American men

Hall plenty fast, but not fast enough

Ryan Hall’s 2:08:41 finish was the fastest ever by an American in the Boston Marathon, but it was good for only fourth place. Ryan Hall’s 2:08:41 finish was the fastest ever by an American in the Boston Marathon, but it was good for only fourth place. (David L. Ryan/ Globe Staff)
By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / April 20, 2010

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It wasn’t what he saw in front of him that convinced Ryan Hall his chance at becoming the first US male to win the Boston Marathon since 1983 would have to wait at least another year. To get that answer, he looked to the sky.

“At Mile 24, I saw the helicopter kind of off in the distance and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t think [the leaders] are coming back,’ ’’ Hall said. “At that point I knew I was running my own race.’’

Hall and Meb Keflezighi, the top Americans in the race, gave spirited efforts, with Hall taking fourth and Keflezighi fifth, the first time in four years that two Americans finished in the top five. But it came amid a record-setting display of speed, with winner Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot establishing a course record and forcing Hall and Keflezighi to find moral victories.

They didn’t have to look far. Hall’s time of 2 hours 8 minutes 41 seconds marked the fastest run by an American in Boston, eclipsing the 2:08:47 turned in by Bob Kempainen in 1994. Keflezighi, winner of the New York City Marathon in November, hit the tape in 2:09:26, shaving 30 seconds off his best Boston time and nearly setting a personal best. All while recuperating from a left knee injury.

“We ran our heart out,’’ Keflezighi said. “I cried afterward because the vibrations were still going, ‘U-S-A! U-S-A!’ As long as you try your best, and Ryan and I gave our best . . . if you run your best and somebody beats you, that’s the nature of the game.’’

Both had grand plans for Boston. Hall trained on the course for a week in February, learning from four-time champion Bill Rodgers, and spent the past three weeks here getting ready. Keflezighi was making his first Hopkinton-to-Boston run since 2006, when he placed third.

Hall pushed the early pace for the second straight year, recovered after falling 15 seconds behind, and was the race leader at the halfway point, with Keflezighi also in the lead group. Content to stay behind when the lead pack (including Keflezighi) started to separate at the 15-mile mark, Hall focused on his split times, happy with his pace and hopeful that he’d have an opportunity to be near the front at the end.

“I was happy with our halfway split, felt like it was plenty fast,’’ Hall said. “When they moved, I just didn’t move with them. I was going to save my energy for those hills, thinking about Bill Rodgers and what he told me. He just maintained [speed] on the hills, then tried to fly down them.

“I was thinking that going up the hills, that I would maintain, then try to fly down the back side. I kind of did that, but I didn’t fly down quite as quick as I was hoping.’’

The fact that he wasn’t near the front at the end could have been cause for disappointment, but Hall chose a more optimistic assessment.

“My goal going in was to have fun and run free, and I felt like I did that,’’ he said. “[In training] I was running a 4:50 [mile] pace, and when I was out there, I was running right around a 4:50 pace, so I thought that would be good enough to win. Most years it would have been.

“I was just kind of running my own race out there, and it produced my best time on the Boston course, which I’m thrilled about.’’

Hall’s time of 2:08:41 would have been good enough to win eight of the past 10 Boston races. It was nearly a minute quicker than the 2:09:40 in his Boston debut last year, when he finished third, 62 seconds behind winner Deriba Merga. Hall nearly overtook Merga this year for third place, just running out of room and finishing 2 seconds behind, despite a closing kick that saw the 27-year-old Californian playing to the crowd, something he did occasionally during the race.

“I was giving the Wellesley girls a little pump-up to get them to cheer a little louder, and I really enjoyed that final stretch,’’ Hall said. “I was having a good time, even though I was in pain.’’

Hall passed Keflezighi at the 25-mile mark, rubbing his colleague’s bald head as he ran by. It’s not whom he wanted to see.

“Yeah, I wasn’t too excited about that,’’ said Hall. “He wasn’t the guy I was hoping to pass at that point in the race.’’

After Hall dropped back slightly after the halfway point, Keflezighi kept up with Cheruiyot and the other leaders until Mile 17, which starts a brutal 4-mile stretch of race-defining hills. That’s when the pain in his knee, tightness in his quad muscle, and a stomach issue combined to end his victory quest.

“When they made their move, I tried to do what I did in New York, stay 3-5 seconds behind,’’ Keflezighi said. “I was trying to rubber-band it, keep it up for a long time, but it got really tough for me.’’

He ended a 27-year winless streak by Americans in New York last November, and was looking to end a similar drought here.

“That would have been my new lucky number,’’ said Keflezighi. “I’m just delighted to be part of it. It’s wonderful to be back. I hadn’t been here since 2006, and [yesterday] reminds me how special it is. I did my best. I came to win.’’

Michael Whitmer can be reached at