In 2000, Catherine Ndereba became the first woman from Kenya to win the Boston Marathon.
Yesterday, Ndereba made history again, this time on a much grander scale, becoming the first woman to win four Boston titles. And she did it in remarkable fashion. Halfway through the race, she trailed leaders Elfenesh Alemu of Ethiopia and Nuta Olaru of Romania by a minute and 20 seconds.
After Olaru faded, Alemu had the top spot to herself until Ndereba made her move in the hills of Newton, pulling even with Alemu at the 20-mile mark and cruising to victory in 2 hours 25 minutes 13 seconds. She beat Alemu, last year's runner-up as well, by an astonishing 1:50.
"It is more than a thrill, I'm telling you,'' said the 32-year-old Ndereba, who earned $100,000 for successfully defending her title and who also won in 2001. "It means a lot to me.''
Ndereba ran the first half of the race in 1:13:31 and the second half in 1:11:42. She said she felt significantly better in the latter stages.
"I felt like my legs were kind of heavy when we started and I didn't like to take a chance of pushing it,'' she said. "I kept on doing it, taking it easy, and I found myself running like normal. My body started responding towards the 20 kilometers and I kept on trying to push the pace, and toward the finish, I just felt great." Ndereba has run 14 marathons and has finished out of the top two only once, when she was sixth in her Boston debut in 1999. Yesterday, she said, she wasn't so concerned with the location of Alemu as she was with making sure she ran her own race, and as she closed the gap, her confidence surged.
"I just run according to how my body was feeling," she said. "As I kept on pushing the pace, I could feel like my body was moving. I thought like `Wow, I can do it.' Last year, it was kind of tough for me because it was hot and humid. Towards the finish, it was like everything was gone from my body and I was so sick. [For the final] few meters, I was battling cramps. I thank God, for this year I didn't have this problem."
When Ndereba caught Alemu, who for several miles was casting glances over her shoulder as if anticipating a push from the defending champ, the two ran neck and neck for several miles. But after the pair turned onto Beacon Street, it wasn't long before Alemu lost ground and Ndereba powered to the finish as she ran Miles 23, 24, and 25 at a 5:33 pace.
"It feels very good and I thank God for the history that I've made," said Ndereba, who was greeted at the finish line with a hug from her husband, Anthony Maina. "I know it's not by my might or my power but by the power of the holy spirit. It's only because God was on my side. I know the power of winning comes from my God."
Both Ndereba's and Alemu's times were slower than last year, when it was 86 degrees and they finished 16 seconds apart in 2:24:27 and 2:24:43. Yesterday, Alemu went out well, running with Olaru for 14 miles.
"The pace was a normal pace," said Alemu's coach and interpreter, Dr. Yilma Berta. "[She wanted to run] 17 minutes for 5K and so that was the right pace and that's why she went out [the way she did]. She said, `I was doing my best and keeping my pace.' "
She told Berta she wasn't more down about this year's finish than last year's.
"She said, `I am not disappointed because there is winning and not winning,' " said Berta. "She said, `It happens, so I'm not worried about that.' "
Third place went to Italy's Bruna Genovese (2:29:51) and fourth to 2003 Boston champion Svetlana Zakharova of Russia (2:31:34). Zakharova and Ndereba were in the second pack initially but when Ndereba decided to go for it, Zakharova couldn't answer.
"Last year was three marathons for her, but she doesn't think that was a factor today," said Konstantin Selinevick, Zakharova's agent who served as her interpreter. "She also mentioned that she didn't feel quite comfortable since the beginning of the race. Up to the half-marathon, she had some [stomach] cramps and she said sometimes you have a good race and sometimes you don't.
"She's not very disappointed but she tried her best today. She ran with Catherine up until a little bit more than halfway. She didn't feel comfortable but she was able to stay with Catherine. When Catherine kind of pushed the pace, at that moment, Svetlana felt very uncomfortable because of her stomach cramps and so she couldn't maintain the speed and stay with Catherine."
As it turned out, no one else could, either.