The first time he won the Boston Marathon in 2003, Robert Cheruiyot led a wave of eight Kenyan compatriots who finished among the top 10.
The second time, in 2006, he set a course record in 2 hours 7 minutes 14 seconds.
The third time, last year, he braved lingering headaches from a sickening tumble he took at the Chicago Marathon and some of the harshest weather conditions ever seen at Boston.
This time around?
"This was the hardest one," Cheruiyot said yesterday after he won the 112th running of the BostonMarathon in 2:07:46, marking his third consecutive victory (fourth overall) in his fifth appearance in this famed Hopkinton-to-Boston footrace. "I wanted the race to be very fast and so I started from 1K - the first kilometer."
Although he attempted to push a course-record pace, Cheruiyot, who pocketed a winner's purse of $150,000, appeared to settle into cruise control as he made the final left turn onto Boylston Street from Hereford Street.
He left the drama of the day to the women's race, in which winner Dire Tune of Ethiopia (in the role of Alberto Salazar) and runner-up Alevtina Biktimirova of Russia (in the role of Dick Beardsley) staged their own version of the Duel in the Sun.
Cheruiyot left no doubt about the outcome in the men's open division when he reached the final stretch with no one but the admiring throng lining Boylston Street to push him to the finish. Not even runner-up Abderrahime Bouramdane (2:09:04) or third-place Khalid El Boumlili (2:10:35) were within sight of Cheruiyot at the finish.
"Boston is very different from the other marathons," Cheruiyot said. "As usual, the course was very difficult and I tried to push harder this year."
When he broke the tape, just 32 seconds shy of his course record, Cheruiyot became the fourth male to win Boston four times, joining seven-time winner Clarence DeMar (1911, 1922-24, 1927-28, 1930) and four-time winners Gerard Cote of Canada (1940, 1943-44, 1948) and Bill Rodgers (1975, 1978-80).
"This course is so tough, it feels great to me," said Cheruiyot, who also joined DeMar (1922-24), Rodgers (1978-80), and Cosmas Ndeti (1993-95) as three-peat Boston champions. "It feels great."
Cheruiyot celebrated the feat once he crossed the finish line by dropping to his knees and twice kissing the asphalt. He then rose and counted down his victories - One! Two! Three! Four! - with fist pumps. He might as well have added four more to administer a symbolic standing-8 count to the rest of the field.
The other elite male runners were floored by the blistering pace Cheruiyot imposed when he reached the foot of the Newton hills, near Brae Burn Country Club.
Asked what was it about Boston's hills that appealed to him, especially as a downhill runner, Cheruiyot was at a loss to explain, saying, "Hills are challenging, but I enjoy running in the hills."
It is that juncture of the race, the 18-mile mark, that Cheruiyot had a blazing mile split of 4:37, his fastest of the day, pounding the field into submission. It was a split that separated men from boys, contenders from pretenders, and the lanky 29-year-old Kenyan from a pair of 30-year-old Moroccan pursuers.
"I just wanted to go fast," said Cheruiyot, who did precisely that, enhancing his chances to be selected for Kenya's Olympic team. "I wanted to make this race faster and better this year, and also to achieve my goal of running a 2:07."
For Bouramdane, his Boston debut was subverted by a sock that slipped down to the toes of his right foot and left him with an angry red blister.
"I would like to congratulate Robert Cheruiyot," said Bouramdane. "He's very, very strong. It was a strong course and a strong marathon."
After Kenyan Lawrence Saina set the early pace, leading at seven of the first eight checkpoints, Cheruiyot took the lead for good from countryman James Mwangi Macharia at the 13-mile mark and reached the half-marathon in 1:03:07. He then thinned a lead pack of six runners to four, and at the 18-mile mark made his move.
As Cheruiyot expanded his lead to 35 seconds, he began to catch stragglers in the women's race. Running alone in the last few miles, he repeatedly glanced at his watch in hopes of challenging his course record.
The clock, though, proved to be the only competitor Cheruiyot was unable to beat.
"It's very difficult when you're running alone here in Boston," he said. "You need company."
No one, as it turned out, was up to the task.
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com