Shortly after cresting Heartbreak Hill with the women's lead pack long reduced to three runners, Lidiya Grigoryeva believed she "had the power to win the race." The Russian proved exactly that, separating herself from Jelena Prokopcuka and Madai Perez as the trio approached Kenmore Square.
Looking back twice to check her lead, Grigoryeva finished comfortably ahead in 2 hours 29 minutes 18 seconds to win the women's title at yesterday's 111th Boston Marathon and earn the $100,000 top prize in a race slowed dramatically by the remnants of a northeaster.
Just strides from the finish line, Grigoryeva veered slightly to her right and plucked a Russian flag from the crowd. With the flag clasped in her right hand and a grateful glance skyward, Grigoryeva crossed the line. So elated by her victory was the patriotic Grigoryeva that she did not even notice when the former Russian national anthem was mistakenly played in her honor.
It was her third victory in a big city marathon, following Los Angeles in March 2006 and Paris in April 2005.
Prokopcuka finished second (2:29:58) for the second consecutive year and Perez toughed it out for third (2:30:16). Defending women's champion Rita Jeptoo placed fourth in 2:33:08.
Deena Kastor led the American women's contingent with a fifth-place finish (2:35:09), slowed by stomach cramps and a restroom stop near the 14-mile mark in addition to the wind and rain.
With winds coming from the east at 30 miles per hour during the first hour, then from the southeast at 22 m.p.h. for the rest of the race, it was the slowest women's time since American Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach ran 2:34:06 in 1985.
"I prepared for a faster race and time," said Grigoryeva through a translator, "but with the weather conditions, I had to make changes.
"The leading group of about eight people started slow, but I decided to stay behind them and go through the pace. In the last half of the race, I felt very strong and confident in my ability to win the race."
Once the lead pack established itself, the women jockeyed for position. Against the headwind, no one was eager to take the lead, often leaving Prokopcuka and Jeptoo reluctant front-runners as the race progressed through Framingham and Natick. Kastor wisely kept tucked into the middle of the pack as the pace per mile dragged to six-plus minutes at the half-marathon mark.
With Prokopcuka in front, the top women passed the halfway point in 1:17:10 and a few minutes later started shedding clothing -- arm warmers, long-sleeve T-shirts, hats, gloves. At the same time, the pack dwindled to six as Kastor and Giovanna Volpato fell off the pace. Kastor was five seconds behind by the 14-mile mark, then trailed the top group by 43 seconds a mile and a half later.
"I just had a really bad day out there," said Kastor, who estimated she dropped to eighth or ninth place after the stop. "There was a lot of toying around with fast and slow paces. The pace was very pedestrian, so I was comfortable with that but my strength is going out and making a steady tempo run out of a race."
Grigoryeva, Prokopcuka, and Perez then put distance between themselves and the rest of the elite women, dropping Jeptoo around the 18-mile mark. Often running side-by-side into a headwind and around puddles, the three were together up Heartbreak Hill and down toward Cleveland Circle.
"The most important part was Breakheart Hill," said Prokopcuka in charmingly fractured English. "After that part, the last 7K, I knew the wind would be very strong in face. When your legs haven't enough strength, unbelievably hard."
That was especially true since Prokopcuka came down with the flu a month before the marathon and could not train exactly as she planned. She grimaced slightly as the pack made its way up Heartbreak Hill, likely a combination of both the conditions and her conditioning.
After Heartbreak Hill, Perez tried to separate herself from Grigoryeva and Prokopcuka, with no success. The group remained intact until Grigoryeva pushed ahead before the 25-mile mark, using a 5:10 -- the fastest mile split to that point -- to create separation. Neither Prokopcuka nor Perez could keep contact with Grigoryeva as she gathered momentum and lengthened the gap. The Russian, who trains at altitude in Cheboksary and Kislovodsk , knew her 10,000-meter experience would help her summon finishing speed.
"During my training in Russia, the weather conditions were very similar," said Grigoryeva. "I am not surprised. I did a lot of long runs during cold, windy weather.
"The weather was different than expected, but not a factor. I had confidence in myself. The first time, I turned around to see I had a gap. The second time, I turned around and the gap was still the same."
Down the final stretch, Grigoryeva battled only the wind.