BOSTON (AP) — Trailing the leaders by 200 yards when the Boston Marathon slogged through Heartbreak Hill, Wesley Korir passed them one by one until he took the lead on his way out of Kenmore Square.
That's when leg cramps forced him to slow down and relinquish the lead.
"It's hot out there, in case you didn't know," he told reporters after enduring temperatures in the mid-80s to win the 116th Boston Marathon on Monday. "I knew it was going to be hot, and one important thing that I had to take care of today ... was really hydrate as much as possible. I guess my biology degree kicked in a little bit."
Singing religious songs as he trudged along the scorching pavement, the native Kenyan — a permanent resident of the United States — retook the lead from Levy Matebo in the final mile to cross the finish line in 84.8-degree temperatures with a time of 2 hours, 12 minutes, 40 seconds.
It was almost 10 minutes behind the world best established here a year ago by Geoffrey Mutai and the second-slowest Boston victory since 1985. Mutai, who was hoping a repeat victory would earn him a spot on the Kenyan Olympic team, dropped out after 18 miles with stomach cramps.
Instead, it was Korir who may have won a ticket to the London Games.
"To me, I think running the Boston Marathon is an Olympic event," he said. "I don't care what comes up after this, but I'm really, really happy to win Boston."
Sharon Cherop won the women's race to complete the Kenyan sweep, outkicking Jemima Jelagat Sumgong to win by 2 seconds in 2:31:50. The women's winner was decided by a sprint down Boylston Street for the fifth consecutive race — all of them decided by 3 seconds or less.
Cherop, who was also hoping to be selected for the Kenyan Olympic team, was third at the world championships and third in Boston last year.
"This time around, I was really prepared," she said. "Last time the race went so fast and I didn't know I was about to finish. I didn't know the course well and I didn't know the finish line was coming."
Matebo finished 26 seconds behind Korir, and Bernard Kipyego was third as Kenyans swept the podium in both genders. Jason Hartmann, of Boulder, Colo., was in fourth place and the top American.
"The pace wasn't blasting, so it wasn't anything that was over my head," Hartmann said. "There were so many times that you wanted to throw in the towel, but you just fought on. I don't think that anyone coming to this race really could say they were prepared for this heat."
Korir, a two-time winner of the Los Angeles Marathon, was the 19th Kenyan man to win Boston in the last 22 years. But he is hardly typical of the African runners who have come to dominate the event since Greg Meyer became the last American winner in 1983.
After starting college at Murray State — the Racers, naturally — he transferred to Louisville and graduated from there with a biology degree. He is hoping to receive American citizenship within a few years.
The winners will receive $150,000 apiece. Korir and his wife, Canadian runner Tarah McKay, run a foundation in his hometown of Kitale and have been building a hospital in the memory of his brother Nicholas, who was killed by a black mamba snake at the age of 10.
Hot temps force Boston Marathoners to take it slow
There are races to run fast, and there are races just to finish. With temperatures hitting the 80s, Monday's Boston Marathon was the latter.
Nearly 22,500 participants braved unseasonably balmy conditions at the 116th running of the storied 26.2 mile race. Organizers stocked extra water and pleaded with runners to slow their pace to avoid heat stroke. Some 4,300 participants registered to run opted to sit out.
"It was brutal, just brutally hot," said 38-year-old runner Jason Warick of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, who took an ice bath before the race to cool his body. "Around 15 miles the wheels just came off. Then it was just about getting home."
Organizers said that as of the late afternoon, more than 800 runners had received some level of medical attention, and 50 were taken to hospitals in ambulances. One person was taken from the course in serious condition in Wellesley, though the details of their condition were unavailable Monday.
Medical volunteers scanned the finish line for runners displaying signs of heat stroke, assisting those in need to nearby medical tents. By mid-afternoon, dozens of wheelchairs carrying pale and weakened runners stretched outside the tents.
"I've never seen anything like (that)," said 35-year-old Desiree Ficker of Austin, Texas, who used salt supplements during the race to stay moving. "It was really hard seeing the confusion on people's faces."
Organizers said careful preparation and responsible runners prevented more serious problems on what was one of the hottest marathons in Boston history.
"This was the day we were preparing for," said Thomas Grilk, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association. "The god of marathoning, she smiled on us."
Temperatures prompted 30 additional physicians to volunteer at the last minute. Race organizers and volunteers pleaded with runners to put their safety ahead of their competitive drive.
"Today is not the day to run a personal best," said Garth Savidge, rehab supervisor at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, who was helping runners before the race. "Everybody is being a little extra cautious."
Registered runners who decided not to run because of the heat will be given an opportunity to run in next year's race.
Susie Eisenberg-Argo said she never considered skipping her ninth consecutive Boston Marathon. The 50-year-old Sugarland, Texas resident said before the marathon that she would force herself to slow down instead — and make sure she stopped for water along the way.
"It's a challenge to back off and say, 'I'm just going to take it a little more slowly,'" she said. "Most of the people here know what they're doing."
Matt Manning finished the race in 2 hours and 34 minutes — a full 10 minutes slower than his pace last year. He said the heat set in after the first several miles.
"It was direct sun the whole way," said the 32-year-old Baton Rouge, La., man. "I was hanging around through 10K or so, then I started to slow down.... I may move to Alaska or something to get away from the heat."
The famously welcoming crowds that line up to watch the marathon did their best to help out the athletes, cheering them on even as they themselves sweated through an unseasonably warm April day.
June Ramlett, 83, has been watching the marathon since she was a little girl. The Hopkinton, Mass. woman made sure to have a good vantage point for the starting line. She drank from a plastic jug of water to stay cool.
"It's really something to see," Ramlett said as thousands of runners hit their stride. "I've watching it for years and it's still very special."