The 123rd Boston Marathon is taking place on Monday. Once again, the weather forecast is predicting a mix of cold temps, potentially heavy rain, and headwind, in what sounds ominously similar to last year’s hypothermia-inducing day of misery. While the brutal conditions in 2018 eliminated several pre-race favorites from contention, they also created an opportunity for veteran marathoner Des Linden, who, at age 34, persevered for the first major win of her career and, perhaps more importantly, a sense of validation.
“Now I’ve done the one thing I really wanted to do,” Linden said after her win last year.
Linden is back to defend her title in 2019, aiming to become the first repeat female champion since Kenya’s Catherine Ndereba in 2005. (2013 champion Rita Jeptoo’s win in 2014 was annulled after she tested positive for EPO later that year.) However, if the marathon gods are feeling particularly charitable (and, for some reason, pro-American) this year’s race could provide redemption for two other U.S. runners: Jordan Hasay and Dathan Ritzenhein.
On the eve of last year’s Boston Marathon, Hasay was one of the top contenders in a lineup that boasted arguably the strongest-ever field of American women. Although the then 26-year-old had only competed in two marathons prior, both of those races were very promising. In her first, at Boston 2017, Hasay finished third and set the U.S. record for fastest debut (2:23:00) by nearly three minutes. She followed up with another podium finish (3rd) at the Chicago Marathon later that year. In Chicago, Hasay kicked hard in the home straight to become the only American woman in history besides Deena Kastor to dip under 2:21, finishing in 2:20:57.
Two Marathon Majors. Two podium finishes. Two astoundingly quick times. In October 2017, it was enough for Letsrun to pronounce Hasay the number one American marathoner. (Though Shalane Flanagan was about to have something to say about that.)
That was where things stood when a last-minute MRI revealed a stress reaction in Hasay’s heel, forcing her to withdraw from Boston 2018 on the eve of the race. It was a bizarre, breaking news–type of announcement, especially since Hasay had attended the pre-race press conference seemingly ready to roll. Alas, Hasay’s Boston scratch foreshadowed another DNS later that year in Chicago; once again, her heel was an issue, as she had fractured her calcaneus.
“After training well and pain free for several months, I am heartbroken to have to withdraw,” Hasay posted on Instagram last September.
In short, after her meteoric rise to the top of U.S. marathoning in 2017, Hasay has been sidelined from her best event for over a year. In Boston, she will be looking to reassert herself as one of the top contenders for next year’s U.S. Olympic Trials.
It’s one thing to miss a year of competition when you’re a marathoner in your mid-20s. It’s quite another to miss four years in your mid-30s. That unenviable distinction goes to Dathan Ritzenhein, whose last marathon finish came in Boston in 2015 and who will be looking to buck a streak of DNFs (2016 Olympic Trials, 2016 NYC Marathon) and DNSs (Boston 2018) on Monday.
At 36, “Ritz” is almost a decade older than Hasay and, indeed, he belongs to an era in American distance running which, to be honest, has largely ended. A two-time high school national cross-country champion, Ritzenhein was part of the fabled class of 2001 (along with the since-retired runners Ryan Hall and Alan Webb) and ran his first marathon way back in 2006.
Unlike Hasay (and Hall, for that matter) who decided to focus on the marathon relatively early on, Ritzenhein was one of those rare runners who successfully moved back and forth between road and track. After running 2:10:00 on the nose in the 2009 London Marathon, Ritz ran a personal best of 12:56:27 in the 5,000-meters that same year. To put that in context, in 2019, there is one American man who is capable of running 2:10 in the marathon, and one American man who is capable of running under thirteen in the 5K, and they are not the same person.
But 2009 is already a little while back. Although Ritzenhein has shown flashes of potential in recent years, including, most notably, the time he finished eight seconds behind four-time Olympic champ Mo Farah in 2016 Great North Run, the chances of him being in the mix for the win feel remote.
Which isn’t to say it’s impossible. It’s safe to say that very few people gave Des Linden a chance to win the Boston Marathon last year and look what transpired. That’s what makes an unpredictable event like the marathon so fascinating to watch—especially an unpaced, championship-style race like Boston. Add in some freakish weather, and who knows?
Of course, no matter what the conditions are on Monday, Hasay and Ritzenhein are still long shots. (If Ritz ends up breaking the tape it would arguably be an even bigger shock than last year’s crazy upset by Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi.) But it’s hardly a victory or failure kind of situation. At present, both runners are looking to make the U.S. Olympic team in 2020 and a top-ten finish on Monday would at least guarantee that they have the increasingly elusive Olympic standard. On a more fundamental level, given both athletes’ recent injuries, just getting to race again is a minor triumph in and of itself.
“I don’t know what success on the day of is,” Ritzenhein recently told Letsrun. “But I’m just excited for the gun going off.”