Some things should be obvious.
It should be obvious that the Boston Marathon is not like London or Berlin or Chicago. It should be understood that, above all, the Boston Marathon is a competition, not a time trial, a test of physical and spiritual fortitude that humbles you and — sometimes, if you’re lucky — exalts you. It should be self-evident that Boston’s unique combination of downhills, uphills, fickle winds, and unpredictable weather favor certain athletes and destroy others. It should be known by now that Boston doesn’t need an asterisk; Boston is what it is, and an asterisk doesn’t begin to capture its subtle and singular challenges.
It should be obvious that not every great runner can win at Boston. Likewise, a great performance at Boston can be a career-making highlight, to be celebrated for the rest of one’s life. I think of Cosmos Ndeti who won Boston three years in a row and never did much of anything else in running. It doesn’t matter. He won Boston three times, and that will be enough legacy for anyone.
And it should be obvious that with her transcendent run in Boston on Monday, a 2:23:00 masterpiece on an overly warm spring day with a slight tailwind, Jordan Hasay has become a great marathon runner, no asterisk needed.
It boggles my mind that anyone would doubt Hasay’s run emphatically put her in the conversation about America’s best marathoners. But Hasay (pronounced, “HA-say,” by the way… you’re welcome, CBS), attracts doubters like jam attracts ants. They come out in droves on the message boards doubting the legitimacy of Boston, the legitimacy of the Oregon Project, and the legitimacy of the ever-polite and earnest runner with the long ponytail and the up-until-recently unrecognized genius for endurance.
People, she ran 2:23:00!
She did so approximately two weeks after running 67:55 for a half marathon in Prague. That means that in the span of 17 days, Jordan Hasay became the fourth-fastest American EVER at the half marathon, and the fifth fastest American EVER at the full marathon. Her time at Boston is the fastest marathon debut by an American woman by over two minutes. All this has been widely reported, of course, but it’s still hard to fathom, and perhaps that’s why her critics write nonsense about the supposed advantages of the Boston course.
In the more popular press, far away from the running site message boards, the focus has been on Hasay’s emotional journey, and on how she ran with and for the memory of her Mom, who died unexpectedly in the fall of 2016. And that’s another thing that’s unique about Boston; somehow it has become a place for the grieving and the broken to come in celebration of life and healing. It is a remarkable thing that this carnival event, this circus of runners and spectators in goofy costumes, this corporate-sponsored and hyped mega-event has become the embodiment of a kind of recovery.
Every runner has her own reasons for enduring the marathon. Hasay had her family and her sense of the presence of her mother every step of the way. She ran with her mother’s engagement ring on one finger and her grandmother’s ring on another. She ran thinking of her father’s words, “Boston, be my shining star.” She ran thinking of how her mother compared her to Paula Radcliffe, another distance-running prodigy who found her greatness in the marathon, and used to say “Go Paula,” to remind Jordan of that.
But inspiration, while perhaps necessary, is not sufficient. It is not sufficient to run 2:23:00 at Boston. It is not enough to take on a strong international field, and hold one’s own, running negative splits on the Boston hills. Any way I look at it, Jordan Hasay’s race was a world-class effort against a world-class field.
I suppose in our winning-obsessed world, we could qualify her race by pointing out that Hasay finished only third. OK, sure. And Rupp only took bronze in the Olympics. I suspect that for certain distance running fanatics, no performance will ever be enough, at least no enough to allow them to enjoy seeing someone triumph after toiling away for so long at this most difficult pursuit.
But no amount of carping changes the fact that Jordan Hasay ran 2:23:00 on a warm day in April, one of the very best performances by an American woman at Boston.
I enjoyed it, and if others didn’t, then I feel sorry for them.