My big worry when registering for this race had been that it would be hot, as it had been the last two years. As the big day approached, I realized that instead we were going to get cool, damp conditions. And, naively, I rejoiced. I run well in those conditions, far better than heat. Plus rain means no pollen.
Of course, that was before I knew how bad it would be. Temps of 38 degrees; rain (heavy at times); and a headwind that ranged and raged between 15 and 35 miles per hour.
I'm a chronic overpreparer, and I knew both from my previous experience at Grandma's Marathon and a test run I did a few weeks ago just how easily I get chilled when I'm outside and not moving. Like I would be when waiting in athlete's village for 90 minutes. So I shipped a LOT of stuff up AND went shopping. As the forecast grew more dire (and the entirety of Boston appeared to be sold out of everything), I was grateful I had done so.
If you want a laundry list of what I carried to the start, it was:
- my pre-race breakfast (rice, hemp powder, gels, stroopwafels.
- a bottle of water
- a yoga mat
- two pairs of disposable handwarmers
- three disposable "body warmers" (like handwarmers, only bigger - they include a few in each box of handwarmers that I buy, and I've never had a use for them before)
- a insulated cup to sip warm water out of
- a heavy blanket
- two heat sheets
- an umbrella
- a roll of toilet paper
- a couple plastic trashbags, just because you never know.
And I also wore a ton of clothes. But more on that later.
I flew in early Saturday morning, and took the new "Silver Line" (new to me, since it's been 15 years since I was last in Boston) directly to the expo. I was in and out in 15 minutes, with bib, shirt, poster, and obligatory stuffed animals (yes, I know). Then I took the Red Line to Harvard Square, where I first stopped by FedEx to mail home all the stuff I had just bought at the expo, and then lunched on Chipotle while overlooking Brattle Street and reminiscing.
Then I went to my hotel, nicely located in the financial district (convenient to the start buses and the finish, but not so close that it cost a fortune), where I checked in and requested my box of shipped stuff. And waited, and waited. The hotel couldn't find my box, and claimed that it had not been received, despite UPS's representations to the contrary. The box was finally found but only after I insisted on helping them look for it. As soon as I walked in the storage room, it was right in front of me. Sigh.
But all's well that ends well, and I was able to spend the next 36 hours doing gentle yoga and eating Chipotle. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday.
Race morning dawned early, of course. I gave a lot of thought to what I would wear, both on course and during the 90 minute+wait in athlete's village. Based on a) my "practice athlete's village" a few weeks ago, b) my experience during the Shamrock Half Marathon in 2017, and c) advice from a friend who had run a marathon in similar weather on Saturday, I went with the following layers:
Layer 1: Singlet, shorts (gels pinned to shorts), arm-warmers, hat with headband underneath. Not shown are my convertible gloves/mittens, which I had sprayed with waterproofing spray a few days before I left for Boston. I planned to finish the race in this outfit.
Layer 2: Add a cheap technical longsleeve (6 for $20 at a recent race expo), and a clear poncho on top. I knotted the longsleeve at my bustline so that my number showed. I would start the race this way, and remove layers if/when I felt appropriate.
Layer 3: Add sweatpants (XXL so that they'd slide off easily over my shoes), a heavy sweatshirt, and a wonderful LL Bean raincoat that I found for $8 at Goodwill. Also waterproof shoe covers for my shoes that I bought on Amazon. I'd wear this all the way to the start line.
I know that quite a few others wore one pair of shoes to the start, and then changed shoes there. For me, I knew that if my hands froze, I wouldn't be able to tie my shoes well, so it was much preferable to put on my running shoes in the hotel and then wear the covers over them.
Thus garbed, I left my hotel room at 6 am to walk my stuff over to bag check. My teammate Larry was staying at the Four Seasons (very near bag check and the buses to the start), so after dropping my bag off I met him and some others in the Four Seasons lobby.
As wave 1 runners, we (my training partners Larry, Chris, and Juan, plus Larry's friend Josh) were supposed to board the bus between 6:00 and 6:45 am, but I took Larry's advice and waited until 7 am to walk over to the buses, boarding with the first of the Wave 2 runners. In retrospect, this was one of the best decisions I made that morning.
Leaving the Four Seasons at 7 am, we boarded a bus at 7:15 and arrived in Hopkinton just before 8:30 am. This was absolutely perfect. Just enough time to eat second breakfast, use the bathroom, and then get called to the start.
Walking to the buses in Boston Common, I noted the mud. And by noted, I mean "almost fell twice." As a horsewoman, I know mud. Horses and fields and rain create a lot of it. There's normal mud, there's peanut butter-like mud that sucks your shoes off, and then there's Crisco-like mud that can be deep but is incredibly slick. This was the Crisco-like stuff, and it was treacherous.
