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The most prestigious marathon returns: the 2021 Boston Marathon preview

Previous champions headline the men's and women's races at the 125th Boston Marathon

It’s official – Boston is back with 20,000 of the world’s best marathoners taking to the start line on Monday, Oct. 11. This year’s field is locked and loaded, for the first-ever fall edition of the marathon. This race will feature a massive elite field of 140 athletes, headlined by previous champions Lelisa Desisa, Geoffrey Kirui, Des Linden and Edna Kiplagat plus top American runners Jordan Hasay and Abdi Abdirahman.

The women’s race

The women’s race only features two women who have run under 2:20, Mare Dibaba of Ethiopia (2:19:52) and 2017 champion Kiplagat (2:19:50). Kiplagat has raced twice this year at NYRR races, finishing sixth and third. This will be her first marathon since finishing second at Boston in 2019. Dibaba had a DNF in 2019 and was plagued with an injury at the start of the pandemic. This race will mark the return of the 2015 world champion to the marathon distance.

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Another athlete to keep your eye on is Kenya’s Angela Tanui, who won the Siena Marathon in Italy earlier this year, running a nine-minute personal best of 2:20:08. Atsede Bayisa of Ethiopia, who is a part of the NN Running Team, is competing as well, after taking four years off competition. Bayisa has two road race victories to her name, which came during her training build-up to Monday’s race. Former 10-mile world record holder Caroline Chepkoech makes her marathon debut, with a half marathon personal best of 1:05:07. Chepkoech has recently changed citizenship from Kenya to Kazakhstan and will be representing her new country at this event. 

Edna Kiplagat
Photo: Canadian Running

Outside of the international favourites, American track fans continue to wait for Hasay’s breakthrough. She has been third at two major marathons and has been agonizingly close to Deena Kastor’s American record, running the second-fastest time by an American (2:20:57 at Chicago 2017). Linden was the last American to win the Boston Marathon, in 2018, and will be running Boston for her seventh time. She enters the race with a PB of 2:22:38.

Toronto’s Brittany Moran is the only elite Canadian in the women’s field, coming in with a personal best of 2:36:22. Moran won Toronto’s Yorkville 5K in mid-September in a time of 16:40.  

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The men’s race

The men’s race is loaded, having eight men who have run under 2:06. It is headlined by two-time Boston champion, Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa. Desisa is one of the best marathoners in the world in recent years, having won the event twice in 2013 and 2015, and finishing second in 2016 and 2019. Desisa will be challenged by his countrymen Asefa Mengstu (2:04:06) and Lemi Berhanu (2:04:33). Berhanu beat Desisa to get on the 2016 Ethiopian Olympic team but has only finished one of his last five marathons, which was a second-place finish at Toronto’s Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon in 2019. Kirui of Kenya could add a second Boston title to his resume, as he is very familiar with the course, winning the race in 2017 and finishing second in 2018. 

2016 Boston Marathon champion Lemi Berhanu.  Photo: Andrew McClanahan

Kenya’s Benson Kipruto (2:05:13) and Wilson Chebet (2:05:27) are two experienced racers in the field who can wear down opponents over the Newton hills. Kipruto won the 2018 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. 2012 Olympian Dylan Wykes is the top-seeded Canadian in the field, with a personal best of 2:10:47. The last time Wykes competed in a marathon was at the Scotiabank Toronto Marathon in 2019, where he placed 30th. Rory Linkletter from Alberta will compete in his first Boston Marathon, and will look to follow in the footsteps of his U.S. Hoka NAZ Elite training partner Scott Fauble, to run under 2:10 at this race (Fauble was the first American to finish in 2019, in a personal best 2:09:09.) Linkletter ran his marathon personal best of  2:12:54 at the Marathon Project in 2020. Thomas Toth (2:16:28) of Ontario is the other Canadian in the men’s elite field. 44-year-old American runner Abdirahman will be the top American man on the start line, only 64 days after competing in the Tokyo Olympic marathon (his PB is 2:08:56, set in 2006).

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Men’s wheelchair race

Canada’s Josh Cassidy is one of the top entrants in the wheelchair division, coming in with the third-fastest time in the field of 1:18:25. Cassidy was the 2012 Boston Marathon champion and former course record holder. Tristan Smyth will also be on the start line, coming in with a personal best of 1:29:53, which he set in 2018 at the Berlin marathon.

Race details

The 2021 Boston Marathon will mark the first time the race will take place on the same day as a Boston Red Sox playoff game. The Red Sox will play Game 4 of the ALDS series at Fenway Park on Monday evening. The weather is calling for 17 to 20 degrees C in the morning, with only a 20 per cent chance of precipitation. 

How to watch the 2021 Boston Marathon

Live coverage of the event will begin at 8 a.m. ET, with the men’s and women’s wheelchair races setting off at 8:02 and 8:04 a.m. ET. The elite female runners will begin at 8:32 a.m., followed by the men at 9:00 a.m. ET.

Live race coverage will be broadcasted on NBC Sports Network for cable subscribers from 7:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. ET. If you are looking for an online stream of the race, it will be on RunnerSpace, where you can sign up to follow all the action.