Immediately after she crossed the finish line at last fall’s Boston Marathon as the first American, Nell Rojas knew two things.
One was that she had just had the performance of her career. The second was that she could run the course even faster.
This morning, she did just that, improving her time by a minute and half to once again claim the top American spot. Her time of 2:25:57 placed her 10th overall, about five minutes behind winner Peres Jepchirchir, of Kenya. The finish earns her $5,500 in prize money.
“It was relieving,” she said at the postrace press conference. “You do it one time, and you’re like, okay, that was lucky. And you think it was kind of a fluke. Once you do it more, you believe in yourself more, and you kind of realize you can actually compete with these people and you’re one of them.”
Olympic bronze medalist Molly Seidel, who had the fastest personal best among Americans heading into the race, dropped out between the 25K and 30K mark.
Seidel said beforehand she dealt with a hip impingement during her buildup.
“It was feeling good the last few weeks and no indication that it would hurt today,” she said in a statement through the B.A.A. afterward. “I went out aggressively in the race but wasn’t able to hang with the leaders but tried to give it my best shot even though the hip started to lock up around halfway. By mile 16 I was in a good deal of pain and I had to make the difficult call to stop at a medical tent to avoid really damaging anything.”
Not long before the race, Rojas, 34, split with her new sponsor, Adidas, saying the shoes weren’t working for her. She raced in an unbranded, all-black kit—and bright-pink Nike AlphaFlys. “I had to make a really tough decision to wear a shoe that works for my foot, and that I’m confident in,” she said.
The change appeared to work for her—she passed Seidel just after the halfway point, and stayed in 10th for the remainder of the race through the finish.
Many of the Americans stayed with the lead pack through the early miles, covering 10K in 34:21, a 5:40 pace. But before long, the leaders—including Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei, who eventually finished seventh in 2:24:43—began picking up the pace, covering miles 6 to 12 in a 5:06 pace (including a 4:59 ninth mile).
At first, Seidel stayed with the pack, but then began to slow before stopping completely. The other Americans—including Rojas and Stephanie Bruce, 38, who took the second American spot and 12th place overall with a 2:28:02—stayed back.
“My coach and I, Ben Rosario, we kind of had an idea from training, and he told me you can live with the 5:30s all day long and then you can visit 5:20s, visit but don’t stay too long,” she said. Staying behind for the quicker surges was an easy decision, she said. From there, she aimed to keep up with—and then passed—two-time Olympian and 2018 Boston Marathon champion Des Linden, 38, who finished 13th in 2:28:47.
The race was Bruce’s last Boston and a part of her final year of competition—she announced on January 6 she was retiring after this year because of a congenital heart condition called bicuspid aortic valve disease.
Nearly every runner ends their careers with what-ifs, Bruce said, but she was satisfied with today’s performance. “I have always ascribed to one of [2014 Boston champion] Meb [Keflezighi]’s mottos, run to win, but winning isn’t always getting first place,” she said. “It’s kind of what you do in your life, and so I feel like I did that today, that’s for sure.”
Linden, for her part, said there were times the pace felt nearly beyond her reach. The 5:25 pace she averaged between the 5K and 10K marks dropped below what she called her “speed limit” of 5:35. “I was kind of hoping it would all come together and not blow up in my face,” she said.
It didn’t—and after a long pandemic hiatus from competition, then a fall Boston that was tougher than she’d hoped (she finished 17th in 2:35:25), Linden said she enjoyed racing again.
“A day like today just reignites the fire and the passion,” she said. “It’s so fun to be out there, so fun to feel the energy from the city. This was number nine for me, and every spot on the course I feel the love.” If organizers invite her back next year, she said in her trademark line, she’d “keep showing up.”
All this came on a historic day—the 50th anniversary of women officially participating in the race, a milestone that wasn’t lost on the top U.S. athletes of today.
“The older you get, the more you realize how important it is to be a good role model for other women, and how important it is that those women did what they did, and to carry on that tradition,” Rojas said. Bruce noted that, as the mom of two boys, she appreciates when they see women’s sports in the spotlight.
“It’s not lost on me, though, that there is 126 years of race history here—and we’re rah-rahing 50,” Linden said. “It’s a little bit of a gut punch when you put the numbers together. But obviously, we can look back and look forward, keep raising the bar for women’s sports and do what we can by performing the best we can on the stage we have.”