Chepngetich wins 2021 Chicago Marathon


Chepngetich wins 2021 Chicago Marathon
Kenya's Ruth Chepngetich reacts after winning Chicago Marathon. [Photo / Courtesy]

In Summary

  • She blasted off at world record pace, dropping her male pacer by around mile 8.5. But by mile 10, she'd slowed dramatically. Still—despite running much of the race alone and clocking a 5:53 mile between miles 23 to 24—she’d banked enough of a lead to hang on for the victory, crossing the line in 2:22:31,

After dropping out of the Olympic Marathon in August due to an injury, Kenya’s Ruth Chepngetich, 27, came to the Chicago Marathon eager for a victory.

She blasted off at world record pace, dropping her male pacer by around mile 8.5. But by mile 10, she’d slowed dramatically. Still—despite running much of the race alone and clocking a 5:53 mile between miles 23 to 24—she’d banked enough of a lead to hang on for the victory, crossing the line in 2:22:31,

“This is my first time in the United States, and I have to say I’m so excited and I’m happy for the win today,” she said afterward. “The race was good, it was nice, but it was tough. To push alone is not easy.”

American Emma Bates, 29, finished second in 2:24:20—a personal best by more than a minute. Sara Hall finished third in 2:27:19, and Keira D’Amato, 36, wasn’t far behind her, placing fourth in 2:28:22.

Bates ran a far more conservative race than Chepngetich, hitting the halfway point in 1:12:27—in sixth place and a full five minutes behind the reigning world champion. At that point, she said, she began to feel nervous, unsure of how far ahead her competitors were. Despite cramps that had begun in her hamstrings and quads around mile 10, she began picking up the pace, covering the ground between 30 and 35K in 16:59—5:28 pace.

“I caught up to Keira and the pacer that was pacing for 2:24,” she said. “Then I started seeing women ahead of me and that just spurred me along so much, gave me that boost of energy.” The roar of the spectators, too, lifted her mood, she said. Indeed, cheering crowds lined the streets of the Windy City, excited to witness the first major marathon held in the United States since the COVID pandemic began.

By 35Km, Bates had passed Hall, then Kenya’s Vivian Kiplagat, 29, who’d spent much of the race running in second. (Kiplagat eventually faded to finish fifth in 2:29:14). Bates finished the second half of the race in 1:11:53—faster than any other runner by far. “It was definitely the hardest race I’ve ever ran but to be able to not only podium but PR today was incredible,” she said. “It was very unexpected and I couldn’t be happier.”

Hot, humid conditions—72 degrees and 70 percent humidity at the start—slowed times and meant Hall’s stated attempt to challenge Deena Kastor’s American marathon record had little chance of success.

Hall had adjusted her goal, hitting the halfway point in 1:11:37, rather than the 1:09:40 she’d have needed to break the record. It felt “comfortable-ish,” she said, until the humidity began taking its toll. “I thought I could hold that pace, but it just kind of got exponentially harder as the race went on after halfway,” she said.

The race represents a significant breakthrough for Bates, who burst onto the scene by winning the 2018 USATF Marathon Championships in Sacramento in 2:28:19. In December, she ran 2:25:40 at the Marathon Project in Chandler, Arizona. In April, she began training with Joe Bosshard’s group in Boulder, Colorado. Her teammates include Olympians Emma Coburn and Cory McGee—and all of them came out to cheer her on today, she said.

Hall spent some time training with Coburn and some of the other members of the group during higher-altitude stints in Crested Butte, Colorado

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