BOSTON The 115th Boston Marathon has begun.
The wheelchair field was first across the starting line in Hopkinton on Monday morning, followed by the elite women. Then the clock started on the elite men and the sold-out field of 26,964 other runners traversing the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston’s Back Bay.
It was the largest field for the race except for the 100th anniversary race in 1996. The unprecedented interest filled out the available spots in just eight hours, breaking the previous record of 65 days and forcing race organizers to change the process for next year’s race.
The Boston Athletic Association also changed the start so that the field goes off in three waves of about 9,000 runners apiece.
It was 46 degrees in Hopkinton at the start with a tailwind of 14 mph. Temperatures were expected to climb into the high 50s and low 60s – perfect weather that could put the course record in jeopardy. It was set just last year by Kenyan Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, whose time of 2 hours, 5 minutes, 52 seconds shattered the previous mark by more than a minute.
Ethiopia’s Teyba Erkesso is back to defend her women’s title. American Kara Goucher, who finished third in 2009, is back after taking last year off to have a baby, as is four-time winner Catherine Ndereba.
Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya has the fastest time in the field with a 2:04:55 in Rotterdam last year. American Ryan Hall, who finished third in ’09 and last year broke the American record in Boston, is also back for another try.
Ernst Van Dyk, the 2010 wheelchair champion, is seeking an unprecedented 10th title, and women’s defending champ Wakako Tsuchida overcame training difficulties in Japan after the earthquake to try for her fifth in a row.
UPDATE: Masazumi Soejima of Japan has won the Boston Marathon men’s wheelchair division for the second time in 1 hour, 18 minutes, 50 seconds.
Soejima, who also won in 2007, was in third place in the final stretch but made a final frantic push to pass Australian Kurt Fearnley and nine-time champion Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa, who both finished in 1:18.51.
Van Dyk had won nine of the last 10 men’s wheelchair races, his string broken by Soejima.