Chanman's Blog

Racing with Heart – 2011 Boston Marathon

Desiree Davila racing at the 2010 USA Championships in the 10,000 meters.

The 2011 Boston Marathon is going to be remembered for a long time. The number one reason in my mind is the amazing race by Desiree Davila.

Davila, a member of the Hansons-Brooks Team and coached by brothers Kevin and Keith Hanson, came into the race as the fourth fastest American marathoner in US history (2:26:20 at the 2010 Chicago Marathon). The only American women who had run 26.2 miles faster than her were Deena Kastor, Joan Samuelson, and Kara Goucher.

Despite being the fourth fastest American in history, Desi seemed to be overlooked when America’s top distance runners are mentioned. Goucher, with a 2:25:53 PR and Shalane Flanagan, who ran 2:28:40 in her marathon debut at the 2010 NYC Marathon, are the “cover girls” for America’s hopes at the 2012 Olympic Marathon in London. Runners like Desi, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet (2:26:22, fifth fastest American in history) and Amy Hastings (2:27:03 marathon debut at the Los Angeles Marathon in March 2011, the eight fastest marathoner in American history, and 1:37 faster than Flanagan’s debut marathon) just don’t seem to get the same publicity that Goucher and Flanagan get.

On April 18, 2011, Davila, or “Desi” as most everyone will now call her, ran a race that will be remembered forever. New Zealand’s Kim Smith started the race fast and opened up a big lead. At 25K Smith led second place by forty-five seconds. By 30K, Smith’s calves started cramping and the pack caught and passed her. Davila, who was running a patient and smart race, was part of this pack. As the runners came through the 20 mile mark, it was apparent that Davila might do something special. Chants of U-S-A came from the crowd. At one point Davila raised her arms, calling for more crowd noise. The last American woman to win the Boston Marathon was Lisa Larsen-Weidenbach in 1985. Davila pushed for the lead several times over the final 10K. One by one runners dropped off the lead pack. Finally, Davila, Caroline Kilel, and Sharon Cherop approached the finish line together. A surge dropped Cherop and now it was a two woman race for the crown. The women traded surges and the lead changed hand several times. As late as two blocks to go on Boylston Street, Davila had the lead. In the end, Kilel made one final surge and hung on to win in 2 hours, 22 minutes, 36 seconds. Desi was second in an amazing and gutsy 2:22:38.

After this race, more people are going to know who Desi is. There was quite a tailwind for the race and the course was point-to-point with a net elevation loss. But the fact of the matter is that Desi “stuck her nose in it” with the race leaders and battled for first place in the most prestigious marathon run on American soil. 

Davila is someone who didn’t win a state championship in high school or an NCAA championship in college. Her best finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships was forty-first place. Her best outdoor NCAA track & field performance was in 2003 when she placed fifth in the 5000 meters. A look at her personal bests and professional highlights shows a solid national class runner, but until last Monday maybe not one of the best in the world.

That’s part of what makes her so loveable and her story so inspiring. She hasn’t been on the cover of Running Times or Runner’s World. She doesn’t sleep in an altitude tent or use fancy and expensive technological devices that her sponsor and coach help procure. She has a part-time job at a retailer called Moosejaw. According to a pre-race interview she drinks Orange Crush and has a whisky collection. From personal experience I can tell you that she sits in the stands at the USA Championships with her friends and watches the meet after she’s done racing. She comes across as just another runner.

But at the 2011 Boston Marathon she was David fighting against the “Kenyan Goliath.” Even her competition’s coach Alberto Salazar cheered for Desi. Salazar has been quoted as saying that while watching the race in the media area he started shouting at the screen, “I was so excited I was yelling and screaming with 300 (meters) to go.” Weldon Johnson of said, “There was no doubting Davila earned all of our respect. Most of us will never have the chance to win the Boston Marathon, but if somehow we were put in the situation, we hope we’d respond like Desiree. Twice defeated in the final 800 meters, Desi easily could have given in, but she never wanted to be left wondering “What if …?” She may not have won the race, but she won our hearts and souls. There is nothing more American than the underdog believing against all odds that anything is possible.”

By battling it out all the way to the finish line at the Boston Marathon, Desi reaffirmed to runners everywhere, that’s it’s not about being flashy, it’s about working hard and racing with heart. Thanks for the inspiration, Desi!


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