It was like running on a treadmill in a freezer, with someone throwing buckets of water at you with a high velocity fan to the face and another person is just fucking with the incline button for 26 miles.
Yep, that’s me describing the Boston marathon either on the ride home to the hotel or at dinner that evening. I honestly can’t remember, the entire day was such a cold, wet blur.
The day before marathon Monday the tv weather forecast read: “RAW” (where it usually says cold, warm, ice, snow etc.) I pointed at the tv and asked Steve if he knew what the hell that meant. Raw. 40 degrees, real feel 22 degrees, 15-20mph sustained E/SE wind (that means headwind for the duration of the marathon), gusts up to 50mph and oh yeah, watch for falling trees. Splendid.
I woke up in Boston Monday, April 16th feeling excellent. Better than I thought i’d feel, even though I knew the weather was going to be a disaster. My head was screwed on right. I was going to face the hardest race conditions of my life head on for 3+ hours. Stephen reassured me that morning (and all the weeks leading up) that I was well trained for this, and a very strong runner. I’d finish the race and run the best I could. Like I always do.
I had good feelings until we got on the busses taking us to Hopkinton. All I heard for the hour drive were runners throwing their goals in the trash, talking about how hard this was going to be, how awful the weather was, they “can’t believe this is their Boston experience” etc. I stayed as positive as possible. I knew my goals were lofty and I would have to shift to effort based running depending on the wind, but my god people… rain isn’t a big deal and to throw your race, to throw 16-20 weeks of tough marathon training down the drain because the weather wasn’t ideal? In my head as I sat silently amongst some very negative runners, I knew I was mentally tougher than most.
I’m not delusional though. I do understand the affect of the elements. Temperature, weather, wind, cold, the sleet that started coming down while I waited the 40 minutes for a port-o-potty were going to slow my pace. While standing in line, a girl from Charlotte, NC caught my eyes under the mylar blanket i hooded myself in and went off like a cannon. “Can you believe this sh*t?? This is going to be *expletive* horrible! I can’t believe I flew in from NC!!!” …yada yada more expletives, you get it, she was NOT happy. I turned to her, red faced, purple lipped, shaking and said, it’s not going to be that bad once you get moving. Yeah this weather sucks, but you know what, we get to run a marathon today and when we’re done we get to say we ran Boston. It might not be that bad, try to stay positive.
It might not be that bad. <—This was about as close to rainbows and butterflies as my morning went. Once I finally made it to the bathroom, my corral was already 15 minutes ahead, walking down to the start, which was a .7 mile walk away from the mud pit ahem i mean, Athlete’s Village.
I sat down on the mylar blanket. If you don’t know what this is, it’s the shiny space blanket runners get after marathons to keep their body temperature warm. It was a life saver and I just so happened to find it on the bus that morning. Alright, so, I’m on my blanket to try and stay out of the mud, to change socks, get my ipod ready, my fuel belt on. Last minute details which should have been easier had my fingers worked. It took longer than normal, I fumbled and cursed. I wish I had more clothes, I wish I had Hot Hands, I don’t want to run like this. I don’t want to run. It might not be that bad. Walking to the start corrals, it felt good to get moving, and was entertaining to see so many people trying their best to stay dry. Like walking to the corrals with grocery bags around their shoes. News flash: in rain like that, your shoes don’t stand a chance. In ankle deep puddles, which we hit in the first mile, your shoes don’t stand a chance. Just pray you wore the right socks to avoid blisters.
Am i boring you yet? I just think it’s important to set the stage as to what went on before the race started. This was the first and only time in my running career I wanted the race to end before I even stepped foot on the course. I can’t tell you how uncomfortably cold I was before the start. But once the gun fired, and our corral was off, I did get excited to start running and hoped to warm up, still optimistic things would get better.
I embraced the rain. It honestly never bothered me too much. I kinda enjoyed running through the puddles, except when I got splashed from the runners at my sides: It felt like my crotch was getting water boarded. That was COLD rain. Cold. Icy cold. The rain was coming down. Off and on it would let up and drizzle, then in the next minute would downpour where I couldn’t pick my head up to look around. Notice I’m not describing the small iconic towns leading to Boston like most articles and recaps would normally detail. It’s because I didn’t see most of it. I wore a hat to shield the water from my eyes, which helped a ton, but looking up and around was mostly out of the question.
I remember seeing a train station in Framingham (i think) and thought it was pretty cool, then my head went back to looking ten feet in front of me. This is why I felt like I was running on a treadmill. I stared at asphalt for 3 hours. About 5-6 miles into the race my feet and fingers regained feeling. This isn’t so bad and my splits were looking alright. I kept reminding myself not to go too fast, stay conservative for the Newton Hills and the cold/wind which will zap energy. I needed to save all the energy I could to get to the finish.
Around mile 8 I saw a Medical Tent and asked myself if I wanted to drop out. I started doing time/distance/Uber/How-mad-would-Stephen-be math in my head, then looked at my watch, hitting 7:30-7:40s pretty consistently and not actually feeling bad isn’t enough of a reason to drop out. But I wanted to. A lot. Also, I thought I might have to pee… but getting into a port-o-potty was completely out of the question. I knew if i sat in something out of the wind and cold I wouldn’t get back out, and didn’t want to worry anyone watching the app, getting mile splits and wondering what the heck happened if I just stopped.
