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Kipchoge says leg injury foiled Boston Marathon attempt

Eliud Kipchoge, of Kenya, center, runs ahead of Andualem Belay, of Ethiopia, second from right, at the front of a group of elite men, along the course of the 127th Boston Marathon, April 17, in Framingham. (Steven Senne/AP)
Eliud Kipchoge, of Kenya, center, runs ahead of Andualem Belay, of Ethiopia, second from right, at the front of a group of elite men, along the course of the 127th Boston Marathon, April 17, in Framingham. (Steven Senne/AP)

The rain might be gone if Eliud Kipchoge returns for another try at the Boston Marathon, as he said Tuesday he intends to do. The field might be thinner. The wind might be at his back.

But Heartbreak Hill will still be there.

The historic route from Hopkinton to Boston’s Back Bay isn’t going to change, and that was the biggest problem for the two-time Olympic gold medalist who set a world record on the flattest of the major marathon courses and broke 2 hours in a completely controlled environment.

“I can’t win every time,” he told reporters a day after his slowest marathon ever and just his third loss in a major race to go with 12 victories.

“I was feeling good. And I think it’s just it’s a challenge. So let us discuss it as a challenge and move on,” he said. “You know, there is three things: Yesterday is a canceled check. Today is cash. And tomorrow is a promissory note. Let us forget about the canceled checks, let us talk of the cash and the promissory notes.”

A day after finishing sixth in his Boston debut, Kipchoge said he had a problem with his left leg that prevented him from pushing the pace. He would not elaborate – “I’m not a doctor” – but allowed that it was his upper leg.

“I tried to do what was necessary but it wasn’t working. So I put my mind just trying to cope with the pace and just to finish,” he said. “A lot of thought was going on in my mind but I said, ‘Hey, I can’t quit.’ I’ve been in this sport for a long (time). They say it’s important to win, but it’s great to participate and finish.”

In one of the most-anticipated arrivals in the race's recent history, Kipchoge came to Boston as a heavy favorite to add the world’s oldest and most prestigious marathon to his already unprecedented resume.

But after leading a pack of about a dozen runners through the first 20 miles, he quickly dropped behind in the series of climbs that have come to be known as Heartbreak Hill. He finished in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 23 seconds – 3 1/2 minutes behind back-to-back winner Evans Chebet.

“In a marathon, anything can happen,” women's winner Hellen Obiri said Monday.

The 38-year-old Kenyan was not made available after the race, issuing a statement through the Boston Athletic Association and on social media. But Kipchoge sat for a special session with reporters following the usual day-after news conference with Chebet, Obiri and wheelchair winners Marcel Hug and Susannah Scaroni.

He began by saying he was sorry to those who were counting on him to win. Asked to explain why he felt it necessary to apologize, he said: “I promised that I would run a fruitful race. So I am sorry. Most of you were expecting me to win.”

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Kipchoge insisted the course was “no challenge at all,” because he had trained well for the hills. But his lack of experience with it may have been to blame: His decision to run in front, instead of sheltering from the wind among the pack, was unusual; he also missed a water station right before he dropped out of the lead, something veteran Boston runners rarely do.

On his decision to run out front, he said: “This is sport, and we need to push. Sport is pushing yourself and actually enjoying it.”

On his decision to continue despite the leg injury: “Marathon actually is life. Sport is life. Resilience is one of the recipes for success. If you are not resilient then you cannot go anywhere. So it’s good to be resilient. ... That’s what’s required.”

Although Kipchoge had said his goal was to win all six major marathons — New York, which he’s never run, and Boston are the only ones he’s missing — he has not decided whether to run New York in the fall. He also has spoken of going for a third Olympic title next summer, which would make it unlikely he will be back in Boston next spring.

“I will take time to sit with my team and see what’s on the table for me,” he said. “But the main need now is to recover both mentally and physically.”

Kipchoge set a world record in Berlin in 2018, breaking the old mark by 78 seconds — then lowered it to 2:01:09 on the same course last fall. In a tightly controlled exhibition in 2019, he became the first human to break 2 hours for the 26.2-mile distance, completing it in 1:59:40.

But Boston does not have pacesetters or a flat, wind-protected course, like the one chosen for the record attempt in Vienna; nor does it change the day or start time based on the weather — it was cold and rainy in Boston on Monday, and sunny and 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer on Tuesday. Even the roads can pose a challenge, as Scaroni learned when the bumpy pavement loosened one of her wheels, forcing her to come to a complete stop.

On Tuesday, she agreed to donate the hex wrench she used to tighten it to the BAA for its race museum.

“The fortunate part is I’ve learned over my long career now how to be better equipped,” said Scaroni, who carries a hex wrench and replacement tires in case she gets a flat. “I wish I had a pit crew."

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