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Runners To Watch In The 119th Boston Marathon03:13
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American Meb Keflezighi won the 2014 Boston Marathon. (Charles Krupa/AP)
American Meb Keflezighi won the 2014 Boston Marathon. (Charles Krupa/AP)
This article is more than 6 years old.

It's time to run. The 119th Boston Marathon steps off from Hopkinton Monday morning. The 26.2-mile course runs through seven other communities, including Boston, the destination for some 30,000 runners.

Meb Keflezighi made history in the 2014 race, the first after the bombings. His victory was the first by an American man in the open race since 1983. He's fit and healthy and ready to try to defend his title, and if he does he'd be the first U.S. man to win back to back since Bill Rodgers in 1980. The field is stacked, though, with talented African runners such as former world record-holder Patrick Makau of Kenya and Ethiopians Lelisa Desisa, the 2013 champ, and Gebre Gebremariam, twice a third-place finisher in this race.

Dathan Ritzenhein, the third-fasest U.S. marathoner ever, is also running Boston for the first time.

For the women, the hope is that this year's race features a level playing field, so to speak. The woman who won the elite race the past two years, Kenyan Rita Jeptoo, is not in this year's race. Her career is on hold while she appeals a two-year suspension for testing positive for a performance enhancing drug. While that test did not come in connection with her win in the 2014 Boston Marathon, it raised some eyebrows, because Jeptoo set a blistering pace late in last year's marathon and won in course record time.

American Shalane Flanagan, who deserves credit for setting the pace for most of last year's race, says she does not consider Jeptoo's time of 2:18:57 to be the real course record, given the positive drug test.

Flanagan is the hometown favorite, having grown up in Marblehead. She used to watch her dad run the race and says, "This is where I was inspired to run." Flanagan takes her experience into this year's race, after finishing seventh in a personal best time of 2:22:02 last year. She was also fourth in 2013.

Two other Americans to watch are former Arizona State teammates Des Linden and Amy Hastings Cragg. Linden nearly won the 2011 Boston Marathon, finishing second by less than a second to Kenyan Caroline Kilel.

Kilel is also in this year's race, along with another former champion, fellow Kenyan Sharon Cherop. Buzunesh Deba, second to Jeptoo in 2014, also returns.

This Boston Marathon marks the 40th anniversary of official wheelchair participants, and the 2015 race will feature two of the greatest champions in that category. Forty-two-year-old South African Ernst Van Dyk, who says he's in the best shape of his life, is going for his 11th victory. He already holds the record for the most wins ever, by anyone. American Tatyana Mcfadden has a chance to win her third straight title. She has totally dominated women's wheelchair racing the past two years. In 2014 and 2013, she won the Boston, London, Chicago and New York marathons. After this race in Boston, she heads to London, which holds its marathon April 26.

These are the elite athletes. They do this for a living. But the vast majority of the field for this race are regular people, ordinary runners with full-time jobs doing something besides running. They get up before sunrise to get their training in, or they do it after work. Their families make sacrifices for them to do this. Now it all comes down to Monday, April 20, 2015, the Patriots Day holiday, a day to celebrate the arrival of spring and hopefully the accomplishment of a lifetime.

Over the weekend, I heard the best explanation of what makes the Boston Marathon the Holy Grail for marathoners around the world from last year's winner Meb Keflezighi.

"Boston is special because it's the Olympics for the average runner," Keflezighi told me. "You have to qualify, run a marathon and qualify.

“It's the people's Olympics."

This segment aired on April 19, 2015.

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Alex Ashlock Twitter Producer, Here & Now
Alex Ashlock has been a producer for Here & Now since 2005. He started his WBUR career as senior producer of Morning Edition in 1998.

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