I told myself to get to the halfway mark and assess. I tried high fiving kids, but my fingers hurt too much. I still gave my best smiles to volunteers, officers and to the crowds that lined the course. They were all so awesome, so needed, so necessary. 13 miles came and I hit the halfway mark at 1:40, which meant if I negative split somehow, I could squeak in a small PR today. I wasn’t running happy, I did NOT have a good time out on the course, but I was super pleased with my effort which reflected my training paces more than the clock would show that day. In hills, I slow about 25 seconds per mile, the same in winds above 15mph. The fact that i was going 22 seconds slower than my marathon goal pace in wind, cold, rain, etc says a lot. And I would have had a great PR if just one of those dang elements were absent that day.
Alright back to the epic cold run. The Newton Hills. I saw the sign that said you were entering Newton (about mile 15-16) and i knew there would be some climbing until Heartbreak Hill at 21. My head went down and I went back to work. Watching the asphalt fly under my feet, feeling the gentle grade changes, up and down. Finally, I looked up again and saw a Nuun tent! Woo! Picked up my one and only cup from the race (I was holding a small 10 ounce bottle with Tailwind that took me 13 miles to drink) and shortly after I glanced up and saw a brown banner that said “Heartbreak is Over!” This was the only time on the course I laughed, I can’t believe i was holding back for this… Heartbreak hill was easy, the Newton Hills were just a few grade changes, knowing the last 5 miles were generally downhill, I hit it and tried to run faster. Tried.
My legs wouldn’t open up. I couldn’t finish as strong as I wanted, I couldn’t feel my quads at this point. The cold and wind were holding me back quite literally. I still pushed and maintained, fought and rallied. I was keeping an eye out at Mile 23, my friend Jordan and her husband Jake were going to be on course, and I desperately needed a pick me up. Somewhere around 22 (I think, it could have been earlier, this was all such a blur) I saw a woman holding a sign with a cartoon beer mug and what looked to be a dixie cup of glorious pilsner. I did a middle of the road 90 degree left turn and asked, “IS THAT BEER?!” She smiled and handed it me. I chugged the 6 ounces of liquid carbs and pain killer. Sorry mom, I take candy, booze and other things from strangers. Quite often now that I think about it.
The 23 sign came and went and I was a little disheartened, but not more than a few moments later I heard Jordan and Jake screaming my name and holding a wet, white sign that read Cori Maley Whiting, IN! (my hometown and where I know Jordan from) I stopped to hug her and started crying/hyperventilating and she yelled at me to keep going. It took a few minutes to stop gasping for air (crying and running is not easy).
I needed that. I could run a 5K. I will finish. I tried to pick up the pace, I suppose I did here and there, but my legs were ice cold and still couldn’t open my stride. When I tried, the wind was quick to put me in my place. I saw my watch, did quick math and knew I was close to a PR, but I didn’t think it was smart to attempt to push 7:00 minute miles just for a few seconds off my current best time. I chose wisely and tucked my headphones away (my 10 year old ipod nano is now broken btw) and took in what I could of the last half mile of Boston. The iconic, “Right on Hereford, left on Boylston” repeated in my head.
And like that, it was over.
I crossed the Boston Marathon finish line, profusely thanked the volunteer who slung a medal over my neck and to the women who wrapped me in the very fancy velcro hooded mylar coat and heard my group yell to me. Steve, Clint & Matt were right there behind the barrier. I left the food, drinks, free Sam Adams beer for the other runners, I just wanted to get out of the weather.
3:21:54 (1:05 slower than my PR)
Steve was so proud of me, my effort and impressed with my splits. I felt the same, I was pleased with my effort, even though I did not have one ounce of fun. I never gave up and I stayed positive. That in itself was worth starting and will make me an even stronger runner for future races.
After marathons I usually cross the line with a new version of self worth, appreciation and knowing I can accomplish big things. But after that day in Boston, I feel unbreakable. I truly feel like I can get through anything. I have run in rain, heat, snow, sleet, hail, wind, ice, 9 degrees, up trails, down mountains, through mud and in the middle of the night. Stephen has pushed me so far out of my running comfort zone during the last year so I could become a better runner. He saw potential in me during our first trail runs together where I was SO uncomfortable and afraid and constantly rolling ankles and sobbing because it was just too plain hard. Why am I gushing so much over him? Because I wouldn’t be the runner I am today if it weren’t for him. I’ve never had someone believe more in me. I owe him. He just made me fall more in love with a sport i’m already obsessed with and gives me the courage to constantly do my best.
My final thoughts on Boston: It was that bad. And totally not fun but I’m so glad I didn’t skip it or quit along the way and so happy with my effort and the time I crossed the line with. As much as I didn’t want to go back and repeat Boston, I may just have to…I would kinda like to see the course. haha.
Tuesday morning I gazed out the hotel window at the Charles River one last time before we drove back to Maryland. It was dry, cloudy, 45 degrees and with my head cocked to the side like a dog, I noticed the waves on the river were moving the opposite direction. A western breeze. Absolute perfect marathon conditions with a tailwind. Funny how life works like that sometimes.