Mile 15. I was sloshing along, trying to figure out what was so alluring about the Boston Marathon. What attracted so many people to want to run the world's oldest annual marathon? Was it the fact that one had to qualify? Was it the history? Its amazing cash prize? At this moment in time, it was eluding me as I was mired in a windy, torrential downpour, trying to run fast enough to avoid hypothermia. Only after the fact, as I was driving back from Boston, that it hit me - Boston is about its stories. Stories of the pluggers fighting for that career-defining win, the Meb Keflezighis and the Desiree Lindens as well as the stories that change the history of running, the Kathrine Switzers and the Bobbi Gibbs. It is also about the individual, personal stories of everyone who crosses that starting line. The story about a lady who was running her first Boston Marathon since her last Boston forty years ago. The story about a guy who is running his forty-ninth Boston Marathon. Stories of valor, overcoming adversity and beating the odds. Unfortunately, I will be honest. I did/do not have one of those stories.
I had entered the 122nd Boston Marathon on a invitational entry (with no qualifying time) that I was fortunate enough to win through a lottery by my local running club, the Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club (SMAC) (Thanks SMAC!! I really appreciate the opportunity!). I had qualified two years ago by running a sub-3:05 marathon but fell seven seconds short of actually getting in (Boston Marathon does a rolling cutoff where the qualifiers are ranked according to how much under their qualifying time the runners achieve and entries are cutoff once a final number of runners is reached). Hence, I was placed in the last wave (of four) and in one of the middle corrals, along with Arielle, who also got in via invitational entry through SMAC. Yay, the perks of volunteering (you know, other than giving back to the sport and all that...)! I was also running it with the intention of using it as a training run for my sub-3:00 attempt at the Sugarloaf Marathon in Maine in five weeks. With the throng of people and how early it was in the season, i knew that the conditions were not ideal for a goal race, regardless of weather.
The 2018 Boston Marathon can be aptly summed up as aqua-jogging in a wind tunnel. Running like you are going nowhere, being very wet and cold, with wind blasting in your face. The final rain tally was around 2in of rain over the course of the day, with 20mph winds, gusting to 35mph, and with wind chill temperatures hovering around freezing. You can read more about the race day conditions here.
Sloshing around the mud swamp that was Athlete's Village, the steady, insidious seepage of ice water into my shoes intimately reminded me of last year's IT100 where I had experienced very similar conditions for 12+ hours. (You can read that race report here.)Yay for experience running in adverse conditions for extended periods of time! 3-4 hours? Not a big deal. At least, I did not have to run through a muddy 40-mile-long slip-and-slide. Isn't there a saying - "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices."?
Arielle had gone ahead while I was disrobing but I soon caught up with her, wished her good luck on her first road marathon and promptly sprinted off to run my own race. My original race plan for the day was to stay around 7:15-7:30min/mile for the first half and then accelerate to marathon pace (7:00min/mile) for the latter half. After seeing the abhorrent race conditions and the throngs of people, I quickly discarded that plan and just ran to see what the day held. I still tried to hold to around 7:15-7:30s and see how I felt mile by mile.
I soon paired up with a local Framingham runner named Jeff who was running around the same pace I was. He was rather distinct as there were only so many people running through the crowd like the a baby iguana running through a horde of racer snakes. While we were weaving around like looms...I mean, loons, he asked me what my goal was and I replied snarkily, "Not to run into someone." He laughed at that and that was a good feeling on a day like today.
So. Much. Weaving. (Game of Thrones spoiler!) I swear, if Rickon Stark had run like we did, Ramsay Bolton wouldn't have had a chance in hell in hitting him. Serpentine, man, serpentine! My Garmin estimates that I added more than a quarter mile throughout the whole race just by weaving through the crowd. After the first 4-5 miles, the crowd started to thin out a bit and I could run in a straight line for some modicum of time. I stopped around mile 4 to strip off my rain-soaked track pants as they were starting to get heavy, clingy and restrict my movement. From the start, my socks and shoes were already soaked so I chose to go straight through puddles that most other runners avoided which afforded me some measure of breathing space as well as straight-line movement. Ah, just like trail running, except these puddles did not conceal a foot of mud.
