Erkesso holds her ground
Winner withstands Pushkareva’s push
With the finish line in sight, Ethiopian Teyba Erkesso kept glancing over her right shoulder. She was worried, uncertain. The nearly 90-second lead Erkesso held with 7 miles remaining dwindled to eight, seven, six seconds as she stiffly strode down Boylston Street. And Russian Tatyana Pushkareva continued to close the gap.
In the third-closest women’s finish in Boston Marathon history, Erkesso claimed the title yesterday in 2 hours, 26 minutes, 11 seconds, edging Pushkareva by three seconds. After crossing the line, Erkesso weakly lifted both arms in celebration, then vomited minutes later.
“When I was coming down the last meters, I heard a lot of noise,’’ said Erkesso through a translator. “If I didn’t look behind and see her coming closer, maybe she wins the race. After I saw her, I increased my speed.’’
The 27-year-old Erkesso knows the perils of close Boston finishes. Watching last year’s race back home in Addis Ababa, she saw Ethiopian training partner Dire Tune fall short by one second. The image of an exhausted Tune finishing second, then collapsing, left an impression on Erkesso.
During the final stretch of yesterday’s race, visions of Tune’s loss in a sprint flashed through Erkesso’s mind. She knew the Russians had strong finishing kicks. And she didn’t want an Ethiopian runner-up repeat.
“It came into my mind,’’ said Erkesso. “I was fighting hard to keep my chances alive. I didn’t want to lose the race like Dire.’’
Meanwhile, Pushkareva focused on catching Erkesso. Making the turn onto Boylston Street, she thought it was possible.
“I was hoping to catch her,’’ said Pushkareva. “The only thing I was thinking was how close I was getting to her. I saw only one runner in front and how close I was to her and the finish line. That was all I was thinking.’’
Salina Kosgei, the 2009 Boston champion who outsprinted Tune, finished yesterday in 2:28:35. This year, she outsprinted Ethiopian Waynishet Girma for third place. Still dealing with a knee injury, Kosgei was not in top form.
“I was not expecting to be in the top three this year,’’ said Kosgei. “I tried to keep up with Tatyana. I tried to close in on her, but she was stronger than me.
“I knew that I was not going to be able to catch up. I tried my best to push in the last few seconds. I was expecting to be fourth and was very happy to finish in third.’’
The 2009 sprint finish between Kosgei and Tune also helped shape Erkesso’s overall race strategy. She wanted a pace fast enough to tire other runners and limit their ability to produce strong finishing kicks.
Entering Wellesley Center, Ethiopians Erkesso, Tune, and Koren Yal separated themselves from the rest of the lead pack. Running a 5:17 mile, the trio opened a 150-yard advantage on the rest of the elite female runners. It remained a three-woman lead pack until the runners crossed over Route 9 and dropped Tune. Stomach pains slowed Tune, preventing her from keeping up with her fellow Ethiopians. She did not finish.
While Erkesso and Yal briefly appeared to work together, it wasn’t long before Erkesso took control. On the climb over Route 128 Erkesso decided to push the pace, quickly separating herself from Yal. Her mile time dropped from 5:23 to 5:06.
Passing Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Erkesso held a roughly 50-yard lead over Yal. By the time Erkesso hit the 30K mark just past the Newton Fire Station, she led by almost 80 seconds. And she would maintain her sizable advantage as she tackled the Newton hills.
Despite inefficient-looking side-to-side arm movement, Erkesso looked incredibly strong and confident on the toughest portions of the course, including Heartbreak Hill. She consistently clicked off miles slightly quicker than 5:30 as she ran through Newton alone. There was no one else in sight.
It was not a contest at that point. And it hadn’t been since she decided to make the race more honest.
“During training, I prepared very well,’’ said Erkesso, who won her second consecutive Houston Marathon in January with a personal-best 2:23:53. “I just wanted to push the pace. When I go too fast, everybody is left behind. Because of that, I kept pushing because I’m in good shape.
“My intention was to run my own race. I was not really trying to make a surge or break away, just trying to stick with my own racing plan. When I pushed the pace, nobody came with me and I just kept with my plan.’’
That plan, however, suffered a serious setback when Erkesso experienced stomach problems approaching Cleveland Circle. She discreetly reached down toward her painful left side and took deep breaths.
“I suffered acid reflux and I reduced my speed,’’ said Erkesso. “I tried to wait and see if I could recover. After I recovered, I tried to pick up my pace again. I knew that somebody might see me and pick up on this weakness.
“I was thinking about who was coming behind me. I knew the Russian was coming. From my experience, I knew the Russians have very, very good finishes to the marathon.’’
Erkesso was correct to fear a duel on city streets with Pushkareva. By the time the runners reached the Back Bay, the Russian was the stronger looking of the two, injecting suspense back into the race. Pushkareva left Erkesso no time to savor a victory stroll in front of screaming fans.
But with the victory in hand and the stomach problems gone, a relieved Erkesso took a moment to enjoy herself. She removed a few yellow roses from her winner’s bouquet and tossed them to the crowd at the finish area.
“From the beginning of the race, I was looking to win,’’ said Erkesso. “But since Tatyana was behind me, I didn’t believe I had the win until I crossed the line.’’
Shira Springer can be reached at email@example.com.