If Meb can conquer his recent fueling issues and if he can overcome a poor result at the NYC Half, his marathon savvy could put him in the hunt for a top-five spot in his final Boston. But that’s a lot of qualifiers for a guy who will turn 42 next month. A finish in the 7-10 range is more likely.
Jared Ward — 28 years old, 2:11:30 pb (2016 Olympics), 61:42 half Recent marathons: 3rd 2016 Olympic Trials (2:13:00), 6th 2016 Olympics (2:11:30) Prep race: 63:14 for 14th at NYC Half on March 19
Ward has been one of the U.S.’s best road runners ever since exhausting his eligibility at Brigham Young in 2014, but he really blossomed into a star in 2016, first by taking third at the Olympic Trials in Los Angeles and then by exceeding all expectations and taking sixth in the Olympics in Rio. Now he’s running Boston for the first time.
Ward’s buildup has been a little different from the one he conducted prior to the Olympics. Before Rio, Ward was crushing his workouts, but he was dinged up. Though he made it through the race okay, he had to take a month and a half off to get back to full health. Add in the tough winter he endured in Utah, and his workouts haven’t been quite as fast as they were last year. But the tradeoff is that Ward will toe the line in Boston feeling better than he did at the Olympics.
“I think he went into his buildup for Rio a little more fit than he went into his buildup for Boston,” said Ward’s coach Ed Eyestone , himself a two-time Olympic marathoner. “But having said that, I think he’s healthier going into the starting line of Boston than he was Rio.”
Ward is a pure strength guy, which Eyestone believes will help on the challenging Boston course. His 10,000 pb of 28:36 isn’t fast for an athlete who just finished sixth at the Olympics. But he’s a beast when it comes to long runs. Ward averaged between 105 and 115 miles per week for this buildup (almost always in six days), and during that buildup one of his key repeated workouts was a 25-mile long run at 5:45 pace (including four to six miles at marathon pace — 4:45 to 4:50). Eyestone said Ward ran that workout just about every other week for a 10-to-12-week segment (he’d do 20 miles on the “off” weeks). Add in Ward’s ability to make smart in-race decisions (remember, this is a guy who wrote his thesis on optimal marathon pacing strategy), and he should be able to handle whatever is thrown his way on Marathon Monday.
“Sometimes great plans, once the gun is fired, you just fly by the seat of your pants and you have to respond and whatnot,” Eyestone said. “He’s one of the best athletes that I’ve seen to, once the gun does go off, to be able to work his race plan to perfection.”
Ward’s tuneup race of 63:14 didn’t turn any heads, but Eyestone said that the result was fine as Ward was just looking to get through the race in one piece rather than running all-out for a PR. As for a goal, Ward and Eyestone will sit down this week and come up with two: a main goal, and a stretch goal. Before Rio, the main goal was top 10, with the stretch goal top six. Ward accomplished both. We’ll talk to Ward on Friday to see what they decided on, but anything in the top five would be a very good day for Ward; it’s not hard to imagine him dropping back during the hills only to reel in some stragglers up front over the final miles.
Abdi Abdirahman — 40 years old, 2:08:56 pb (2006 Chicago), 60:29 half Recent marathons: 3rd 2016 New York (2:11:23) Prep race: 63:22 for 15th at NYC Half on March 19
Abdi surprised everyone last year by taking third in New York at age 39 in his first marathon for two and a half years. While Abdi undoubtedly benefited from a shallow professional men’s field, 2:11 on New York is a strong performance no matter what, particularly for a guy who hadn’t done much of note on the international racing scene for a few years. The question now is whether Abdi can build on that result as he runs his second career Boston Marathon. His first go-round in 2014 was a failure (15th in 2:16), but as long as Abdi has been able to stay healthy since New York (the biggest issue for any runner in his 40s), he should do a lot better than that on Monday.
Luke Puskedra — 27 years old, 2:10:24 pb (2015 Chicago), 61:29 half Recent marathons: 4th 2016 Olympic Trials (2:14:12), 19th 2016 Chicago (2:20:18) Prep races: 44:46 for 12th at Gate River Run 15K on March 11; 47:57 for 13th at Cherry Blossom 10-Miler on April 2
Puskedra’s four career marathons have been hit-or-miss. The good: 2:10 for fifth in Chicago in 2015, good for the fastest American time of the year, and 2:14 for fourth at the Olympic Trials last year. The bad: 2:28 for 36th in his debut in New York in 2014 and 2:20 for 19th in Chicago last year. If “Good Luke” shows up in Boston, he could contend for a top-seven finish. If “Bad Luke” shows up…well, a blowup in Boston is a lot worse than a blowup in Chicago.
Before each of his good marathons, Puskedra has run quick in his tuneup races, which isn’t a great sign for Boston. His 63:14 at the Houston Half in January was his slowest in five appearances at the race, and his other results (12th at US 15K Champs, 13th at Cherry Blossom) weren’t terrific, either. Puskedra may also have a bruised ego after falling apart over the final 10 kilometers in Chicago last year. Of course, last year was a stressful one for Puskedra — just days after he missed the Olympic team, his daughter Penelope was diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully Penelope is healthy now, which means Puskedra can give running his full attention once again.
Puskedra is certainly talented, but this is a deep field and a tough race to master. He has his work cut out for him in Boston.
Shadrack Biwott — 32 years old, 2:12:01 pb (2016 New York), 61:25 half Recent marathons: 7th 2016 Olympic Trials (2:15:23), 5th 2016 New York (2:12:01) Prep race: 63:52 for 17th at NYC Half on March 19
Biwott is the poster boy for the harsh reality of professional running. 2016 was the best year of Biwott’s career — a seventh-place finish at the Olympic Marathon Trials, followed by his best finish ever in a major (in a personal best to boot) in New York — yet he was dropped by sponsor Asics. Unfortunately for Biwott, contracts are handed out on potential, not past performance, and there’s not a huge market for 32-year-old 2:12 marathoners at the start of a new Olympic cycle.
Sponsorship issues aside, Biwott was terrific last year and success at the Olympic Trials and New York suggests he should handle Boston just fine. He was behind both Ward and Abdi at the NYC Half (but ahead of Meb) and with a strong field in front of him, it will be tough for Biwott to crack the top 10 overall. But if he runs like he did last year and a few of the top guns struggle, it’s possible.
Sean Quigley — 32 years old, 2:13:30 pb (2014 Fukuoka), 62:46 half Recent marathon: 9th 2016 Olympic Trials (2:15:52) Prep race: 20th at Gate River Run 15K in 45:33 on March 11
The La Salle grad is 32 years old now, and though he was only 29 seconds behind Biwott at the Olympic Trials, his results since then haven’t been as good as Biwott’s — Quigley only ran 65:07 at the Houston Half Marathon in January. Quigley is a fine runner, but he’s over his head against this field. 2017 boston us men Who will be the top American at the 2017 Boston Marathon? Galen Rupp