Sisay Lemma Hangs On for Men’s Title at 2024 Boston Marathon

The Ethiopian was well under course record pace for the first 20 miles.


Derek Call

After threatening the course record for more than 32 kilometres, Sisay Lemma of Ethiopia slowed significantly over the final kilometres, but held on to win the pro men’s title at the 2024 Boston Marathon in 2:06:17.

Mohamed Esa of Ethiopia moved from fourth to second over the final mile to claim the runner-up spot in 2:06:58. Evans Chebet, who won here the previous two years, placed third in 2:07:22.

CJ Albertson was the first U.S. finisher, placing seventh in a personal best of 2:09:53. Albertson’s fine run came just more than two months after he finished fifth at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials on February 3 in Orlando, Florida. Elkanah Kibet, who was fourth at the Marathon Trials, placed 14th in 2:12:32. Ryan Eiler was the third U.S. finisher, 15th in 2:14:22.

Albertson, who famously led the 2021 Boston by more than 2 minutes at halfway, ran more conservatively early on this time. He was in 14th place at halfway, and then began to move up through the field. “I knew that if I closed the second half well, I would break 2:10,” Albertson told Runner’s World after the race.

He went from 11th at 32 kilometres to tenth at 37 kilometres to ninth at 40K, but he didn’t know what place he was in. “At around 38, 40K, based on the people I was catching, I knew I had to have gotten into the top ten,” Albertson said.

Course Record Going Down! Oh, Never Mind

Lemma, whose 2:01:48 PR makes him the fourth fastest marathoner in history, looked set to shatter the Boston course record of 2:03:02, set in 2011 by Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai. In the eight kilometre, 21 minutes into the race, he spurted to a 6-second lead. Early solo leaders at Boston are nothing new; halfway into the 2021 edition, Albertson was ahead by more than 2 minutes. But an early solo lead by one of only four people in history to break 2:02 for the marathon? That’s different.

Lemma passed 8 killometres in 23:12, 6 seconds faster than anyone ever had at Boston. By 10K, Lemma had already built a 25-second lead over the chase pack; his 28:28 split was 40 seconds faster than the previous best on course. And so it continued for the next several miles. With a stockier upper body than most of his peers, and a high arm carriage that leaves his wrists always near the top corners of his race bib, Lemma rolled through new course record split after new course split. He hit halfway in 60:19, 1 minute and 37 seconds faster than Ryan Hall’s mark in Mutai’s record run.

“When I came here my plan was to run under 2:02,” Lemma said via a translator at the post-race press conference. Lemma said that, because Boston doesn’t employ pacesetters like most major marathons, he decided to set the early fast pace himself.

But Lemma, despite never completely falling apart, felt the drip-drip-drip of mounting fatigue through and past the Newton hills. The difference between his and the previous record splits started to slip. Lemma passed 32 kilometres in 1:33:48, which was 48 seconds ahead of Mutai’s 2011 pace.

After Lemma crested Heartbreak Hill, the question was whether he could capitalise on the mostly flat to slightly downhill final eight kilometres. He looked unlikely to match Mutai’s otherworldly final 10K of 28:26 from 2011. But Lemma just needed to do a 2:01 marathoner’s version of holding on reasonably well. It still looked like the Boston course record would finally join the super shoe age.

Until suddenly it didn’t. Lemma passed 35K in 1:42:56, compared to Mutai’s 1:42:35 in 2011. In less than three kilometres, the record had gone from a near-certainty to an afterthought. Lemma said after the race that fatigue from the downhills was his undoing.

Just Hang On a Sec

Fortunately for Lemma’s sake, the huge earlier lead he had built (almost 3 minutes at 30K) meant that the much fresher men behind simply ran out of room.

Chebet and compatriot John Korir, who placed fourth in 2:07:40, most aggressively tried to chase down Lemma. Yet, even if they got updates from spectators on the gap, and even with knowing Lemma’s poor previous Boston history (30th in 2019, DNF in 2022), they may have not believed that the fourth fastest marathoner would prove so mortal past 32 kilometres.

Just how badly did Lemma slow? Consider this: When Chebet won Boston in 2022, he covered the 5K stretch from 35K to 40K in 13:55. Today, Lemma ran 15:55 for that 5K. Perhaps even more telling about Lemma’s laggardly close is his late-race splits compared to those of women’s winner Hellen Obiri. Lemma’s times for miles 23, 24, and 25 were 5:07, 5:00, and 5:19, respectively. Obiri’s equivalents were 4:57, 4:41, and 4:54.

To be clear, Lemma’s winning time of 2:06:17 is the tenth fastest ever run at Boston. He conquered the course and a world-class field, and he probably helped his chances of being named to the Ethiopian squad for the Olympic Marathon in August. “Several times after past races I joked that I was going to come to Boston and redeem myself,” Lemma said. “So I am very happy.”

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