Boston’s Wild Ride (2018)

As a runner, you get used to hearing “I only run if someone is chasing me,” or “You’ll ruin your knees,” or “How far is this marathon?”  But you really know you’re a distance runner when you start to hear “Run, Forrest, Run!” 

Boston 2018 was more of a different Forrest Gump quote.

“We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain … and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath.”

– Forrest Gump

I first ran Boston in 2014. I qualified for 2013 shortly after registration closed, and then after the bombing, I was determined to run 2014. It was an incredible experience – a beautiful day (a little warm for running, but perfect for spectating), huge crowds lined the route pretty much the entire course (and they closed down the finish line area for awhile because it was so crowded), Meb won, lots of emotion before during and after from runners and Bostonians alike. My parents flew out from Illinois and Mike drove up with me for the weekend – we lived in Maryland then, we did not drive up from Texas. It was so awesome I felt like going back would be a letdown, or at least that’s what I told myself when I had work conflicts in 2015 and 2016, and when I didn’t have a qualifying time in 2017. When registration opened for 2018 I was ready to go back.

Leading up to race day, it seemed like every time I checked the weather the forecast got worse. I packed a singlet, arm warmers and shorts. Then I added a short sleeve shirt. And then a long sleeve shirt. And then tights. And gloves. And finally a rain/wind vest that I didn’t think I’d wear but was willing to toss once I got too warm if I did decide to wear it. Then I added throwaway sweatpants, sweatshirt, a pair of heavy socks to use as mittens and a poncho for before the start and clothes for the rest of the weekend.  I flew Southwest with a connection in New Orleans. My flight out was delayed due to weather, and as we circled the New Orleans airport waiting for a storm to clear before we landed, I tried not to worry about my connection. Surely the same storm was delaying my connecting flight out, right? Nope. I became one of those people loudly announcing they had a tight connection so people got out of my way and let me off the plane first. I ran to the other gate and got there with just a couple minutes to spare. I was talking to another guy from my flight making the same connection as we walked down the ramp, and I stepped half on/half off the part you walk on and rolled my ankle pretty bad. I hobbled the rest of the way and got one of the last seats in the back of the plane. The entire flight to Boston I worried about my ankle. It didn’t hurt too bad just sitting there, but if I pressed against it there was shooting pain. When we landed I was relieved I could walk with out a lot of pain, but I was still worried.

Boston Marathon weekend is magical. Runners everywhere in jackets from previous years’ marathons. The whole city knows the marathon and everywhere you go, people ask if you’re running. They tell you how impressed they are that you qualified to get there. They wish you luck. They thank you for being there. The people at the airport, the people on the T, the people at the hotel, at restaurants, stores, even just walking down the street – they all treat you like a rock star. So even though my ankle was still bugging me and I tried to stay off it as much as possible, I had a great time in Boston leading up to the race.  After the expo, meeting up with friends from around the country, and dinner with my cousin that came out with friends to spectate, race morning was here before I knew it.

Ever since I watched a race start from my car while waiting to turn into the parking lot several years ago, I tend to get to races really early. With the awful weather, I tried to time it a little better this time without letting prerace anxiety and ankle pain worry get the best of me. I got up, ate a Clif bar, got dressed in all my layers and headed to the T, with a stop at Starbucks for coffee. I was cold and wet from the three-block walk. Dropped my bag of dry clothes at gear check and lined up for the buses around 8:40. BAA said I should be there between 8:00-8:45 for wave 3, so I was pretty impressed with myself. The bus ride itself was uneventful, although I didn’t enjoy watching the rain and seeing sleet/snow on the ground as we approached Hopkinton. I ate a bagel along the way. 

Race morning weather. video clips….it just got worse as the day went on.

As we got off the bus, I was talking to a girl in the same wave and corral as me, and since I’d run Boston once before, she said she was sticking with me to get to the start. They were calling wave 2 when we walked up, so we decided to stop and shed a layer and leave it with volunteers there collecting stuff. As we were doing that, they started calling wave 3. I was glad I timed it so well and wouldn’t have to squish through the mud pit of Athletes Village, but could head right to the start line. However, my new friend took a really long time to change her shoes there, and by the time we started towards security and the start line, the sidewalk was jam-packed and not moving.  At all. I finally cut through part of the village and the mud, where I nearly walked out of one of my shoes it was so bad.

By the time I finally made it to security, they were already calling for wave 4. I wanted to stop at a port-a-potty – I didn’t really have to go, but I could go, if that makes sense. But since they were already calling the next wave and I had the long walk to the start, I ran/walked all the way to the start and made it to my corral with just a couple minutes to the start. I was not happy I was stressing about getting to the start, but at least I didn’t have a lot of time to get nervous. Wave 3 started, and a few minutes later so did I.

