BOSTON — Neely Spence Gracey and Sarah Crouch led the elite women’s field early in Monday’s iconic Boston Marathon.
Atsede Baysa of Ethiopia ended up the winner, but Gracey and Porter each appreciated the moment that lasted 26.2 miles.
Gracey, of Superior, Colo., was born into marathoning: Her father was the No. 2 American in Boston in 1989; the next year she was born on race day while he was running. She and Crouch (formerly Sarah Porter) — a Hockinson High School graduate who lives in Kentucky and trains with a North Carolina-based team, were among the leaders through the first seven miles before falling behind.
Gracey finished ninth as the top American finisher in 2 hours, 35 minutes, with Crouch 11th in 2:37:36. They frequently raced against each other in college when Gracey was at Shippensburg in Pennsylvania during Crouch’s 12-time All-America cross country and track career at Western Washington.
Crouch said in her finish line interview during the televised broadcast of the race that a slow, tactical start to the race put her and Gracey in front early.
“Today ended up going out very, very slow in the beginning,” she said. “I ended up leading the race with Neely at around mile 6. We looked around and kind of shrugged at each other because we were running 6-minute pace, so it was far more tactical of a marathon than I’ve ever run before, but I really enjoyed it.
“The crowds were ridiculously energetic. You cannot overrate Boston. It was as good as everybody said.”
More than just that shrug, Crouch said, there was a little conversation about what was happening.
“I looked over at her and said, ‘Neely, how often in your life are you going to get to lead the Boston Marathon? This is pretty cool,’ ” Crouch said. “We just took a second to really enjoy that moment. It was a very special moment for both of us, I think.”
Gracey had the same impression.
“The energy was spectacular,” she said. “We were commenting back and forth, saying: ‘Wow! We are leading the Boston Marathon. We need to take this in and relish the moment.’ ”
The course’s legendary “Heartbreak Hill” was not “nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be,” she told NBC.
Crouch planned to race in the U.S. Olympic Trials in Los Angeles in February rather than in Boston, but a hip flexor injury in December changed her plans.
She skipped the Trials while continuing to rehabilitate the injury, and shifted her focus to her Boston debut.
Near the end of the race, she took an opportunity to take it all in.
“I took a moment,” she said. “With a mile to go, you go under a bridge. It’s really quiet, and I just kind of had a very thoughtful moment when I just said, ‘Thank you, God, for getting me to this point.’
“I got a little bit emotional because this has been a dream of mine to run the Boston Marathon my whole life. I’m just very, very happy that it was over, and I’m happy that it was a good experience.”
Columbian staff contributed to this report