For the first time since the Boston Marathon began in 1897, the elite men will start ahead of the rest of the main field in Hopkinton on Monday morning and will be the only male competitors eligible for prize money.
By sending them off the line at 10 a.m., two minutes before the first wave of runners, race organizers want to make a visible distinction between the recognized top contenders and everyone else.
“Everybody in that group knows what they’re competing for and who they’re competing against,” said Jack Fleming, the Boston Athletic Association’s chief operating officer.
The women’s race has been run under that format since a separate start for them was instituted in 2004. But unlike last year, when five non-elite women posted times that would have earned them prize money (which they later were awarded), only the elite racers will qualify for a cut of the purse, which ranges from $150,000 for the open winner to $1,500 for 15th place.
The men’s elite field, which will number between 60 and 70, requires entrants to meet the qualifying standard of 2 hours and 19 minutes for the US Olympic trials, although the BAA has discretion to admit others based on performance.
While elite racers generally welcome a distinct start, some are troubled by having the rest of the competitors separated.
“I have always been against such starts because of what happened to me in Chicago in 2008,” said Wesley Korir, the former Boston champion who was fourth in his marathon debut in the Windy City that year. “I wasn’t allowed to run with the elites so I had to start five minutes behind and it was very frustrating for me. That is why I have always been for the idea of all runners are equal. Sometimes someone who is not an elite runner can come and win the race.”
Defending men’s champion Yuki Kawauchi will have a couple of Japanese countrymen on the line with him this time. Hiroto Inoue (2:06:54) won last year’s Asian Games and competed at the 2017 world championships. Hayato Sonoda (2:09:34), who was fourth at those Games, placed in the top five in his three 26-milers last year.
“Some of the other men saw my victory and said, I want to try it as well,” said Kawauchi, who was the first Rising Sun runner to win here since 1987. If one of the trio makes the podium here it’ll be the first time the Japanese have managed it three years in a row since 1967.
Taking the next step
Meb Keflezighi, who made an emotional and historic breakthrough with his triumph here five years ago, will be serving as the race’s Grand Marshal for the second time, covering the course in motorized ease.
“It’s supposed to be a convertible, but that’s not going to happen this year (with rain likely),” said Keflezighi, who also was thus honored in 2012. “I’m going to have to get an umbrella and wave it.”
For the first time in this millennium, Keflezighi won’t be setting his sights on making an Olympic team. After qualifying for Sydney on the track in 2000, he won a silver medal in the marathon in 2004. Then, after breaking his hip at the 2008 trials and missing the trip to Beijing, Keflezighi bounced back to earn tickets to London in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016 before retiring two years ago.
Showing plenty of heart
Race director Dave McGillivray, who has completed 46 consecutive Boston Marathons, will be going after 47 just six months after having triple bypass heart surgery. “I’m committing to start, I’m not committing to finish,” says McGillivray, who traditionally begins in Hopkinton around 5 p.m., after he has confirmed that race day has gone smoothly for the other 29,999 entrants. “I’m the fifth wave,” he says. Both his surgeon and cardiologist gave McGillivray the green light, provided that he takes it slow and sensibly. “For me, the only bad day I could ever have any more is if I didn’t wake up at all,” he says . . . Forty years after she collected her first Boston laurel wreath, Joan Benoit Samuelson will take the line hoping to run within 40 minutes of her 1979 time (2:35:15), which shattered the course record by more than seven minutes. Samuelson, who ran in her Bowdoin singlet and a Red Sox cap that day, gave the cap to son Anders as soon as he was old enough to wear it. “I just feel blessed to be back 40 years later being able to put one foot in front of the other,” Samuelson says. “Hopefully over 26.2 miles.”