Lelisa Desisa will once again be one of the favorites for the 2014 marathon. Image via Wikimedia Commons

On Monday, the 118th Boston Marathon will be an amazing spectacle, with more runners (36,000) than any of the its other versions except one (the 100th anniversary race in 1996). Yet while much of the attention will be on other subplots of the event (rightfully so in many cases), the marathon is still fundamentally a race. Given that, who are the Boston Marathon’s elite runners? And who is favored to win the 2014 Boston Marathon?

It’s an interesting question, given that the nature of race in Boston is unique. Why is that exactly? BostInno had a chance to catch up with Runner’s World senior content editor Scott Douglass, who explained one very good reason for why:

“More so than any other course in the world,” Douglass said, “experience on the course matters in Boston. For example, the Chicago course is basically flat, so the topography doesn’t affect the race as it does here. So having run here before is an advantage.”

Knowing this, let’s take a look at the elite runners in this year’s Boston Marathon field.

Men’s Classification

Lelisa Desisa, Ethiopia (age 24)

“He knows how to win races,” Douglass noted of last year’s Boston winner. “So it’s not just that he can run fast, but he knows how to win.” Basically, Desisa has history on his side, and will clearly go into 2014 with confidence that he can once again make a solid bid for victory.

Dennis Kimetto, Kenya (age 30)

Kimetto is an interesting case, because he won in Tokyo and Chicago in 2013, but has never raced in Boston. How he handles the dynamic course (with all of its undulations) will be telling. Also, he pulled out of a tuneup race earlier in 2014 due to injury. Those factors make him an uncertain favorite.

“If these two things didn’t exist, I’d say he’s the more likely to win,” Douglass admitted.

Douglass also described an additional point to watch for:

“Another thing that’s interesting is that Kimetto is a guy who will sort of push the pace more in the Newton Hills more, where Desisa is sort races more like a track racer where he waits as long as possible, then pushes at the last possible moment to take the lead. It’s what he did last year. Kimetto is the guy who will make a big surge after 30-35 kilometers, and then run by himself to the finish. If he does that, I’ll know the ankle injury is not an issue.”

Micah Kogo, Kenya (age 27)

Kogo ran his first Boston Marathon last year, losing a close race to Desisa. So, he’s not too far away from a championship level. Having made a transition to focusing on marathons later in his career after winning a bronze in the 10,000-meter at the 2008 Summer Games, Kogo could very well go one better in 2014, and stand atop the podium.

Douglass was intrigued by Kogo’s prospects, and what it says about the track of his career. “It’ll be interesting to see if Micah Kogo is an example of someone who waited too long to focus on the marathon, and doesn’t really improve.”

Tilahun Regassa, Ethiopia (age 24)

Regassa could be a dark horse contender this year, given that he was strong in his debut running the Chicago Marathon last fall (he ran the third fastest debut race ever). He’s also won several U.S. road races, though never in Boston.

“In the category of ‘people who know how to win races,'” Douglass said, “he’s another guy who fits.”

Ryan Hall, United States (age 31)

Oh yes, the American contender, Ryan Hall. No American has won the Boston Marathon men’s classification since 1983. Naturally, the odds are against any American breaking that streak this year, but Hall appears to be the best possible candidate.

Douglass is skeptical: “Ryan Hall hasn’t finished a marathon since 2012. Nobody knows what kind of shape he’s in.”

Time will tell, but for Hall to pull off a win, it would rank as slightly miraculous.


Women’s Classification

Rita Jeptoo, Kenya (age 33)

An interesting runner, given that she won the Boston Marathon in 2006, and then again in 2013. The relatively long gap in between championships doesn’t seem to have fazed her, as Jeptoo is once again a leading contender this year.

“I think Rita is more of a favorite as the defending champion for the women than Desisa is for the men,” Douglass explained. “There aren’t as many people at her level as their are at Desisa’s level with the men.”

Jemima Jelagat Sumgong, Kenya (age 29)

If Jeptoo wasn’t in the field, Sumgong would be a much bigger star. Though Sumgong won in Rotterdam last year, she was behind Jeptoo in Chicago (and is a major rival, despite the fact that they’re teammates). A second place finish in Boston 2012 will give her confidence that she can place high.

“She’s someone who I’m not saying she’s going to win,” said Douglass, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if she won. She knows exactly what Jeptoo is up to since they’re training partners.”

Sharon Cherop, Kenya (age 30)

The 2012 Boston winner is back, and is clearly a force to be respected. In case you forgot, 2012 saw oppressive heat, which only added to the already tough course conditions that entails running in Boston. Cherop may not be seen as a leading contender, but she can never be counted out.

Caroline Kilel, Kenya (age 33)

With eight career wins in marathons, including a career-best time last year in Frankfurt, the 2011 Boston champion will be yet another contender in a deep field this year. Adding to Douglass’ point about racers who “know how to win,” Kilel might rank near the top of the list in that category.

Shalane Flanagan, United States (age 32)

The top American in the field, as Douglass sees it, is Flanagan. “She stands out as the one who might break the American drought.”

Flanagan has been training not only on the Boston course, but also in Kenya, where most of her competition is. After a fourth place finish in 2013, she might finally be the one to notch the first U.S. win in the women’s classification since 1985.