Fluent in English, Japanese, and Kiswahili, Caroline Rotich of Nyahururu, Kenya, needed no translator to help her convey the range of emotions she went through in the last three kilometers — nay, the last three blocks — in winning the women’s race during the 119th running of the Boston Marathon.
After a lead pack of nine runners had been thinned to three following Mare Dibaba’s strong push through Cleveland Circle and down Beacon Street, Rotich was merely looking to hang on with the Eithopian duo of Dibaba and Buzunesh Deba, who worked in tandem to try and keep their Kenyan competitor at bay.
When Deba tightened up and dropped off the pace, it turned into a two-way race for the laurel wreath, setting the stage for an epic Boylston Street battle between Rotich and Dibaba.
Rotich captured the first Boston victory of her career in 2 hours 24 minutes 55 seconds and pocketed a $150,000 purse after outkicking Dibaba in the final 100 yards.
“At the 25-mile mark, I was still in the group with the two ladies and I still felt strong, but I didn’t know how strong they were and if they had enough for a last kick,’’ said Rotich, who trained with her coach, triathlete Ryan Bolton, in Santa Fe, N.M.
“But when I turned to last part of the race, and she got [the lead], I was like, ‘It’s not over until I get to the finish line,’ ’’ Rotich said. “I didn’t have a chance to say, ‘Oh, I have it,’ until I got to the finish line.’’
After making the left-hand turn at the corner of Hereford and Boylston with the lead, Rotich wound up relinquishing to Dibaba with three blocks to go. Then, as they approached the final two blocks, Rotich drew shoulder-to-shoulder with Dibaba, who faded to second when Rotich put on a strong kick in the final block.
Dibaba wound up four seconds astern in 2:24:59, while Deba, runner-up to Rita Jeptoo in last year’s race, finished third in 2:25:09. Desiree Linden, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., finished fourth in 2:25:39.
Shalane Flanagan, a native of Marblehead who set an American course record last year with her seventh-place finish (2:22:02), wound up in ninth (2:27:47).
“I was pretty confident that I was going to win,’’ Dibaba said, through her translator, Fayven Alem. “But I realized in the last moment that I couldn’t hang on, and so I had to settle for second.’’
At no time, however, did Rotich allow the absence of the suspended Jeptoo, the three-time and defending Boston champion, rain on her parade.
“As I was running, I never had a chance to think about that,’’ Rotich said of Jeptoo. “Always when I go to the start of the race, I go in thinking about who’s in the race at that time. So I didn’t think anything about it today.’’
Deba, who was given the No. F1 bib following Jeptoo’s suspension, did not believe Jeptoo’s absence left a void in this year’s talented field. “Yeah, I was happy she was not here,’’ Deba said with a nervous laugh.
It was, after all, one less Kenyan they all had to worry about.
Rotich, who never led one checkpoint, was content to remain in the lead pack until Deba made a move to thin the herd with a blistering 5:08 split in Mile 24. While she brought her compatriot, Dibaba, with her, it wasn’t enough to shake Rotich, who kept pace with the Eithopians.
“I tried a while to get in between them, but I saw I was going to be too close to them,’’ said Rotich, who noticed Deba and Dibaba plotting their next move against her. “So I just went back and hung in for the last kick. It got to a point where they talked once, but I was like, ‘I still have energy, so I’m just going to stay here and see how it’s going to go in the last kick.’ ”
It was a finishing kick for the ages that resulted in a memorable Boylston Street fight.
“I haven’t seen the finish yet, but it sounded like it was thrilling,’’ Linden said. “It was a Boston finish – it was tight and a close race down Boylston. It was what was happening here for a 4-5 year stretch beforehand, where the finishes were about 2-3 seconds [apart].
“It seems like it was a little bit back to normal here,’’ Linden added. “I don’t necessarily feel like there was a void at all. It was a real fun race day and a competitive even field.’’
Asked what she planned to do with the largest purse of her marathoning career, which included victories in the 2009 Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon and the 2013 Prague Marathon, Rotich seemed at a loss to explain her plans for her financial windfall.
“I haven’t really thought about it,’’ Rotich said. “I’d just like to revel in winning Boston, but after this I’ll settle down and see what the best motivation is to go and use it.
“But, for right now, I just like being the winner here.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.