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115th Boston Marathon

Blistering feat

Mutai runs world’s fastest marathon

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By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / April 19, 2011

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Geoffrey Mutai needed to see for himself this life-altering patch of Massachusetts pavement that he’d grown up dreaming about. In keeping with his profession, he wasted little time.

Upon arriving in Boston last Tuesday, Mutai arranged to travel, by car, the marathon route that he’d finally get to run for the first time days later. Joined by his manager, Mutai hopped into a vehicle and embarked on a crash course, bringing to life the landmarks and images he’d burned into his memory through the years while cheering on his dominant countrymen from Kenya.

He felt the hills, saw the turns, visualized passing the Citgo sign, turning onto Boylston Street, and sprinting toward the tape, flanked by cheering fans.

When the ride was over, Mutai was left with one heartwarming thought.

“The course was so nice, it reminded me of where I was training [in Kenya],’’ Mutai said. “I’d been training on hills. I had it in my head that this course was so tough.’’

Considering his debut performance, Mutai might be hard-pressed to win that argument.

Never before had anyone covered the distance from Hopkinton to Boylston Street so quickly. Actually, nobody had covered any 26.2-mile marathon route so swiftly.

Mutai made history yesterday, winning the 115th Boston Marathon in a time of 2 hours 3 minutes 2 seconds, holding off fellow Kenyan Moses Mosop by four seconds in the fastest marathon ever recorded.

On a cool day made for distance running — helped by low humidity and a gentle tailwind the first half of the race — Mutai sliced nearly three minutes off the Boston course record, and shaved a staggering 57 seconds off what had been the best marathon time ever, Haile Gebrselassie’s 2:03:59 at the 2008 Berlin Marathon.

Because of the downhill elevation change in the Boston course, though, the time will not be recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations as a world record.

This was the second consecutive year that a course record was set, but the 2:05:52 run by Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot in 2010 wasn’t simply bettered. It was shattered.

“When you’re in good form and you get good weather, you can push it,’’ Mutai said. “Everybody was so strong.’’

A Kenyan won the men’s race for the 18th time in 21 years, but all anyone wanted to talk about afterward was the blistering pace.

“These guys obviously showed us what was possible,’’ said Ryan Hall, who took fourth in 2:04:58, the fastest marathon ever run by an American. “I was just blown away by the day. For me to be out there and run a time like that, I’ll remember it the rest of my life. It will go down as one of the best marathons ever run.

“I kept thinking the pace was going to slow. Well, it never slowed.’’

Hall was a big part of that, leading the initial pack of runners, which numbered a healthy dozen, for the first half of the race. He’d grab the lead, then fall back, then lead again. He was in front as late as Mile 18.

That’s when Mutai and Mosop made their moves, breaking from the pack and creating some separation as the race continued through Newton. Mutai was officially in front at the 25-kilometer mark and regained the lead as the race approached Mile 19. His time from Mile 19 to Mile 20 was 4:32, and he added to his lead up Heartbreak Hill, running by himself.

“When I’m alone, I know I’ll control my pace; when I’m with someone, I don’t know,’’ said Mutai, a 29-year-old who won the 2008 Monaco Marathon, twice won a smaller marathon in the Netherlands, then took second last year in Rotterdam.

Mosop, who had never run a marathon before, cut into the lead and caught Mutai by Mile 24, but couldn’t quite overtake him down the stretch.

“When I caught him, I thought I’d try my best, but I was feeling tired,’’ Mosop said. “I was thinking maybe 2:07 or 2:08. I was surprised to run 2:03.’’

Ethiopian Gebregziabher Gebremariam — also running Boston for the first time — finished third in 2:04:53. Kenyans took four of the first 10 spots, including Cheruiyot, who finished sixth (2:06:43) in his bid for back-to-back titles.

Though Mutai won’t be credited with a world record, marathon officials and race sponsor John Hancock honored his achievement, turning a good day into a very lucrative one. He earned $150,000 for the victory, and also pocketed $50,000 for breaking the world’s best time and $25,000 for eclipsing the course record.

Asked what he’d do with the $225,000, Mutai broke into a big smile.

“Thank you for that question,’’ he said, laughing. “I’m happy for this moment. I was not coming here to break the world record, but I really enjoyed my time here. I’ve never gone to a race and stayed that long of a time, almost a week.

“I always knew my future was here in Boston.’’

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com.

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