All you need to know about the 2021 Boston Marathon

Two-time Boston marathon champion Lelisa Desisa returns to Boston and is among the favourites in the men’s race while local star Des Linden tops one of the finest women’s field.

By Evelyn Watta
Picture by 2015 Getty Images

At least 13 former winners will line up for the elite start of the 125th Boston Marathon on Monday, 11 October.

Ethiopia’s Lemi Berhanu and Lelisa Desisa, Geoffrey Kirui of Kenya, and Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi are among the men’s former winners seeking to add another title of the world's oldest annual marathon.

The 2018 Boston marathon champion Des Linden leads a deep women’s field that includes double world marathon champion Edna Kiplagat of Kenya, 2016 champion Atsede Baysa and another world gold medallist, Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba.

Here’s your ultimate guide to the top athletes to watch out for, the route course and the schedule.

Former Boston marathon champions seeking return to winning ways

Ethiopia’s former winner Desisa leads the men’s elite field seeking a third Boston marathon title in his seventh attempt.

The Tokyo Olympian won the iconic race in 2013 and 2015, and finished runner-up in 2019, a few months before winning gold at the World championships in Doha.

Desisa, 31, struggled at the Olympic race in Sapporo and, like his other two compatriots, didn’t finish the race. Boston offers him another chance to stand on the podium for the first time since his last World Marathon Majors win in New York in 2018.

“Boston has become my second home and I truly cherish my time when I am there,” said Desisa, who only raced once in 2020, finishing 35th at the Valencia marathon.

“I return to compete, still chasing my third victory in the Boston Marathon. I look forward to putting on a good show for you on Marathon Monday!"

The other Ethiopian to keep an eye on is Berhanu, who won the race in 2016, the first time in the race history that Ethiopians had swept both titles.

Atsede Baysa, the women’s winner in 2016, is also among a loaded field for Monday.

Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Kirui, another city and championship marathon specialist, also returns to the course where he won his first major career title.

After taking the Boston title in 2017, the Kenyan went on to win gold at the World Championships in London but hasn’t had much success on the marathon course since as he also battled a nagging tendon injury.

Japan’s ‘citizen runner’ Kawauchi is also back in Boston.

The then full-time employee of the Japanese Government and marathon fan runner surprised the elite competitors to win the 2018 edition. In 2020 Kawauchi retired from his office work to run professionally at 33. Monday’s race offers him the best chance to test his pro form against fellow elites.

High-quality women's field

The quality of the women’s race is particularly high with past winners from Ethiopia, Kenya and the USA.

Des Linden missed what would have been her third Olympics as she failed to make the American team for Tokyo by a slot.

The 38-year-old returns to the marathon course after her world-record run in the women's 50-kilometre race last April.

Her 2:59:54 made her the first woman to finish the ultra-race in under three hours.

The three-time Olympian is back in Boston seeking more history. The 2018 Boston marathon champion became the first American woman to win the race in 33 years.

She is buoyant ahead of her first of two major autumn marathons and excited to be back running competitively after the pandemic disruption.

“You’ve got to go test yourself at some point. It would be better if it were a smaller race. At this point, I’ll take any race,” Des, who is also entered for the New York marathon next month, told

American Jordan Hasay, third in Boston in 2019, is also hoping she can recover her previous best form at this year’s race.

At 42, Kenya’s Kiplagat is one of the oldest runners among the elites.

The Boston [2017], London and New York City Marathon champion is looking for a comeback as her countrywoman Caroline Rotich, who won Boston in 2015.

The Kenyans' contenders will most likely be Ethiopia's Baysa and 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Mare Dibaba, who so far has not shown the same form that won her the 2015 world title and Chicago marathon.

The course

The 2021 The Boston Marathon course remains the same with only the participants reduced by 40%.

The race starts in Hopkinton, MA, and ends on Boylston Street in Boston. The course is mostly flat and the most challenging stretch of the race is the steep incline between 29km-34km [Miles 18-21], the notorious Heartbreak Hill.

It earned the name following an incident involving two runners in the 1936 edition of the Boston marathon. Johnny Kelly supposedly patted Ellison Brown - who had led for most of the race - on the back as he ran past just him before the hill.

That consolatory pat instead motivated Brown, who battled with Kelly for the reminder of the race. Brown passed him on the hill and went on to win, breaking Kelly’s heart.

The schedule

This year’s races will start earlier than previous years with expected rolling starts.

Boston races start times are earlier than years past.

  • Men’s Wheelchair: 8:02 am
  • Women’s Wheelchair: 8:05 am
  • Handcycles and Duos: 8:30 am
  • Professional Men: 8:37 am
  • Professional Women: 8:45 am
  • Para Athletics Division: 8:50 am
  • Rolling start (begins): 9 am


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