Facing what many were calling the fastest professional field ever assembled at the Boston Marathon, defending champion Rita Jeptoo made history Monday by winning her second consecutive title and third overall in 2:18:57, breaking the course record by nearly two minutes.
Not far behind were Ethiopians Buzunesh Deba -- who trains in the Bronx -- and Mare Dibaba, in second and third, respectively. The duo also came in under the course record of 2:20:43 -- Deba posting 2:19:59 and Dibaba 2:20:35.
Shalane Flanagan, the hometown favorite who grew up in Marblehead, Mass., took the race out at an aggressive pace and hovered around a 5:20-per-mile average. Flanagan gave up the lead only momentarily through the water stops, until the lead pack hit the Newtown Hills.
Flanagan didn't believe it would take much below a 2:22 to win the title. Her coach, Jerry Schumacher, told her that time, though three minutes faster than her best, was well within her ability.
Flanagan said she thought the faster clip at the start might shake a few women out of contention from the get-go. She was surprised how many women hung with her, though.
"I have a good friend named Joan Benoit Samuelson who has told me for three years now to run my own race," Flanagan said. "It was a no-excuses day."
For her part, Jeptoo seemed surprised the race went out as fast as it did and wasn't sure she'd be able to sustain it, but she said she drew inspiration by thinking about her training in Kenya.
"I felt like somebody not ready to run this pace," she said. "My body didn't respond at the beginning."
It wasn't until extremely late in the game that Jeptoo felt things coming around, and she made her most-decisive move around the 22nd mile. She dropped some sub-5:00 miles over the final 5 kilometers, and posted a 4:47 split with just two miles to go. It was then that onlookers noticed she was running faster than the Boston "T" train beside her.
Deba, who was second at the 2013 New York City Marathon, bettered her PR by about three minutes. She acknowledged it was Flanagan who pushed the field to such fast times, and said that she came back to Boston to show support for the victims of last year's bombings.
"Last year, my heart was broken," she said.
Flanagan, who said prior to the race that a win in Boston would mean more to her than an Olympic gold medal, was emotional after the finish. She shed tears while recounting a training cycle that included months spent at altitude in Flagstaff, Ariz., six visits to the Boston course, and plenty of support from her husband, father, coach and other family members.
"It means a lot to me that my city is proud of me," she said, adding that she was feeling ill from the effort. "I don't wish it was easier, I wish I were better."
Fellow American Desiree Linden -- another pre-race favorite who finished second in Boston in 2011 -- never hung with the lead pack and finished 10th in 2:23:54.