It had clearly snowed some in Hopkinton, and when we arrived, the deep but superslick mud had an icy covering in spots. We had arrived just in time to grab some of the last spots in one of the tents, so the five of us spread my yoga mat and some heatsheets on top of the mud, and then huddled together against the wind (which permeated the tent), eating and drinking. Pretty much every item I listed above was put to good use and appreciated - the only thing that I didn't need was the toilet paper.
(the one thing that I didn't bring, but should have, was a pair of plastic gloves to wear under my glove/mittens. Fortunately, Larry had an extra pair.)
Then it was time to walk to the start. I held onto my umbrella as long as I could before a race official finally pried it out of my hand. Everything else stayed on until the last possible second. Then we were off. Only 26.2 miles between me, a hot shower, and a lot of junk food and alcohol with friends.
A week ago, my game plan for this race was something like "protect quads during the first 3, conservative through 16, then start to race." But....with the weather forecast, I modified that to "stay cautious, don't forget about nutrition/hydration, and use your best judgement" So much would depend on how the wind played out through the morning.
I wanted to find packs to work with if possible. I also was very worried about blowing up on this unfamiliar and notoriously tricky course, since in this weather the consequences of imploding could be dire. On a normal day, if you blow up, you walk it in. And it's fine. Humiliating, but fine.
In these conditions, the safest way to run was with a steady, building effort. As soon as I slowed dramatically or walked, hypothermia would set in. To that point, I ran with a credit card and cash on me. I intended to run a good race. But, if I started struggling I had every intent of dropping and taking the T to the finish. This was not a day for foolish heroism.
So much of the race is a wet, windy, miserable blur. I started the race very slowly - not just because I wanted to be careful, but also because I had no choice - I was so stiff that I couldn't move fast at all. The road was also treacherous - discarded clothing and heatsheets were everywhere, and my Vaporflies felt like I was slipping all over the place. So I gingerly felt my way into the race.
It took me about 8 miles to start feeling warmed up - an eternity. Shortly after that, I started overheating, due to the poncho. Sweating would doom me in this weather, so I tore off the poncho and tossed it. My throwaway shirt stayed with me for the rest of the race - I never felt like it helped me that much, as water logged as it was. But it wasn't hurting me, so no reason to waste energy tossing it.
One of my big to-dos was to stay on top of hydration and nutrition, and I tried as best I could. But my failing hands and waterlogged outfit interfered.
I usually run with a handheld water bottle - refilling that at stops by unscrewing and re-screwing the top. Today, I thought that would be a plus because it would minimize water splashing on me. Nope. With my failing hands, I couldn't work the top. So I just grabbed a cup every other stand. I spilled half the cup on me each time, but it made no difference - the water in the cups was the same temperature as the water from above.
I also normally take 7-8 gels in a marathon. I did 4 this time, with my last a bit after mile 19. Not by choice - I had run with my normal 10+ gels pinned to the waistband of my shorts, folded inside. And I had pre-torn the tops of the gels for easy access. But my soaked shorts were glued to my body, trapping the gels within, and my hands were useless for extracting them. Plus each attempt to remove a gel required me to twist and contort while running, and I wasn't all that stable on my feet anyway.
The irony of running with multiple gels and a water bottle, and not being able to use either, was not lost on me.
As I noted above, the race was almost like a dream (and not a nightmare, because I wasn't suffering - I was just numb). It was always rainy and the wind was always blowing. And sometimes it was really raining and really blowing in my face. At other times, it was just a shitty day.
I looked for a pack, but was never able to find one. I think everyone had the same idea - find a pack - but no one wanted to lead. So I just kept working my way through, passing person after person.
I felt good in the hills. Surprisingly so. So when I crested Heartbreak, I started to roll down the glorious downhill to Boston. I caught up to Larry, and together we picked up the pace even more, to bring it in strong over the last 5 miles.
And then, within the space of 30 seconds or so, I bonked. Hard. This wasn't fatigue from the distance or from poor pacing. And I wasn't cramping. I simply ran out of gas - I could still run, but I had no power at all. I'm sure this is due to inadequate gel intake during the race, amplified by my increased caloric needs because of the cold. I simply ran out of gas.
I kept grinding. Walking was not an option - not just because of pride but because of hypothermia. I had to keep moving as best I could. But it was hard. The slower I went, the colder I got. Even as I hobbled, I kept trying to curl into something like foetal position - not good for running. And so I fought a hard battle just to keep my form upright, and to get to the finish.
I'm told that Boylston Street is one of the great marathon finishes. I didn't fucking care. All I knew was that I was done.
