Boston Marathon

The top 10 moments from a one-of-a-kind 2021 Boston Marathon

"Running down Boylston meant more today than it ever has before."

Benson Kipruto of Kenya reacts as he crosses the finish line Monday to win the 125th Boston Marathon. Maddie Malhotra / Getty Images

Boston is back.

Nine hundred and ten days after the last Boston Marathon, runners returned to the 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton to Boston for the first time Monday. And while there was much that felt familiar about the celebratory race, the 125th Boston Marathon — postponed from April due to the COVID-19 pandemic — was an undeniably unique event.

Amber fall foliage replaced the traditional daffodils. Disposable masks littered the starting line. And runners had to disclose their vaccination status to get on the buses, which rolled into Hopkinton in distinct shifts instead of all together.

And yet, the same marathon spirit persisted throughout.

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“The vibe here in the Back Bay for the last few days has just been surging,” Boston Athletic Association CEO Tom Grilk said during the WBZ race broadcast. “It is such fun.”

Here are the top highlights:

1. A ‘stupid’ $50,000 mistake

Marcel Hug reclaimed glory in his return Monday, finishing first in the men’s wheelchair division, the fifth time he’s done so. However, the win did not come without some disappointment.

On pace to potentially break his own course record, Hug missed one of course’s few — and most famous — turns: the right on Hereford Street before the final left onto Boylston.

The 35-year-old Swiss Paraylympian quickly corrected his mistake, but it was already too late. He ended up crossing the finish line, shaking his head, with a time of 1:18:11 — missing his 1:18:04 course world record and the additional $50,000 prize that would have come with it by seven seconds.

“I’m really upset with myself,” Hug told WBZ after the race, calling the missed turn a “stupid mistake” as he was pushing hard to break the record.

Hug does still get $25,000 for coming in first. And the missed turn didn’t completely damper his mood.

“It’s amazing to be back here in Boston,” Hug said. “It feels so great. I really enjoy the atmosphere. The crowd was fantastic.”

2. “I don’t know why I thought this was a good idea”

It was a Swiss sweep in the wheelchair division, with Manuela Schär defending her 2019 title against five-time champion Tatyanna McFadden on the women’s side.

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And like Hug, Schär had room to spare. She finished the course in 1:35:21, almost exactly 15 minutes ahead of McFadden, who came in second.

But as even Schär admitted, she may have had somewhat of an advantage, given that McFadden had competed in — and won — the Chicago Marathon on Sunday.

“I didn’t do that,” Schär said after the race. “I decided to focus on Boston, and I think it gave me a little more energy that I needed today.”

Schär, who has now won Boston three times, guessed that McFadden may have been “a bit tired.”

Indeed, she was.

“I don’t know why I thought this was a good idea,” the American joked after the race. “52.4 miles in 24 hours. But I felt Boston Strong today, the energy was just incredible throughout the whole course … I’ll come back and win this race again.”

McFadden said she had never participated in two marathons in consecutive days before.

“I thought, ‘What the heck, sign me up for all of them. This is gonna be awesome,'” she said. “I’m in pain. My back really hurts. But I’m so glad I did it.”

3. The world’s ‘best downhill runner’ has a surprisingly long moment in the spotlight

Self-proclaimed the “best downhill runner in the world,” C.J. Albertson, a little-known community college cross country runner from California, seized the lead early during the race Monday and held onto it longer than maybe even he expected.

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“I didn’t realize how much downhill there actually was,” Alberston said.

The 28-year-old, who was also celebrating his birthday Monday, led the pack of elite runners by more than two minutes for some points during the race. His lead was so big that the eventual men’s winner admitted that he wasn’t even aware that Alberston, a first-time Boston runner, was ahead of them.

It wouldn’t last.

CJ Albertson, of Fresno, Calif., leads a group of elite men in the 125th Boston Marathon.

The pack did eventually catch up to Albertson and pass him a little after mile 20 at Heartbreak Hill. As much as downhills are the Fresno native’s thing, uphills are not.

“I’m not great at those,” he said after the race.

Albertson did however stay close enough to catch up with the pack and finish 10th in the men’s division, earning himself $5,500 in prize money.

Not a bad birthday gift.

4. Benson Kipruto makes his move

For most of the race, running behind Albertson, a group of around 15 elite runners stayed together, pacing themselves in typical strategic fashion. Even after passing Alberston, they held in a pack — so long that the broadcast announcers remarked that they had never seen such a large group so late in the race.

And then Benson Kipruto took off.

Breaking away from the pack, the 30-year-old Kenyan built a 46-second lead over the last few miles of the race, running the 23rd and 24th miles in stunning 4:29 and 4:25 times, respectively (for reference, the world’s fastest mile is 3:43).

He coasted through the finish line with a time of 2:09:51. It was Kipruto’s first major marathon victory. He was joined atop the podium by fellow Kenyan and women’s division runner Diana Kipyogei, who held off 2017 Boston champion Edna Kiplagat by 24 seconds with a time of 2:24:45.

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Both Kipruto and Kipyogei said after the race that they plan to return and defend their titles at the 126th Boston Marathon in April.

5. Massachusetts native takes the American crown in his Boston debut

Colin Bennie “really couldn’t imagine” a better debut at the Boston Marathon.

