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Boston Marathon

Kenya’s Hellen Obiri, running her second marathon ever, surges in last mile to capture women’s elite race

Hellen Obiri, Evans Chebet win elite races
Obiri takes title in just second Marathon; Defending champ Chebet holds off field, Kipchoge. (Courtesy of B.A.A. and ESPN/WCVB)

Marathons are still new for Hellen Obiri.

A two-time world champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist in the 5,000 meters, Obiri competed in her first marathon, the New York City Marathon, only last November, finishing sixth. The Kenyan is the only woman to win world titles in indoor track, outdoor track, and cross-country, but after that first 26.2-mile race, she wondered if she would reach the same level of success at the distance.

Just two weeks ago, Obiri decided she would try again, and she entered the women’s professional field for the Boston Marathon.

“I know Boston is a tough course,” said Obiri. “But it is also an open field and maybe nobody wanted to go in front. Maybe I’m just going to try to pull something off.”

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Obiri reacts after crossing the finish line Monday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Despite the short notice, Obiri used her impressive track experience to her advantage. Breaking away from the pack to take the lead prior to the turn onto Hereford Street, Obiri earned her first world marathon major title Monday in a time of 2:21:38. Amane Beriso of Ethiopia was 12 seconds behind Obiri to finish second, with Lonah Salpeter of Israel in third.

The race started in a tight group, and it stayed that way until the last mile. American Maegan Krifchin led the first 2 miles before Beriso eclipsed her at the 5K mark. The seven- to 12-runner group moved like an amoeba, with various runners bobbing forward to take the lead throughout the first half.

Salpeter was a consistent presence in the top three, not letting the tightness of the group distract her.

“I was not scared at all, so I guess I wanted to wait and run my own race,” said Salpeter. “I wasn’t looking at someone else.”

At the half, American Emma Bates took the lead. A former Bostonian who has moved to the elite training base in Boulder, Colo., Bates was confident entering the race, tailoring her training on dominating the course’s trademark downhills.

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Still, Bates was surprised to be in the lead when approaching Mile 20. It ran counter to what her coach advised. She caught her coach’s eye at the mile marker and shrugged.

“[Leading] wasn’t part of the plan,” said Bates. “My coach didn’t want me to do that. I saw him, and he was like, ‘Just go for it, just go for it.’ ”

Bates held on until the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, when she fell back to fifth, leaving Obiri, Beriso, Salpeter, and Ababel Yeshaneh charging toward the finish. Yeshaneh, who had been elbowing and nudging her opponents all race, tumbled to the pavement in the leadup to Kenmore Square. She bounced up immediately, and was back in the hunt for the lead within a minute.

Obiri and men's winner Evans Chebet congratulate each other after their respective wins.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The four leaders stayed together, before Obiri and a recovered Yeshaneh dueled for the lead with a mile to go. As the runners entered Back Bay, Obiri and Beriso separated themselves from the pack.

Entering the race with high expectations after her win at December’s Valencia Marathon, Beriso tried her best to keep up with the surging Obiri, but found the weather conditions limiting.

“If there was no rain, I would have run better,” said Beriso. “But because of the rain, I wasn’t able to do that.”

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Once the course entered its right turn onto Hereford Street, Obiri pulled ahead. Using her track background, her kick propelled her ahead of Beriso for good.

She crossed the finish line with her hands raised, then put her head in her hands in relief. Greeted by her husband, coaches, and daughter, she was ecstatic to capture a title at her new distance in just her second try, using both her track background and lessons from her frustrating first marathon to pave the way.

“I learned from New York that I have to be patient,” said Obiri. “Here, I tried to stay behind. What I did here was to be patient and wait for the right time to happen.”

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Kat Cornetta can be reached at sportsgirlkat@gmail.com.