I planned to start at about a 9 minute mile pace, then if I felt good towards the hills and after, pick up the pace to finish under 4 hours. Now that I’m 50, under 4 is a BQ, and all my race results (and the short course marathon I ran in December) said I was somewhere between 3:45-3:50 shape. I did not want to blow up and walk, because I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep going once I got cold and tired. My ankle hurt for about the first half mile, then pretty much everything went numb and I couldn’t feel the ankle, or anything else for that matter. So yay? After a couple miles my dollar store rain poncho was bothering me so I threw it to the side of the road. By mile 4 I was cursing my decision to skip the port-a-potty. I didn’t want to stop, but I knew I’d have to stop. The next few miles I watched but all the port-a-potties had lines. Finally just before mile 7, I had no choice. The line was short so I stopped. I took off my socks as mittens and put them in my throwaway vest pockets, then dug a gu out of my pocket and ate that while I was waiting in line.

Once I got back out running, I tried to enjoy the race. The crowds were smaller than 2014, but I was amazed at how many people came out to watch and cheer in that weather. It was raining and windy nonstop, then occasionally a sheet of rain would come blowing through. It got to the point where that would happen and people would just start laughing. I was cold but not miserable. I’d occasionally think to myself “I can’t believe I’m doing this” and smile. My hands were cold even with gloves but my sock mittens were drenched so I eventually threw them to the side of the road. I tried to take another gu but couldn’t make my fingers work to get one out of the pockets in my tights. I threw “nothing new on race day” out the window and decided I would just take Gatorade at every aid station and forget about trying to get gu. 

At some point between the mile 7 port-a-potty and Wellesley, I realized I needed to stop thinking about time and ease up a little more – I was really afraid of a blow up late in the race. I couldn’t hear my watch beep or feel it vibrate at each mile anyway. Occasionally I’d see a good sign or something cool and think I’d need to remember that, but I forgot it all pretty much before the end of the race. I do remember at Wellesley amongst all the girls and their “kiss me” signs was one guy with a sign that said “Kiss me……I’m new at this.”

I made it to the first of the Newton hills. I was cold, my hands were numb, my legs were numb. Every once in a while I’d warm up and unzip my throwaway vest a little, only to zip it back up the next time a gust came through. And remember that great idea to drink Gatorade at all the aid stations since I couldn’t get my gu? Well, I kind of had to pee again. New executive decision, run through the aid stations for awhile and take nothing. Since I usually walk through the aid stations, I decided I’d take walk breaks on each of the hills instead. And so I did. 

I finally got to the top of Heartbreak and felt like I had the energy to run the rest of the way. And then I ran into the strongest headwind I’ve ever experienced. For a really long time. It was hard. I was still cold. I was remembering seeing Mike and then my parents spectating at mile 23 the last time I was there. Much smaller crowds this year, but still people were out. I just kept running. I thought about all the people tracking me and thinking “glad I’m not out there running in that” and kept going. I thought about the fact that my friend Patty’s niece was running and Patty said she was going to be out cheering, but surely she wouldn’t be out in this weather. A half mile later, I heard “Karen!” and it was Patty! I went back to say hi and half-hug her over the barrier and she told me I was crazy. I remembered people saying you can see the Citgo sign for a long time before you actually get into town and make those final few turns and thinking “how much longer until I see the sign?” and then looking up and it was right there and it was huge. Which meant I only had about a mile to go! 

I kept running. I made the final turn onto Boylston. I took it wide because my cousin Cyndee and her friends said they were going to be on that side of the street. I didn’t see them and they didn’t see me, but I knew they were there. I took in the noise from the crowds and teared up a little bit. I was almost done. It was not the time I wanted, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

I finished in 4:10:38. I was kind of out of it and didn’t even realize right away that I’d crossed the finish. Then I realized everyone was walking and we must be done. I got my medal and my heat cape thingy and a bag of food. I got to gear check and there were no volunteers working the section with my bag. People were squeezing in behind the tables and digging through the bags trying to find their own. So I did too, found my bag and headed to a hotel by the finish where a friend of mine was staying. I changed in the hotel bathroom and then walked the two blocks to the T. Headed back to my hotel and after the three-block walk from the T to my hotel was soaked again. After a long, hot shower, I finally felt human again. I couldn’t believe all the texts and fb messages and comments I had from the last several hours, and I enjoyed reading them all before heading out to dinner. 

They say 2018 was the worst weather conditions Boston Marathon has seen in 40 years. Of the approximately 30,000 people registered, 26,948 started and 25,746 finished. Around 2,500 runners were treated by medics, many of them for hypothermia. 23 of the elite runners did not finish.

An American woman won for the first time since 1985. Des Linden felt like she might drop out early on, so when Shalane Flanagen had to stop at a port-a-potty, she hung back to help get her back to the lead pack. And then she ran away from the lead pack and won the race by over 4 minutes. American women kind of dominated, taking 7 out of the top 8 spots. The men’s winner was Yuki Kawauchi, the “citizen runner” from Japan that has a full-time non-running job, and unlike most elites, runs a lot of races (about 10 marathons a year). He ran a half marathon as a tune-up race dressed as a panda. Boston was already his fourth marathon of 2018.

The Boston Marathon was Perfect Chaos

Boston 2018 was awesome and awful and amazing and insane. I was tired for an entire week after. And I have no idea what’s wrong with me, but I want to run it one more time. 

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