After the race was another ordeal. The BAA volunteers (who were WONDERFUL) wrapped me in a fantastic heatsheet with a hoodie, and after a quick picture with Larry (I wanted to make sure the moment of misery was captured) I gathered my bag. Then off to the women's changing tent, which was half men. Since there were so many more men than women in wave 1, there was a long line for the men's changing area, and none for the women.
|Larry and myself at the finish|
I didn't care, I just stripped my top off anyway. The floor of the tent was a half-inch of standing water and there was no place to sit, so I only changed into my dry top. There was no way I was going to be able to change my shorts or shoes without falling over and taking an impromptu ice bath - undoing the whole point of changing into dry clothes to begin with. Then I rewrapped myself in my sheet-with-hood, and lumbered back into the streets.
In a surreal recreation of a scene from the Handmaid's Tale TV show, the streets of Boston were full of people like me, wrapped modestly in clothing that covered head-to-toe with a hood, walking slowly with a downward gaze. As the rain continued to fall and the police looked on.
Mile 1: 8:01
Mile 2: 7:15
Mile 3: 7:22
Mile 4: 7:12
Mile 5: 7:14
Mile 6: 7:06
Mile 7: 7:03
Mile 8: 7:10
Mile 9: 7:10
Mile 10: 7:07
Mile 11: 7:15
Mile 12: 7:05
Mile 13: 7:01
Mile 14: 7:04
Mile 15: 7:27
Mile 16: 7:13
Mile 17: 7:34
Mile 18: 7:40
Mile 19: 7:16
Mile 20: 7:32
Mile 21: 7:44
Mile 22: 7:05
Mile 23: 7:29
Mile 24: 7:27
Mile 25: 7:37
Mile 26: 7:45
last .21: 1:42 (8:05 pace)
- This marathon is for the most part, wonderfully managed. But there is one striking flaw: bag check. At a normal race, bag check is done by numbers - 6000-6999 at one tent, 7000-7999 in the next, etc. This works well when the numbers are randomly assigned - finishers are evenly distributed among the tents. But...when you assign numbers by seeding time, then it's not surprising that runners with similar numbers are finishing at approximately the same time, resulting in one tent being overwhelmed. Of all races, this race needs to do bag check by some other means. Letters A-Z, perhaps (i.e. instead of being 7560, I would be "B-7560", while 7561 might be "C-7561" and 7562 would be "D-7562").
- I've seen some ragging on social media about "wimpy elites" who dropped out when they started to struggle. I want to be absolutely clear - there was absolutely no shame in dropping today, regardless of one's pace or the number on one's bib. This was NOT a day that you could safely jog it in, or take a break, regroup, and continue on. As soon as you slowed, you were frozen toast, and the only choice was to drop and save for another day. There was nothing heroic or respectable about finishing. All I got for my work was a unicorn medal, a fancy heat sheet, a time that doesn't reflect my fitness, and a good story. Only the last is of any real value to me.
- As for what I would have done differently? I don't know. I can't think of any practical way I could have carried my gels that would have made them accessible once my hands failed on me. And I ran with surgical gloves under water-proofed gloves/mittens with handwarmers, so I had already gone to the 9th degree as far as my hands were concerned.
- I'm also not sure how I could have dressed any better. What I wore worked for me in very similar conditions at Shamrock half - but there's a difference between half-marathon intensity and full marathon intensity, and you don't generate as much heat in the later, while being out there more than twice as long. But wearing more clothes would have meant either more clothes to get water logged, or more clothes to get sweaty under - as bad as getting soaked. I guess I could do more research. Or decide never to race in these conditions. (knowing me, I'm going to do more research).
- Pacing-wise, I do think I was a bit too cautious. As discussed above, that wasn't totally by choice - my stiffness mandated a long warm-up. However, since I hadn't run the course, I think I held back a bit too much after the first 4-5 miles, which cost me time and also let me get a bit cold (which cost me more time when my hands froze). If I do it again, I'll likely be a bit more aggressive in the middle of the course.
- Having now experience the whole "BOSTON" experience, I'm lukewarm on the subject. So many people have an obsessive reverence for this race that I don't share. On the one hand, it is a phenomenally run race, and I actually did like the course and feel I could have run very well on it on a different day. On the other hand, so much of the BOSTON experience seems to be about stuff peripheral to the actual athletic event. Large expos, pasta dinners, people wearing ugly jackets everywhere. And that stuff isn't important to me. I'm sure I'll do it again at some point, but it's not a race I'll insist on running every year.
- Jetblue did a special pre-boarding for Boston Marathoners on Tuesday morning. At first I was a bit uncomfortable: I felt like we were getting the special treatment reserved for veterans and active duty military. And then I realized we were getting the special treatment given to small children and invalids, and it made more sense.
- I had been hoping for a top 20 age group finish in Boston, but just missed it - 24th. Bummer.
- I'm so glad I overdressed this whole winter to prep for a hot Boston.