As Alevtina Biktimirova pushed the pace up Heartbreak Hill and down the other side, she grimaced. Her face showed the strain of leading a two-woman chase for the Boston Marathon title.
At least that was the way it seemed when watching the red-haired Russian yesterday.
Later, Biktimirova laughed about how her facial expressions left the wrong impression.
"My coach always says I need to relax my face," said Biktimirova, through a translator. "My face always looks this way, but it doesn't mean I am in pain."
Biktimirova proved that by the way she ran, leading eventual champion Dire Tune through almost the entire course. It took an all-out sprint by Tune to win by just two seconds. Biktimirova settled for second in 2 hours, 25 minutes, and 27 seconds, just 15 seconds behind her personal best.
She can lay claim to Boston Marathon history as part of its closest women's finish. The previous gap was 10 seconds.
"I wanted to win this race very badly and I was fighting until the end," said Biktimirova. "I was trying to keep this race under control by leading, but in the end I didn't have enough speed.
"But I am happy with my performance. I am happy to continue the tradition of good performances by Russian athletes here."
Russian women have won Boston three times, including last year when Lidiya Grigoryeva claimed victory (2:29:18). Grigoryeva did not run well yesterday and finished ninth in 2:35:37. Biktimirova, Grigoryeva, and 2003 champion Svetlana Zakharova all come from Cheboksary, Russia.
With her second-place finish, Biktimirova did improve upon her performance at the 2006 Boston Marathon, which was one of her goals. That year, she finished sixth in 2:26:58.
"It's a major marathon, and for me it's very exciting to run it well," said Biktimirova. "I cannot put any other performances on the same level.
"It was a team decision to run Boston and consider where would be the best place to run and, hopefully, break a personal best. I'm more of a physical runner. This is my course. I'm very talented on the uphills and the downhills.
"I can run fast here. When you have the competition of the top runners, you can run fast."
Biktimirova hopes her time yesterday is good enough to convince the Russian powers that be that she should be on the Olympic team. She set her personal best of 2:25:12 in October 2005 at the Frankfurt Marathon. Until yesterday, Biktimirova had run only that one other race under 2:30.
"I ran a pretty good time here, but I guess it's still not enough to say I'm part of the Olympic squad right now," said Biktimirova. "It's going to be the decision of the Russian Olympic committee or the Russian track and field federation.
"That was my goal, and I really hope that they choose me to take part in the Beijing Olympic Games."
Shira Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.