The 2008 Chicago Marathon champions are Evans Cheruiyot and Lidiya Grigoryeva. In two very different races, the Kenyan and Russian triumphed in times of 2:06:25 and 2:27:17, respectively.
For Cheruiyot, it is the first major marathon win of a career that promises to deliver great performances. For Grigoryeva, it’s the latest in a series of big wins that includes the Boston Marathon in 2007, Los Angeles and the Paris Marathon.
Below is our report from both races, and splits from the men’s race.
Men’s race report
The early pace was fast and consistent – sub 3 minute kilometers pretty much from the gun, all the way to halfway, and remarkably, a relatively strong field had been strung out to three by the half-way mark. The temperatures were relatively high – not quite Beijing-like, but then the depth of the field was not the same either. What the commentators failed to mention was that the humidity was quite low in Chicago, which is the big difference from Beijing.
The pace-makers were not up to the job – they were gone within 17 km, and it was Emmanuel Mutai of Kenya, one of the pre-race favourites and a 2:06:15 runner in London earlier this year, driving the pace. The shots from the bike along the route showed very clearly just how aggressive the front running was – it was as though the top Kenyans have all adopted the Sammy Wanjiru-Martin Lel tactics from Beijing – drive as hard as possible at the front, and see who survives!
Evans Cheruiyot was always going to be the biggest danger – the fastest half marathon runner in the field, and we are very firm believers that the short distance speed is THE big predictor of marathon performance. He came third at the world half marathon championships in 2007, running 59:05, and has subsequently run 59-minutes twice, which is a sign of things to come.
The halfway mark was reached in 62:27, which is incredible given that it was being driven by only Mutai, and not the pacemakers. About 25 km into the race, Cheruiyot moved into the lead, running side by side with David Mandago, who was the big surprise package in the race. Mutai was first to go off the back, a gap of 10m created at the 27km mark. That left Cheruiyot and Mandago to slug it out over the final 15km.
The pace was slowing ever so slightly, projecting a finish of 2:05:20 by the 30km mark. The mile pace from 32km to 38km was consistently around 4:50 (or 3:00/km). At 35km, Mandago surged on what must Chicago’s steepest hill – a bridge over a highway, and Cheruiyot was momentarily gapped, but held on about 2 strides back. Mandago then surged again, and the gap was 4 strides, Cheruiyot on the ropes but still on his feet.
The knock-out blow did not come, and Cheruiyot was to recover and return to Mandago’s shoulder with about 5km to go. Then with 3km to go, Cheruiyot delivered the knock-out blow, opening up a lead of 50m in quick time. Mandago’s effort had expired, and it was the faster half-marathon runner who was finally clear and on his way to a relatively unchallenged win over the final 2km. At almost exactly the same time, the women’s race saw its decisive move (see report below), which meant that last year’s dramatic sprint finishes would not be repeated this year.
Cheruiyot went on to finish in 2:06:25, a huge PB and an “arrival” on the major marathon circuit and surely the start of a great marathon career, given his half marathon credentials. He vindicates the confidence shown in him by the Letsrun.com guys, who picked him to win this race. Second went to Mandago, a great run for him just over one minute back, and third was taken by Timothy Cherigat in 2:11:39.
Below are the splits from the men’s race, showing just how aggressive the early pace was, particularly the section from 15km to 20km. However, it also shows the attrition in the second half, where the pace just got slower and slower towards the end.
The women’s race took on a pretty similar feel to the Beijing Olympic Marathon. The early pace was very slow, projecting a 2:34 time, and the group was understandably large. No one was really forcing the pace, though the Olympic champ Constantina Tomescu Dita was showing at the front quite consistently. She was just there, however, not really doing anything to the pace. The first 10km was super slow, it picked up a little in the next 10 and the halfway mark was reached in 1:16:04.
Just after halfway, the race was suddenly shaken up, just as it was in Beijing, though on this occasion it was not Dita, but two Russians, Lydiya Grigoriyeva and Alevtina Biktimirova, and an Ethiopian, Bezunesh Bekele, the Letsrun.com pick as race winner, hanging on about 3 strides back, who made the move forward.
Then, somewhat surprisingly, Bekele dropped off, which meant that Grigoryeva and Biktimirova, two almost unmentioned runners in the previews, had the streets of Chicago to themselves. Biktimirova was second in Boston earlier this year, beaten in that fantastic sprint with Dire Tune of Ethiopia.
Grigoryeva and Biktimirova are apparently the best of enemies, and live and train in the same town but don’t speak to one another. So the race had something of a “personality” to it, and Biktimirova was doing the work out in front, though gesturing to Grigoryeva to give her some assistance. It was very surprising that they were able to create such a large gap so quickly. The rest of a relatively strong field was almost instantly blown away, and I was amazed at how the race was transformed into a two-woman show so rapidly.
Grigoryeva eventually took control, using her pedigreed speed to move into the lead and then open up a large gap at about the 32 km mark. The remainder of the race was something of a procession, the biggest surprise being the size of the time gaps and the relative “ease” of the victory.
For Biktimirova, the final results will have a feel of deja vu about them. In Boston earlier this year, she came second, and the men’s race was won by a Cheruiyot – on that occasion, it was Robert Cheruiyot, one of the stars of the marathon running world. Today, the men’s race was won by a future star of the marathon world in Evans Cheruiyot.
The weather – last word
It was another relatively warm day in Chicago. Not as bad as last year, but it’s not Berlin, that’s for sure. The temperatures on the start line were being reported as 60F, or about 16 Celsius, and peaked in the 80s (25 Celsius) by the time the elite men finished. If you’re reading that and thinking “big deal”, then we’re right there with you – it’s not that bad. But because of last year’s dramatic events in Chicago, and because the public in the USA have been led to believe that marathon running should be easy, everyone was on high alert.
The commentators were very poor regarding the heat – they kept going on about the “very similar conditions” between Beijing and Chicago, when in fact the stats will reveal quite a different picture – Jonathan will provide those in due course. However, the point is that Chicago was SLIGHTLY warm, but most marathons here in SA would give anything for such good race conditions. Same for Kenya, where the conditions in Chicago might be described as perfect for running. There is something wrong with the perceptions of running and the heat in the USA, the “experts” really have no idea about it.
Drink early, drink often, was a mantra repeated many times by the commentators, as though that helps more than just drinking to thirst…you’d have thought these guys were running in the Sahara desert with humidities of the Amazon jungle. Beijing was worse, and Sammy Wanjiru should have made us all sit up and rethink our understanding of how the heat impacts racing strategy after his 2:06:32 win, but alas, more of the same from the “experts”! It didn’t affect the elites too badly, however, though the times were perhaps a minute or slower than might have been expected with perfect race conditions.
However, for more detail, there’s no one better in the world than Jonathan to comment, since he was right there, in the medical tent, doing a research study specifically to examine the changes in conditions on the course. So our post-race analysis will focus more on that – join us for posts and insights from the tent later in this week!