BOSTON - Weakened by the heat and a mile-long sprint to the finish, Catherine Ndereba had to receive her winner's medal and olive wreath in a wheelchair.
As for the traditional bowl of beef stew, she took a pass.
It was much too hot for that.
Ndereba won the Boston Marathon for the third time Monday, running together with Elfenesh Alemu for 10 miles before sprinting away in Kenmore Square to finish in 2 hours, 24 minutes, 27 seconds. The 16-second margin of victory matched the closest in the history of the women's event.
"Toward the finish, I felt like I was dead," said Ndereba, who collapsed to the pavement at the finish line, where it was 85 degrees. "All of the sudden, I had all those cramps, and I could not stand. ... The heat was too tough. So I was going out there knowing I had to run very smart."
Timothy Cherigat won the men's race in 2:10:37 to complete a Kenyan sweep. He broke away from Robert Cheboror right before Heartbreak Hill to win by 1:12 as Kenyan men took the first four spots and six of the first seven.
A Kenyan man has won 13 of the past 14 Boston Marathons, and the country is so deep at the distance that Cherigat is not on the Olympic team despite his win.
"It is sad because the team has already been chosen," he said. "I will wait for my time, and it will come."
For the women's field, the time came Monday. Four decades after a race official tried to run Kathrine Switzer off the course, the women were put in front of the race and given their own start. Leaving Hopkinton 29 minutes before the men and 20,000 recreational runners, Ndereba and Alemu didn't have to confront the men who glom onto the top women for pacing or TV exposure.
"It is so great and we have all the room," said Ndereba, who won in 2000-01. "We have all the road to run wherever you feel like."
The two ran side by side and alone together before reaching Kenmore Square - one mile to go - where Ndereba took the lead. Alemu, with back pains and cramping, could not respond. "Catherine sped up, but I slowed down because of the pain in my back," Alemu said. "I wanted to improve my time, but the heat and the wind wouldn't allow me to do that."
Christopher Zieman of Felton, Calif., was the top American man, finishing 13th in 2:25:45. Julie Spencer of Baraboo, Wisc., was the top U.S. woman, placing 16th overall in 2:56:39.
Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa won the men's wheelchair division with the fastest marathon in history, finishing in 1:18:27 to win for the fourth straight year.
Cheri Blauwet of Menlo Park, Calif., won the women's wheelchair race in 1:39:53.