And he had imagined it a lot.

The 26-year-old Princeton native grew up roughly 30 miles from the Hopkinton starting line and watched his brothers complete a dozen marathons while he was in high school. Although they never had a finish like he did Monday.

In his first Boston Marathon, Bennie, who now lives in Virginia, finished seventh and was the first American to cross the finish line in the open men’s division.

“It means the world to me,” he said. “It’s my first major marathon. I ran the Olympic trials, which was a big one. But to actually have it be a major and to have the first one be Boston is spectacular.”

6. Boston resident hopes his inaugural win sets an example for others with disabilities

While the race Monday was the 125th running of the Boston Marathon, it was the first time ever that race organizers recognized and awarded prize money to the first para-athletes to run across the finish line.

And one of the inaugural medals was taken by another Massachusetts native: Chaz Davis.

Davis, a legally blind Grafton native who now lives in Brighton, won the vision impairment division with a time of 2:46:52. Vision wasn’t his only impairment Monday, either.

Davis told WBZ after that he had rolled a previously injured ankle early in the race, but kept running in the hopes of inspiring others with disabilities.

“I was in such immense pain that I thought about just stopping right there,” he said. “But number one, it’s Boston. And number two, I wanted to set an example for everyone else out there who might think people with disabilities can’t do it.”

7. Des Linden thanks Boston for helping her through the ‘suffer-fest’

As much as her 2018 win came in conditions that would at a minimum be described as challenging, Des Linden said the race Monday was the real “suffer-fest.”

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But in a post-race interview, Linden said the crowd still helped carry her through a less-than-ideal race.

“Total suffer-fest — on the body, on the legs, on the mind,” Linden told WBZ. “After [mile] 13, I wanted to step off a thousand times. But there was just too much energy on the course, and it got me through every single mile.

With a time of 2:35:25, her 17th place finish in near-perfect running weather was two minutes slower than her 2018 win, which was run through a drenching rain, biting wind, and historically cold temperatures.

“I’ve been loved by Boston at my best, and now I’ve been loved by them at my worst,” Linden said. “It’s a great place to run.”

8. A CNN reporter dedicates each mile to those with pediatric cancer

CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski ran the marathon Monday in honor of his late daughter Francesca — and so many others.

Kaczynski, the 31-year-old founder of the network’s KFile investigative unit, raised more than $1.3 million to support the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s infant brain tumor program, after Francesca passed away last Christmas Eve at the age of just 9 months from a rare and aggressive brain tumor.

And as part of his and his wife’s efforts to raise aware awareness, Kaczynski decided to run the marathon and dedicate each mile to a child who has battled cancer.

Kaczynski, who has more than 435,000 followers on Twitter, recently told Boston.com that he got more than 200 submissions when he asked for the stories that he could share of children who had fought cancer. He also printed their names on the back of his shirt.

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“There’s another kid, or another parent, or another family who gets the terrible diagnosis, and their life is just shattered forever when that happens,” he said. “It absolutely is shattered. And not everyone’s story gets to be told the same way Francesca’s was.”

Fransesca, whose nickname gave birth to the Team Beans fundraising effort, did however get a shoutout from her dad once he reached Boylston Street.

9. Steve Burton gives his daughter her first Boston Marathon medal

WBZ sports reporter Steve Burton has been a longtime presence at the Boston Marathon finish line, but Monday’s race was a first for his daughter.

Kayla Burton, former college basketball player and sports anchor herself, joined her dad on the live TV broadcast after finishing in under 4:30.

After some friendly family banter, Burton gave his daughter her gold finisher’s medal live on air, along with more teasing.

“I’m too out of breath right now to fight him back,” she joked in response.

10. Shalane Flanagan on Boston: “I have NEVER loved it more than I did this morning”

Shalane Flanagan retired from professional running in 2019. But the 40-year-old Marblehead native returned to running marathons this year — and is enjoying it more than ever.

Flanagan took to the road Monday in the midst of trying to complete all six World Marathon Majors in less than three hours over the course of just 43 days, a unique possibility due to pandemic-induced postponements. And similar to McFadden, she ran Boston just a day after running the Chicago Marathon on Sunday.

She also ran it faster.

After completing the race in Chicago in 2:46:39, Flanagan crossed the finish line in Boston in 2:40:34. In an Instagram post after the race, Flanagan wrote that Monday was her favorite marathon yet.

“I f4%king love you Boston,” she wrote. “I grew up here. I’ve run the Boston Marathon five times. But I have NEVER loved it more than I did this morning. Today was my best Boston, by far.”

Flanagan wrote that she was “a little nervous” after running Chicago just 24 hours before.

“I was in foreign territory and had no idea how my body was going to react,” she said. “If we’re being honest, I was prepared to implode.”

But midway through the race, Flanagan said she turned to her running partner and remarked that she felt better than Sunday, in part due to the crowd support.

“Running down Boylston meant more today than it ever has before,” she said. “Today gave me the confidence to know deeply and truly that I can accomplish this goal. My body is going to let me do something that’s never been done before…and it feels so good to have that realization at home. 6 marathons, in under 3 hours, feels so close I can taste it. Four down, two to go.

Flanagan added, “Thank you so much for the love out there today.”

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