Benson Kipruto and Diana Chemtai Kipyogei, both of Kenya, won the 2021 Boston Marathon in the men's and women's elite divisions Monday morning, after a long-awaited race in which fall foliage replaced blooming daffodils and mylar blankets gave way to masks.
The Boston Athletic Association's pandemic-delayed marathon returned Monday from a 30-month absence with a smaller, socially distanced feel and moved from the spring for the first time in its 125-year history.
Although organizers put runners through COVID-19 protocols and asked spectators to keep their distance, large crowds lined the 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton to Boston as an early drizzle cleared and temperatures rose to the low 60s for a beautiful fall day.
They watched Kipruto run away from the lead pack as it turned onto Beacon Street with about three miles to go and break the tape in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 51 seconds. Kipyogei won the women's race to complete the eighth Kenyan sweep since 2000.
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The Kenyan sweep was the eighth since 2000 at the world's oldest and most prestigious 26.2-miler.
Kipruto said that none of the changes proved a problem for him.
“There’s not a lot different on the course,” said. “The weather was a bit better. Here, the weather is not predictable.”
Kipruto waited out an early breakaway by CJ Albertson, who led by as many as two minutes at the halfway point but slowed in the Newton Hills and fell behind near Boston College. Albertson, who is the world record-holder in the 50K, finished 10th.
Marcel Hug of Switzerland won the men's wheelchair race earlier despite making a wrong turn in the final mile, finishing just seven seconds off his course record in 1:08:11 despite the slight detour. Manuela Schar, also from Switzerland, won the women's wheelchair race in 1:35:21.
Hug, who has raced Boston eight times and has five victories here, cost himself a $50,000 course record bonus when he missed the second-to-last turn, following the lead vehicle instead of turning from Commonwealth Avenue onto Hereford Street.
"The car went straight and I followed the car,'' said Hug, who finished second in the Chicago Marathon by 1 second on Sunday. "But it's my fault. I should go right, but I followed the car.''
Fans also lined Heartbreak Hill to give athletes a boost of encouragement while they summited the end of a series of inclines in Newton and approached the final six miles.
“I’ve run races before where they have nasty hills, and it’s just it’s really hard and you have to dig deep…and this is the holy grail of marathons!” said Tracy Miller, who was cheering on a friend.
Along that ascent were some dedicated Team Hoyt members, who said they believe in the power of "pickle juice" to help heal some runners who had a hard time running that undulating terrain.
This year, the Boston Athletic Association posthumously honored Dick Hoyt with the first award with his name. Hoyt passed away earlier this year after pushing his son, Rick Hoyt, in a wheelchair for a total of 32 marathons until he retired in 2014. Rick Hoyt officially retired from the race Friday.
“At this point of Heartbreak Hill, people start to cramp up and they look forward to us handing them their pickles, so this is what we do in honor of Dick Hoyt," said Diane MacDonald of Team Hoyt.
“It’s really fun to see them go up the hill and the fun cheering them on and see their reactions to us,” said Ellie Popkin, Jr. of Team Ellie.
And with many of these fans having to wait two-and-a-half years to cheer on these athletes in person, the 2021 race was even more special.
It’s been more than 900 days since runners could compete in-person in the world's longest-running long run. But race day looked a lot different than it did in April 2019.
"It's been surreal — 30 months since we did our last in-person but here we are after a lot of planning by a lot of people, B.A.A. staff, organizing committee, public safety medical team, I mean there are so many hands in this that make it happen," race director Dave McGillivray said.
On top of directing the race, McGillivray was running it Monday for the 49th consecutive time, even after undergoing open heart triple bypass surgery earlier this year.
"Just because of genetics, I had coronary artery disease," McGillivray said Monday morning. "I recovered from that and was able to run my next Boston Marathon so I'm good. They fixed me up. I'm looking forward to running."
Meanwhile, the Boston Athletic Association announced that the next Boston Marathon will take place in April, meaning organizers only have six months to prepare.
"Just to think that once today's over, we begin planning for 2022 tomorrow," McGillivray said. "So no rest for the weary."
Last year's race was postponed until September and then called off for the first time in its history; this year's was moved from Patriots Day in the hopes that the pandemic would abate — leading to the first fall Boston Marathon ever.
Steps from the Copley Square finish, runners had to clear coronavirus protocols before their journey could begin. In the same medical tent where the athletes seek post-race refuge for pulled muscles, dehydration and more, they had to prove they were vaccinated or pass a COVID-19 test. The B.A.A. said 95% of runners were vaccinated.
For social distancing, the field is about one-third smaller, with roughly 18,000 runners instead of 30,000. It includes more Americans than normal since many athletes from countries with strict quarantine rules couldn't attend. Nearly 30,000 people are running the virtual event.
Another big change was the rolling start times. In an effort to maintain social distance and reduce wait times near the starting line, the rolling start to the race began between 9 a.m. and approximately 11:30 a.m.
Buses lined up along Charles Street between the Boston Common and the Public Garden Monday morning to take runners to the starting line in Hopkinton around 7:15 a.m. Each runner had a bus loading time, according to their bib number, and all were required to wear masks on the bus, vaccinated or not.
Runners said the changes didn't bother them — they were just happy to have the Boston Marathon back.
“It’s nice that we’re able to do this this year and that we can have that and that everyone’s around happy and it’s good to be back to normal-ish," said Erin Fleming, a West Boylston runner.
The B.A.A. made an effort to honor health care workers this year. Eight frontline workers, each representing the major medical centers in Boston, were among the ceremonial grand marshals for Monday’s 125th Boston Marathon.
The frontline workers will join five Boston Marathon champions as they are driven the entire 26.2 mile course in two Boston Duck Boats, Back Bay Bertha and Catie Copley.
Dr. Eric Goralnick, the medical director for emergency preparedness at Brigham and Women’s hospital, was among those selected to be honored.
“I think it will be a really unique and wonderful experience," Goralnick said. "It’s just a privilege to represent teams across health care.”