The 2012 Boston Marathon happened on Monday. And so did ridiculous temperatures -- 69 degrees F at the start and into the mid 80s by the finish. Plus bright sunshine. Those are NOT optimal conditions, or even sub-optimal (perfect marathoning weather is 45 degrees or so with overcast skies). In point of fact, they're horrible, even dangerous conditions.
[as an aside, this is why it's so very annoying when non-runners refer to sunny 60+ degree days as "perfect for running" -- good rule of thumb -- if you're comfortable standing around without a jacket, it's TOO WARM]
And the BAA (the group that manages the Boston Marathon) recognized the conditions by allowing runners to defer their entries to next year. This was significant -- Boston requires most runners to qualify each year by running a specific marathon time -- here the BAA was allowing entered runners to carry their qualification OVER to next year.
I had roughly 20 friends entered. Not one took the deal. They all started. They weren't alone either - of the nearly 27,000 runners registered, only 427 took the offer.
Some of my friends finished, and some even finished well (heck at least one even PR'd) while others dropped out when it became obvious that, in their cases, they were damaging themselves. Thankfully all of my friends are safe. Sadly none of them, even the ones that ran well, performed up to the potential they might have demonstrated in reasonable conditions.
They were all fit and ready to run well. And skipping Boston wouldn't have meant a missed training cycle -- there's other marathons in the next week or two. And even if you don't race at the end of a training cycle, it doesn't mean your work has been wasted. Training compounds upon itself, so that the benefits of the fitness gained in one season serve as the base for the next season's training.
So, why'd they start?
I can't speak to the specific thought process of anyone who chose to run Boston -- that's their own story to tell. However, I think I get the mindset -- it's one that most competitive runners share.
Running/training/racing is grounded in dreams, as cheesy as it sounds. We do workouts and easy runs and rustbuster races and let them mold our ambitions. We glance at our Garmins and race results and fantasize about what they'll look like with different numbers at the end of our next race. We get excited dreams about how it will feel to cross that finish line, or to reconnect with friends after.
And every once in a while, you exceed even those dreams, and stun yourself with the time on the finish clock. And that rare moment is addictive -- as soon as it's over, you're chasing the next hit.
And those magical races can come on the days where you don't feel great or are sure the conditions are against you.
Additionally, each workout is a promise to yourself -- that it will pay off. To sit out your race is to break that promise, to let yourself down. And to betray the others that you've made silent promises to (though the truth is that they'd rather have you safe than fast).
And so, you gather at the start line. You know the conditions aren't right, you've been warned. But you don't really truly believe that. Plus, every once in a while, the bad day precedes the high. The risk pays off. And the joy of a truly great race is sublime, even more because it's so rare. And you don't have a chance to experience that high if you don't start the race.
Because maybe, just maybe...