Until Monday afternoon, no runner had pulled off the hardtop treble from hell, winning the Olympic, New York City, and Boston marathons. So what’s next in a startling racing career in which Peres Jepchirchir has created a lifetime résumé in less than nine months?
Beating the clock.
“I still want to try if I can run a marathon record,” the 28-year-old Kenyan said Tuesday morning as the city still was reverberating from her riveting victory over Ababel Yeshaneh in the final two blocks on Boylston Street. “My position was to run 2:17 and I have run 2:17. I would like to run 2:15.”
That goal seems entirely reasonable after Jepchirchir posted a time of 2 hours, 21 minutes, and 1 second into a headwind, the fifth best in race history and the fastest winning effort since Ethiopia’s Buzunesh Deba’s course record of 2:19:59 in 2014.
Jepchirchir won’t do it on Boston’s roller-coaster layout, but she could manage it in Chicago, where countrywoman Brigid Kosgei set her world mark of 2:14:04 three years ago. Or in London or Berlin, similar flatbread courses that frequently produce global records.
What’s telling is that Jepchirchir took on the sport’s three most difficult assignments early in her marathon career, which began in earnest two years ago after she’d accomplished all that she could — two world titles and a global mark — at the half-marathon distance.
The Olympic marathon, which Jepchirchir won last summer in a Sapporo steambath by running away from Kosgei, would have been enough of a challenge for one season. Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who won his second men’s crown at the Games, elected not to try a fall marathon on a quick turnaround.
But Jepchirchir went to New York three months later and won. Had London been held in its customary April slot this year (it was deferred until October), she might have gone there. But the lure of Boston, where for decades Kenyans have gone to make their names, was irresistible.
“Boston was my dream race,” Jepchirchir said. “I was saying, ‘One day I want to test the Boston Marathon because Boston is a tough race.’ So now I have come and tested and I came to know that it’s a tough course. It’s not easy.”
Yet Jepchirchir attacked it as if she were running a time trial, leaving the pack behind after 9 miles and encouraging the other top contenders — Yeshaneh, Joyciline Jepkosgei, and Degitu Azimeraw — to come along with her.
Jepchirchir’s approach to the game is “come out and play.” She likes company when she’s up front because she knows that her rivals will push her. When Yeshaneh clipped her heels a couple of times, Jepchirchir invited her “to come in front and we push together.”
It was no coincidence that those two and Jepkosgei were under the course record going into the Newton hills. For Jepchirchir, socializing and speed go together.
In New York, when countrywoman Viola Cheptoo requested a bit of assistance staying up front with her and Yeshaneh late in the race Jepchirchir happily obliged — then sprinted away from both of them in Central Park. She did the same to Kosgei at Olympus after they’d shared water and ice and the lead.
Friendship only goes so far when the finish line is on the horizon. Jepchirchir, who ran alongside Yeshaneh for the final 4 miles Monday, knew that she had more raw speed than her Ethiopian rival. The only question was when she’d open the throttle and finish her off.
Their cat-and-mouse exchanges during the final mile were compelling, and when Jepchirchir snapped the tape four seconds ahead, it was a fitting climax to her historic treble.
“I know I have done a great thing,” she said.
It was yet another Patriots Day when the women took center stage in a venerable event from which they were excluded for three-quarters of a century.
When eight women made history here in 1972 by lining up at the start, the sport’s ruling body still believed that the marathon should be for men only, that running 26 miles was dangerous for women’s bodies.
Until that year, their longest Olympic race was 800 meters. When Joan Benoit won the inaugural women’s marathon in 1984 in Los Angeles, she shattered the illusion that women couldn’t go the distance.
That was well before the Kenyans and Ethiopians arrived and took the marathon to a lofty level. Jepchirchir, the mother of a 4-year-old girl, is the latest of them, and she has been checking off boxes in a hurry.
She did the toughest ones first because she was told that they were the toughest and because Jepchirchir likes to find these things out for herself.
If that means that she walks like a stick figure the morning after, as she did Tuesday, she accepts that as the nature of the game.
“Marathon is marathon,” she said.
Some, though, are more daunting than others. Most folks don’t take on three of them in a row, much less win them. Up ahead now for Jepchirchir is a more elusive one: the challenge of the clock.