By Jean Cann
Despite one of the strongest and deepest fields ever assembled for the push-rim wheelchair race, the weather provided the toughest competition at the 122nd Boston Marathon. The blustery headwind, bitter cold, and persistent rain stood in stark contrast to last year’s virtually perfect conditions when Marcel Hug and Manuela Schar won in world best times. Hug managed to defend his title in the men’s race this year in 1:46:26 for his fourth-straight Boston win, and Tatyana McFadden won her fifth title in six years in 2:04:39. Both clocked the slowest winning times since the 1980s in elements athletes described as “brutal,” “rough,” and “daunting.”
Just six women and 22 men finished, testament to the conditions. Some entrants chose not to start, and the conditions doused others hopes for a successful run. The most notable casualty of the day was Schar, who had led through 11 miles, but could not finish. Despite her drop out and McFadden’s win, Schar still maintains an insurmountable lead in the Abbott World Marathon Majors Series XI, which will conclude at the London Marathon on April 22. Hug extended his already unbeatable lead in the Series.
Hug, from Switzerland, and 10-time Boston champion Ernst van Dyk of South Africa, stayed together for most of the race. Hug started to pull away near the 20-mile mark and gained 20 seconds on van Dyk by the crest of the hills near Boston College. The defending champion continued to extend his lead all the way to Boylston Street, beating his experienced rival by 48 seconds. “That was the slowest, hardest marathon I have ever done,” said van Dyk. who took second in 1:47:14. “I was just so cold, I couldn’t keep my technique going. Everything was just locking up.”
Hug earned the win, but agreed with van Dyk about the conditions. “It was a difficult race, so tough. It was a challenge,” he said. “It was so cold, I was freezing all the time. I don’t know how I made it. It was so tough and I’m so glad I made it.”
Teenager Daniel Romanchuk of Illinois took third in 1:50:39. “I didn’t have too much of a strategy,” said Romanchuk, who finished 16th at Boston in his first appearance last year. “I just saw how things played out and figured out how to respond. I had a brand new chair that absolutely helped coast well, kept speed and was very predictable and firm going up the hills.”
Two-time Boston champion Masazumi Soejima from Japan took fourth in 1:54:16, nearly four minutes after Romanchuk, and just six seconds ahead of Ireland’s Patrick Monahan, who made his first Boston appearance. Canadian Josh Cassidy, the 2012 Boston Marathon champion and former course record holder, placed sixth.
Though he beat several past champions and has won his last several Boston Marathons, Hug doubted his own performance during the cold downpours. “I was just so glad that I finished the race, he said. “I didn’t realize that I had won the race. I just went as fast as possible. I just wanted to go home.”
Despite the difficult weather, McFadden savored her return to the victor’s podium after health issues over the last year. “This is probably one of the coldest and slowest Bostons I’ve ever done,” she said after her 22nd Abbott World Marathon Major. “I’m just really happy to be back and physically. This was a really good test.” From 2012 through 2016 McFadden held a streak of AbbottWMM wins, but treatment for multiple blood clots early last year hampered her training and Schar earned the win at most major races, including Boston, last year. The defending champion took a commanding lead early and passed 10K more then 30 seconds ahead of McFadden, who closed the gap to 19 seconds by 15K and passed her challenger near the 11-mile mark.
“I knew the conditions were going to be really, really tough,” said McFadden, who wore two coats on her thighs and hand warmers on her chest. “I just tried to stay mentally tough and just really relaxed and go the pace I knew I could go.”
The University of Illinois graduate who has become a Boston fan favorite said, “I love coming back to this community. I love the people that I’ve met along the way. Nothing’s impossible and I really like spreading that message. It’s always good to be back.”
Second-place Susannah Scaroni finished well behind her former Illinois teammate in 2:20:01, but earned her best finishing place at Boston after taking third three times. “I had a lot of hesitation going into the race, but so many people encouraged me and motivated me,” she said. “They told me I could do this and because of all the support, all of my friends and coach, I’m very grateful. I’m just thinking of everybody still out there. It was a pretty brutal day.”
Sandra Graf of Switzerland captured her fifth third place Boston finish in seven appearances. She covered the course in 2:26:32. “This race was cold and hard; indeed a daunting race. It was one of the slowest marathons for me,” said the athlete with a 1:42:13 Boston best. Like many of her fellow Boston competitors, Graf will compete at the London Marathon next week. “I can go home and hope to get two training runs and back,” she said. “They say it is better at home. Hopefully it is true and will result in a win.”