As much as I like to believe that after running 18 Boston marathons that the next one will be easier, it isn’t. It could be age or it could just be nerves but for some reason I can’t put into words every
marathon morning carries both excitement to be there and nervousness at what’s ahead.
For those of you that have read previous year’s blogs of race day you know that often what defines the day is the weather. I’ve run in the remnants of a hurricane with winds so strong they blew over the porta-potties (nasty). There was the year the temperature hit 90 degrees and they considered canceling the race. Spectators brought out garden hoses and ice to cool down the runners (you’ve got to love Boston spectators). There was a year when it snowed the day before the race and runners were standing in muddy slush in the staging area before the start. While there have been perfect sunny 50 degree days sprinkled in over the years this was not one of them.
I had the luxury of staying with the Burnett family the day before and it was perfect…great food, great company and a warm bed. When I left for Boston the next morning to catch a 6AM bus to the start the temperature was in the 30’s with the promise we would warm up to a toasty mid 40’s during the day. Rain would start late morning and continue throughout the day with winds picking up as we got close to Boston (in our face of course…we wouldn’t want it to get easier).
Hopkinton is a small town so they close down the roads into the area by 7AM. Buses pick up runners in Boston for the hour trip out to the start staging area, attractively called the athlete’s village. Picture several sports fields with a large white tent in the center, hundreds of porta-potties lining the perimeter and 10’s of thousands of runners milling around looking for a way to stay warm and burn off nervous energy. Security is high since the bombing 2 years ago including scanning all runners entering the village and restrictions on what you can have with you. In prior years you could keep a bag of clothes with you and as you left the village to head to the start you could have your extra clothes and personal items placed on a bus that would meet you in the finish area. With the changes in security this was no longer possible so what you wear or carry with you either travels the 26 miles with you or gets discarded at the start. You see some pretty creative outfits as people wear old clothes and cast offs to stay warm before the race (more on this later). State Police, National Guard, canine units and swat teams are all there to help assure the safety of the runners. They were polite, supportive and ever vigilant. It felt good to have them there.
Last year’s marathon was one of the largest fields as a result of the bombing the year before. This year’s 30,000 runners were a step up from the normal 26,000 and as a result there was an additional wave added to the staggered start. The wheelchair racers go off first (you do not want to be running in front of a wheelchair racer on a downhill). The women elite runners go off at 9:30 followed by the elite men and the first wave of 7500 runners at 10 (and yes, most of us are sitting around since 8AM waiting for the start). There are 8 corals/wave and runners are staged in corals based on their qualifying times. Corals are a good name for the process of packing the runners into the starting areas. To get to the starting corals you have to walk almost a mile from the athlete village (because of course you need a warm up before running 26). On the way, athletes are peeling off all the warm outer clothes they brought and tossing them to volunteers who are filling thousands of trash bags that will go to charities. A nice way for runners to empty their closets and the needy to get some warm clothes.
Wave 2 goes off at 10:25, Wave 3 at 10:50 and Wave 4 at 11:15. By the time Wave 4 leaves the elite runners will be past the half way point. I was in Wave 3 and as I headed down to the start it began raining. One of the tough decisions is deciding what to wear. With the cold and the rain this year it was an easier decision…hat, gloves, nylon wind pants long sleeve shirt and a light rainproof windbreaker. To stay warm and keep the rain off while waiting for the start I wear a designer trash bag over my outfit. Very stylish. One last run to a porta-potty and I’m ready.
I knew going into this race that I was not going to run fast enough to requalify. I have been injured off and on over the last 4 months and there was no way to get the kind of performance training in that I would need. My strategy was to go out slow and try to avoid aggravating any injuries in the first half of the race and then take the second half based on how I felt. The rain didn’t change any of this for me; I just made more wet sloshing sounds as I ran.
There are no better crowds than the Boston Marathon spectators. Rain didn’t matter…they were out there cheering like always. You have to love the creativity, like the guy at around 16 miles with the sign “1 million inches travelled, 660,000 to go”. Or the people who normally hand out orange slices or ice, switching to hand out hot coffee and tea. There are a number of places along the route that play music, live and recorded. This year one was playing the Boston Red Sox theme song Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. As if to pile on the pain, it stuck in my head for the next 5 miles. And then there are the Wellesley girls. You run the gauntlet of a quarter mile of hundreds of screaming college girls with signs reading “kiss me I’m …” (you fill in the blank; it gets more creative every year). I swear some of the old guys just run the race so they can stop there and get a little lip.
My immediate goal was to make it to 16.5 miles where my family was waiting for me. My twin grandsons at 4 haven’t missed a race since they were born. Having survived that far, my sister Terry jumped into the race to run the last 10 miles with me. She was terrific. It was like having my own concierge. She would get me water, pass me jelly beans and at time run in front of me to help block the increasing wind. She even tried at times to hold a conversation with me. I think I managed to grunt an occasional answer. From 16 to 21 is a series of up hills that come at a really bad time (the last of which is the famous Heartbreak Hill). The wind had picked up substantially (20 mph) as we got closer to Boston and was particularly brutal among the hills. You know it is windy when you go to drink at the water stops and the water blows back in your face.
From beyond the hills it was the normal grit your teeth, find somebody tall to run behind to block the wind and just count off the last 5 miles. It turned out to be one of my slowest marathons but then again I was just happy to have made it through uninjured. It will go down as a memorable one not because of the race itself but because of the people who supported me along the way. Not only the ones that were able to brave the cold on race day, but also the ones that sent words of encouragement and donations to Help in the Nick of Time.
To me those are my heroes.