I was just focusing on clicking off the miles and not running into people. I was either running alongside Jeff or drafting behind him, using him to part the crowd and as a windshield. He was a tall dude (around 6'4") so he was great for drafting. I was breathing easy but my legs were starting to tighten up from the up and downhills. I don't remember much of the first half until we reached the Wellesley "Scream Tunnel" as they call it. In years past, the metal road barriers will be filled with hordes of screaming girls carrying signs, rows deep. This year, it was mostly just one row deep but the enthusiasm they brought was inspiring. The rain certainly did not dampen their spirits and the volume of their cheering rivaled any that I have experienced in any of my road marathons.
By this point, I was trying to figure out what was different about the Boston Marathon than any of the other road marathons that I have experienced. I might be sacrilegious here but almost everything about Boston felt...the same as most other road marathons. It is just on a different scale (except the start line. Seriously, I was expecting an arch). More people, more support, more cheering, more history, more atmosphere, a bajillion more aid stations and porta-potties. If i were to distill it down, it really was just a bunch of runners, running on a road, through some urban or suburban areas with other people on one or both sides of the street holding funny signs and shouting encouraging things. It is a bit ironic though, given the number of porta-potties, that I started to feel like I needed to pee pretty early on. I just did not feel like stopping as it meant possibly getting cold and needing to weave through all those people I had just woven through all over again. I really should have just done a Shalane Flanagan and done it as it really came back to bite me later on in the race.
And the hills were bigger. All those little rollers are deceptive as they take a cumulative toll on your legs so that the Newton hills starting at mile 16 deliver the final knockout blow. After the second hill at mile 18, my left calf was starting to cramp slightly. From what I know of cramps, I figured it was from overuse. Then both my quads start to twitch on the downhills. I just couldn't get a break. The quads would scream on the downhills and the calf was a nightmare on the uphills. And Boston is just full of uphills and downhills. It was really being stuck between a rock and a hard place (not like my muscles were rocks..maybe more like pebbles but they felt as hard as one).
It was on the long downhill after Heartbreak Hill (which snuck up on me) that my quads starting showing signs of full-on cramping and cramped they did. A total lockup of my left VMO stopped me at the mile 23 aid station where I downed several cups of Gatorade. I had realized that the cold and the rain had nullified my ability to gauge how much i was sweating and the need to pee for the last 13 miles had caused me to stop drinking so I was probably very under-hydrated. Similar to what winning champion Desiree Linden talked about in her post-race interview, I was not drinking enough and was a cramp case waiting to happen and happen to me it did. The Gatorade offered some modicum of relief for a very short while but it was too little, too late.
Stopping at every aid station to drink Gatorade after mile 23, I shuffled to the finish. When the exposure increased and the wind picked up at mile 22, I was already pretty much done with the race and this obnoxious weather. I tried to soak it all in (har har) but, after fighting a head wind for the whole race, I had mentally checked out by now and was just focused on making it to the finish line. Rounding the last corner onto the finishing straightaway on Boylston street, I couldn't help notice how long it was and how small the finishing arch looked. Bloody hell. I finished in 3:24:57.
After finishing and walking (more walking -_-) through the tunnel of volunteers handing out space blankets, food and medals, I got my post-race drop bag and ended up changing in the first available porta-potty I could find. I was shivering pretty badly and peeled my soaked clothes off. The porta-potty was a pleasant alternative (never thought I'd say that) to the changing tent as my body heat heated the enclosed space a tiny tad. It was enough just to be dry and somewhat warm again.
After changing, I found an indoor plaza I could sit in and waited for Arielle who would later finish in 5:34:19.
After the race, I asked myself the one question every runner asks after a race. Will I do it again? At this point in time, by potentially being ostracized as a heathen to the road racing gods, I will have to say no. Boston was an experience and I am very grateful for the opportunity to experience it once and share the experience with Arielle (her first road marathon!) but it is just not my kind of race. Perhaps in time, I will change my mind but, for the near future, there are many other experiences to be had. That is the great thing about running. It is big and wide enough that you can find whatever experience it is you are looking for. Although, might I suggest California?
Trail/ultra runner, Designer, Foodie, Rock Climber, World Traveler, Triathlete, Level 1 RRCA-certified coach, NASM-Certified Personal Trainer (CPT)