Welcome to Marathon Monday. Unlike previous years where elite American runners have packed the field and contended for a win, February's Olympic Trails in Los Angeles has made it impossible for the Americans to be competitive in Boston. No matter: Ethiopia has picked up the slack to provide pretty much all the top names on both the men's and women's side.
In lieu of a full preview, we're going to highlight four names on each side to watch and provide a thread for you to follow along with the race.
Lelisa Desisa: Desisa is the defending champion, having won Boston in 2015 and 2013. He'll be the favorite this year, but not by as wide a margin as one would assume for a two-time winner. His personal best in the marathon comes from his debut effort in Dubai in 2013, but one could argue that Boston will represent his first realistic chance of besting that effort since. He's not one for spreading out his marathon efforts, having run five between November 2014 and November 2015, but enters today's race not having run a marathon since New York.
That could lead you to assume he may be rusty, but that's not the case either, as he was last seen winning the Houston Half Marathon in a time of 60:37 in January. There's not a compelling reason to pick any single runner in the field against him, but with the depth of the field behind him, he probably has less than a 50% chance of winning.
Yemane Tsegay: Narrative is not on Tsegay's side. He's run consistently for the past four years, but lacks the sort of performance worth writing home about that many of his competitors today have. His most impressive performance was probably his second place finish at the World Championships in Beijing in hot and humid conditions that derailed the races of many a top marathoner. In February, he ran 62:53 for 31st in the Marugame Half in Japan. That's not the sort of performance you look for in a favorite in a major marathon, but it's only a bit over a minute slower than his best. Half marathons may just not be his bailiwick. Still, that lukewarm performance coupled with a rash of meldonium busts among Ethiopians raise questions about Tsegay.
Sammy Kitwara: Possibly the top Kenyan in the field, Kitwara also has the fastest marathon PR in the field, with a 2:04:28 best in Chicago in 2014. On top of that, he's the fifth-fastest half marathoner of all time. Although that distinction comes from 2011 on a notoriously fast and flat Philadelphia course, he broke 60 just a month ago in Lisbon. It's always tempting--and usually disappointing--to bet on half marathon stars in the marathon. But unlike other half marathon wonders, Kitwara comes with strong, and recent, marathoning credentials as well. If you are against betting on the favorite, Kitwara is probably where your money should go.
Tsegay Mekonnen: It's always good to pick a younger Kenyan or Ethiopian to surprise in a major race. Mekonnen, after a 2:04:32 debut in Dubai in 2014, has been a bit of an enigma since. He's failed to finish three of his six career marathons. His finished, however, have been impressive. 1st in Dubai 2014, fifth in London 2014, and third in Dubai this past January. He'll look to prove that he can be consistent in the marathon coming off that sub-2:05 in Dubai, and, at 20 years old, there's as much a chance he can turn the corner as there is that he will DNF yet again.
Caroline Rotich: She may be the defending champion in the field, but she's a weaker defender than her male counterpart. Aside from that victory in Boston last spring, Rotich's performances have been uninspiring--10th in New York Marathon, 5th in NYC half. She's never finished better than fourth in a major marathon outside of last year's victory in Boston. But, Boston can be weird compared to other marathon majors and maybe it is a niche that Rotich is well-suited for. She'll be out there this morning looking to prove that last year was no flash in the pan.
Buzunesh Deba: Deba came in third last year, but hasn't had a strong record of finishing races since. She DNF'd at the New York 10k in June, DNF'd the New York Marathon in November, and DNF'd in Houston in January. The only race she's finished since Boston last year was an uninspiring 12th place finish in the NYC Half last month. However, she didn't finish the NYC Half last year and managed a third place finish in Boston, so maybe that 12th place finish is more encouraging than one would initially believe...
Joyce Chepkirui: The story of Chepkirui is a familiar one: A stud in the 10k and half marathon who has struggled to translate that success to the 26.2 mile race. She only finished 10th in Boston last year, but has won two marathons since in Honolulu and Amsterdam. Neither is going to be mistaken for a victory in London or Chicago, but they are wins nonetheless. They're especially encouraging for a runner like Chepkirui, whose talent has never been in question. The additional marathon experience she has under her belt this year could be the ingredient needed to finally translate her notable talent to the marathon.
Neely Spence Gracey: Let's get this out of the way: Gracey is not going to win Boston, at least not this year. I'm going to talk about her anyway since she's a fun story. She ran Division II in college at Shippensburg University, where she was an eight-time National Champion. She qualified for the Olympic Trails with a 69:59 performance in Philadelphia, but didn't feel sufficiently recovered to compete in February and decided to postpone her marathon debut to Boston. She finished 10th last month in the NYC Half running a negative split. Steve Magness, her coach, suggested that she'll take a similarly conservative approach to her first marathon. She could be a big part of America's future in the marathon on the women's side, and, with an encouraging performance in Boston, could emerge as a Brian Sell type figure of a runner who came from an unglamorous college career to find considerable marathon success.
How to Watch: The Boston Marathon will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network and NBC Live Extra with coverage beginning at 8:30 am EST. The elite women will begin at 9:32 am EST, followed by the men at 10 am.