The day had been so disjointed that Desiree Linden couldn’t fathom what was happening.
“When I found myself in the lead, I wasn’t really sure it was for real,” she said Tuesday morning after waking up to find that it had been. “I can’t be winning.”
Fortune had played her foul here before, so maybe breaking the tape in Copley Square was no more than a fantasy.
“I went to bed last night and I was hoping that it wasn’t just a dream,” Linden said. “Something I’m going to have to do again in the morning.”
The result sheet hadn’t changed 24 hours later. Linden still was the first American woman in 33 years to win the Boston Marathon, and six of her countrywomen had placed in the top 10. That hadn’t happened since 1985, the last year before prize money, before the Europeans and then the Africans began turning up.
So was this the Make America Great Again day for road running, the domestic resurgence that had been more than three decades in coming? Or was it an outlier amid the worst conditions since this holiday jaunt began in 1897, a day when most of the elite foreign runners concluded that it was imprudent, if not insane, to go the distance?
Never before had so many of the big names in the lead packs dropped out either just before, amid, or after the Newton hills. Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska, who’d led the women’s race from the midway point and was all alone at 19 miles, dropped out 2 miles from the finish. Kenya’s Gladys Chesir, who’d taken the lead in the hills, called it a day at Kenmore Square.
“The last 5K was just complete disbelief as to what was happening so quickly,” said Canada’s Krista Duchene, the 41-year-old registered dietician, former hockey player, and mother of three who finished behind runner-up Sarah Sellers, the US nurse anesthetist who’d run only one previous marathon. “I started passing the top contenders and I just kept going. The whole race was surreal. I’ve never experienced that before.”
All Duchene wanted was to be among the top three masters and top 15 overall. She never imagined collecting $40,000 and had to check the official list of finishers before she believed it.
Unless there’s another once-in-a-century confluence of soaking rain, stiff headwind, and windchill near freezing, a clocking of 2 hours 39 minutes and 54 seconds is not going to win a woman a laurel wreath here, as it did on this Patriots Day. Nor will a man collect $150,000 for a 2:15:58, the time that Japanese victor Yuki Kawauchi posted after running down Kenyan defending champion Geoffrey Kirui a mile from the finish.
“A day like that, conditions like that, you just know that anything can happen,” mused Linden. “It’s not just the person with the fastest PR or the best leg speed. That’s why we race instead of just sending in our résumés.”
It was no coincidence that the elite runners who DNFed were the East Africans who don’t train in cold, wet, and windy conditions and almost never compete in them.
“The Kenyans and Ethiopians train at high altitude where it’s often dry and perfect temperatures,” said Mary Kate Shea, the elite athlete recruiter for sponsor John Hancock. “Not many get the opportunity to race in adversity.”
Even for the Americans, many of whom are used to training in filthy weather in places like Oregon and Colorado and Michigan and Massachusetts, Monday’s conditions were daunting. Galen Rupp, the Olympic medalist who was second here last year, never got close to Heartbreak before dropping out.
Linden herself was having such a lousy race that she considered quitting after 6 miles before deciding to soldier on.
“Sometimes it’s better for your career to step off,” she said, “and save it for another day.”
Had the large early packs remained intact longer, more of the contenders might have opted to hang in and take their chances. But both Kirui and Daska were well away going into the hills. Was it worth risking injury to chase them for another 8 miles?
“When you blow up on a day like that, it can take you significantly longer to recover, just that depletion,” said Linden, whose only DNF came at the 2012 Olympics in London. “So I can understand people just stepping off. You know where you are in the race distance-wise and how you feel.
“Fortunately, I’ve never had the wheels completely fall off, so I don’t know. But you can bargain with yourself, and if you want out, I’m sure it’s super-easy.”
Several former champions — Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa and Lemi Berhanu Hayle and countrywoman Buzunesh Deba — did just that. Desisa customarily runs in New York City in November, as does Deba, who lives in the Bronx.
Most of the elites compete in a fall marathon, and both Berlin and Chicago offer flat speedways with more predictable weather than Boston’s. Pull a stiff hamstring or tear a tight Achilles’ here amid a futile pursuit, and a potential six-figure payday elsewhere vanishes.
Kawauchi, the first Japanese man to win here since 1987, had never claimed a major title in 10 previous appearances across nine years and knew that he never would have a better chance than Monday. Nor would all of the American thirtysomethings who found themselves among the top 10 while the East African stars were getting massages in the medical tent.
This was a day for outliers, and they made the most of it, just as Georgetown student Jack Fultz did in 100-degree heat 42 years ago.
“1976 was the ‘Run for the Hoses,’ ” race director Dave McGillivray was saying Tuesday. “2018 was the ‘Run for Shelter.’ ”John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.