June 20 2018
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After winning the Boston Marathon in world-best time last year, Manuela Schar of Switzerland is ready to return as its defending champion in the women’s wheelchair division.
Asked how different it is to train for Boston as the defending champion, Schar wrote in an email, “It is not different. Only that I know I can do well on that course. That gives me a little bit of extra confidence.”
Last year, her world-best time of 1:28:17 was more than five minutes faster than the previous standard set by five-time Boston winner Wakako Tsuchida of Japan in 2011. It was a good day for Switzerland, as Swiss marathoner Marcel Hug also set a world best in winning the men’s wheelchair division.
Schar described last year’s finish as “very emotional.”
“It felt like I had worked a long time for that moment and I almost couldn’t believe that it had finally happened,” Schar said. “It was the start to a great season and it was a very special win that I will never forget, also because it was the fastest time a woman ever had finished a marathon.”
Schar, who also won the Virgin Money London Marathon last year, noted that Boston “is an A to B course, so if there is a headwind, you have the headwind from start to finish. That was the case last year, and also the warm temperature. That made it a very fast race last year.”
The second- and third-place finishers—Amanda McGrory and Susannah Scaroni, respectively—also surpassed the course record with personal bests, but neither could catch Schar. Nor could four-time Boston champion Tatyana McFadden of the U.S., who placed fourth. Schar identified all three rivals as her toughest competition in Boston this year.
Less than a month ago, on March 18, Schar won the NYRR United Airlines Half. Her time of 59:57 led all women and was sixth overall. Scaroni, McFadden and McGrory, respectively, were the second- through fourth-place women and seventh- through ninth-place overall finishers.
“It was a great new course but also a tough course, and very difficult conditions with the cold temperatures,” Schar said. “I struggled on the first climb and had to let Scaroni and McFadden open a pretty big gap. It took me until almost the finish to close that gap again.”
Even as she trained for and won the half marathon, she had Boston in her long-range plans.
“In wheelchair racing it is possible to do more marathons a year than it is for runners,” she said, “so I am in marathon training all year.”
A veteran of training in hills, she uses this experience to prepare for Boston’s notorious Heartbreak Hill, which pops up near the end of the race and which Schar calls the most difficult feature of the marathon.
“I don’t like long and steep climbs,” she said. “And it’s not like you get there fresh.”
As of this writing, there were still small amounts of snow in the Boston area. Schar hopes that on Patriots’ Day, warmer conditions will prevail.
“I hope for similar weather conditions like we had last year,” she said. “Since we can only move half of our bodies, it is difficult to stay warm in very cold weather.”
Regardless of the weather, two factors of the Boston Marathon stay constant: the history and the fans. Though the weather conditions and athletic fields change from one year to the next, the historic course and its incredible number of spectators remain dependable, the two factors that Schar says are what make Boston special.