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Boston Marathon

‘It was really surreal’: How Emma Bates finished as top American in Boston women’s field

Emma Bates (left) climbed Heartbreak Hill with the pack of elite women.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Emma Bates came into the Boston Marathon with a plan, but a little more than halfway through Monday’s race, that plan went out the window.

For her first crack at Boston, Bates had an overflow of confidence born out of more than a year’s worth of training with coach Joe Bosshard and Team Boss in Boulder, Colo., after COVID disrupted her regimen last year. A top-five finish felt like a lock. But she didn’t expect to be leading the pack after 25 kilometers.

“That wasn’t the plan at all,” she said. “My coach told me to not do that. He really wanted me to kind of focus on that pack and kind of let the top girls battle it out and then kind of pounce in the end.”


Plans change.

Posted at Heartbreak Hill, where he has watched the Marathon the past two years, Bosshard wasn’t surprised when he saw Bates out front.

“It’s where she’s comfortable,” he said.

He made eye contact. She gave him a shrug, a smile, and a laugh.

“I looked at my coach like, ‘I don’t know what’s happening, but I guess we’ll go with it,’ ” she said. “It was really surreal for the longest time.”

Emma Bates crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon, finishing fifth.IAN MACLELLAN/NYT

All Bosshard could say back was, “Let your legs run.”

“She just started going from there,” he said. “I mean, at that point, let’s just get home.”

Bates led the field up until the 35-kilometer mark before a pack led by eventual winner Hellen Obiri chased her down. But Bates’s time of 2:22:10 earned her a fifth-place finish, the best by an American in the women’s field.

“I was still kind of pushing the pace and finding myself in the lead, and that was kind of unexpected because I thought I was going to be chasing people down,” she said. “I expected myself to be in the top five. So that wasn’t a surprise that I was able to be as far up there as I was and to run the time that I did.


“But when it comes to fruition, it’s always a big deal and so I don’t take it for granted.”

Even though it took a while to warm up on a cold and wet day, Bates jumped out early, pushing through the first 5 kilometers in 17:48 to set herself up in the front five.

“It’s always tough for me with the top ladies just because it’s such a quick change of pace,” Bates said. “So it kind of felt like a fartlek out there. But just trusted that I was going to be able to kind of maintain that pace with them and be able to be in the top five.

“So I just really stuck my nose in it, hoping that I would get maybe a win. But it was in the last 2 miles that they were breaking it down to 5:00 and I couldn’t hang out with that bunch.”

Typically, the halfway point is where things start to get tougher.

“But it wasn’t getting that much harder,” Bates said.

Of course, the back half of Boston was the stretch Bates was most familiar with. She moved to Boston in 2015 when she joined the BAA High Performance Team. Of all the places she’s trained, from Boise to Boulder, Bates said Boston’s atmosphere set it apart.


“There’s so much history here and going to like Battle Road and running the Charles and even the Newton hills was something special,” she said. “So to be able to come here again and have a homecoming and run the back side of the course that I used to run all the time was really, really cool to do.”

She also had the benefit of training in Boulder on a course replicated by Team Boss to simulate the hills in Boston.

“In Boulder, if you go east to west, you’re always heading up into the mountains,” Bosshard said. “So we were able to do a 24-mile course a few times where we got 900 feet of uphill and I think we were actually just shy downhill. I think we were 1,300 feet and Boston’s 1,400. That’s where we did all the training.”

In the men’s field, Bates’s Team Boss teammate Scott Fauble finished seventh (2:09:44) for the third time in his past four starts at Boston, making him the top American male. In a perfect world, Fauble said,he would want to jump out in the front pack, but it was a better strategy to be patient.

“I would love to not be considered patient,” he said. “But I can’t go out at [a pace as fast as the lead pack] in a marathon. So I have to make good decisions for me on a race day.

“Today, that was being in the second pack and really trying to hunt that last half. I thought I was going to be able to run people down, and it took a lot longer than it usually does. I didn’t start catching people really until the last mile.”


Bates, on the other hand, seized the moment and was glad she did.

“To be not only the top American but top at the Boston Marathon is something that I’m going to hold close to my heart for a long time,” she said.

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Julian Benbow can be reached at