeling at home here.
“I’m always so comfortable here,’’ said Ngugi. “The people make me feel like [this is] home. I’ve raced here many times, and being back in Boston and being in such a big field is an amazing feeling for me. The fans around the course cheering my name is an amazing feeling.”
That cheer-’em-on attitude at all of the assorted landmarks on the course motivates all runners, not just the elites. But the energy of the crowd and the personal connection so many runners get from competing here is a recurring theme, and one always satisfying to hear for those who find such satisfaction on this distinctive day.
Des Linden, the 2018 winner of the women’s race, finished 13th Monday, more than 20 minutes behind Jepchirchir. She acknowledged that the last couple of years haven’t been easy.
“Today was great, just coming back in the spring after such a long break. I’m toward the end of my marathon career, and with the last few years nothing major going on [for me] in major events, it’s easy to be like, ‘What’s the point? This isn’t really that fun.’ Even coming here in the fall felt tough, felt different, felt off.”
But Monday, the race was back to its familiar April spot, and its familiar feel-good vibe. It helped carry the former champ through, just as it did for the more than 25,000 runners that set out on the course Monday morning, with 26.2 miles ahead and countless memories to be made.
“A day like today reignites the fire and the passion,’’ she said. “It’s so fun to be out there, to feel the energy from the city. Every spot on the course I feel loved.”
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