They’re off! at the Boston Marathon |

They’re off! at the Boston Marathon

Jimmy Golen
Associated Press
Men's elite runners cross the start line of the 113th Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass., Monday, April 20, 2009. More than 26,000 runners participated in the race. (AP Photo/Bizuayehu Tesfaye)
AP | FR30253

BOSTON ” A field of 26,386 runners left Hopkinton for the Boston Marathon on Monday, with some top American contenders hoping to earn the first U.S. victory in the race in decades.

Temperatures in the 40s with a light headwind greeted the competitors at the start of the 113th edition of the race.

American Ryan Hall moved to the early lead, looking back over his shoulder twice in the first mile. His time of 2 hours, 6 minutes, 17 seconds from London last year is the fastest personal best in the field, giving the United States a legitimate chance at its first men’s title since 1983.

Kara Goucher, who finished third in New York last year in 2:25:53 in her marathon debut ” the fastest ever for an American woman ” was among the lead pack for the women’s race as it approached the 10-mile mark. Also in contention were defending champions Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya, who is going for his fifth Boston win and an unprecedented fourth in a row, and Dire Tune of Ethiopia.

Seven-time wheelchair champion Ernst Van Dyk was back for an attempt to tie Jean Driscoll, an eight-time women’s wheelchair winner, for the most Boston Marathon victories ever.

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The top runners were easier to spot this year, wearing their names on their bibs instead of numbers so the hundreds of thousands of fans along course will be able to cheer them on. Another runner should be easily identifiable from his bib: Air traffic controller Patrick Harten is wearing No. 1549 to honor his role in the safe landing of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River.

And four-time winner “Boston Billy” Rodgers, back in the race for the first time in a decade, needs no introduction on the 26.2-mile route from Hopkinton to Copley Square.

Rodgers lapped the competition in Boston and New York in the late 1970s, winning each race four times while helping to spawn a road-running boom. But the heyday soon ended for the Americans: No U.S. man has won in Boston since Greg Meyer’s victory in 1983; Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach won in ’85.

Rodgers dropped out at the top of Heartbreak Hill when he went for the over-50 record in 1999. He wanted to try again last year, but he was recovering from surgery and radiation therapy for prostate cancer.

“I don’t care if I have to walk or crawl. I just want to get to the line,” said the 61-year-old distance running pioneer. “You can’t have your last marathon be a DNF. That’s a bad feeling, to drop out. My kids were waiting at the finish line. That was depressing.”

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