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April 13, 2018

It’s Finally Here: The Marathon Matchup We’ve All Been Waiting For

Our Boston Marathon coverage is sponsored by Mercury Mile. Use code Citius10 for $10 off your purchase. 

I was sitting in a coffee shop while on vacation in New York City when the U.S. fields for the 2018 Boston Marathon dropped. They were so good that I messaged the CITIUS MAG blog bosses that I had to write about it.

Why the excitement? Because the U.S. women’s field for Boston includes nearly every major contender for the 2020 U.S. Olympic marathon team at this point: Shalane Flanagan, Molly Huddle, Jordan Hasay and Desi Linden. Short of the Olympic Marathon Trials themselves two years from now, this is the best we’re going to get.

Editor’s note: Amy Cragg, seemingly the only big name who won’t be on the Boston start line, killed it in Tokyo with a personal best of 2:21:42, making her the fifth-fastest American in history.

The hype hasn’t tamped down since then.

Molly Huddle has continued her Molly Huddle-level of dominance with an American record half marathon in Houston (her time of 67:25 shaved nine seconds off the previous mark held by Deena Kastor) and a resounding 50 second win over Jordan Hasay at the Gate River 15k. Her prospects are looking pretty good.

Coming off her historic New York City win last fall, Flanagan opted to drop down in distance with two 3,000 meter track races in January. The faster of those performances was a 8:43.28 effort and that’s just eight seconds off her outdoor personal best set 11 years ago. Not bad for a 36 year old with tens of thousands of marathon training miles in her legs.

Hasay has run well, too, finishing a spot behind Huddle at both the Houston Half Marathon and Gate River. However, a tight plantar forced Hasay out of the World Half Marathon Champs in late March, a move her agent cited as “more precautionary with Boston so close.” Plantar injuries can be pesky, so even if the withdrawal was precautionary, it’s something to keep an eye on.

Linden has had a slower start to 2018 with two January cross country race and an eighth place finish at the NYC Half. What she may lack in recent sharpness, Linden more than makes up for with her experience in Boston with three career top-four finishes in Beantown, including fourth in 2017.

Can any in this stellar group of runners break through and become the first American woman to win Boston since Lisa Rainsberger in 1985?

Even with considerable momentum at their backs, it will be a tall task. The international competition, mostly coming from East Africa, is as strong if not stronger than it’s been in years past.

Edna Kiplagat is not just the defending Boston champion but has an extensive resume as a two-time two-time world champion and three-time marathon major winner. Aselefech Mergia has the fastest PR in the field (2:19:31) and is a three-time Dubai Marathon champion. Buzunesh Deba holds the Boston course record of 2:19:59 from her win in 2014. Mamitu Daska was third in New York City last year behind Flanagan and Mary Keitany.

As you can see, the U.S. women have a considerable task ahead of them.

Can one of them win and break the 33 year drought? Absolutely. Will it be easy? No way.

But what they do have on their side is the deep sense of competition among each other. That’s not to say Flanagan doesn’t want to beat Kiplagat, but I’ll bet she really doesn’t want to hand the crown of U.S. marathoning supremacy over to Huddle or Hasay by losing to them.

That competitive spirit is what has driven American distance running to the heights it has reached in recent years, and it will only make Monday’s Boston Marathon an even more thrilling race to watch.

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