So here's my notes, written as much for myself as for anyone else, on what I learned.
[An aside here: Other runners have told me that they would have known how to handle these conditions, because they had run in this type of weather before. Let me be clear: unless you have stood or sat outside for 90 minutes and then raced a marathon (not a half) in that weather you have not experienced what it was like at Boston 2018.
I've run in all sorts of conditions - I don't ever skip a workout or an outside run due to weather unless it is unsafe. I've run long runs and track workouts in Boston 2018 type weather, and I've raced up to the half-marathon distance in similar weather. Despite all of that, I did not understand what it would be like on that day until I experienced it. And though I am admittedly an adorably neurotic over-preparer, I was not prepared.]
- Nutrition: this is always important during a marathon. But in very cold and wet conditions, taking in enough calories becomes even more important since you are expending energy not only to run but also to stay warm. At the same time, cold hands that don't work well, combined with wet clothing, make it much harder to eat enough.
One mistake I made was carrying all my gels safety-pinned to the inside of my shorts. It's routine for me to lose some control of my hands even in moderate conditions (Raynauds) and this method has historically worked well then. I partially open the gels before safety-pinning them, and then I need only grab the gel and rip it off of my shorts. If yanking it doesn't finish opening the gel, then I finish the job with my teeth. I don't need fine motor skills or grip strength when doing it this way. I just need to be able to get my hand around the gel packet, which I can generally do even when my hands are stiff and have lost feeling.
But this method failed me at Boston, when cold hands that weren't working (expected and planned for) combined with very soggy shorts (unexpected and not planned for) meant that I couldn't work my hands underneath the waistband of my shorts to grab my gels.
In retrospect, I wish I'd followed a friend's example and tucked additional gels inside my gloves as well as within my sports bra. You can always run with gels and not use them. (Others stored gels in their arm-warmers, but that wouldn't have worked for me, since my arm-warmers are not snug.)
I also carried a handheld water bottle with me, but I won't do that again in these conditions, unless I intend to toss it when empty. My hands were too cold to open and refill the bottle. And I was so soaked that getting more cold water on my hands wasn't a concern.
So... more gels in every possible place, and no water bottle.
- Clothing before start: I wore multiple layers before the start - rain coat over heavy sweatshirt/sweatpants over rain poncho, with a disposable body warmer tucked in there as well And the best idea of all - waterproof shoecovers (just Google them - there are many brands available).
While others carried a second pair of shoes to the start to change into, I think that would have been tough for me - both because of the difficulty of finding a place to change shoes, and because my hands were already too cold to tie my shoes well.
I saw others wearing plastic bags tied over their running shoes. And for many of them, the bags had slipped and ripped - they really weren't up to the stresses of Athlete's Village mud.
The shoe covers were one of my best ideas. Absolutely will do that again next time. $8 very well spent.
- Clothing for race: For Boston, I went with my singlet, arm-warmers, shorts, a running hat that I didn't like (so that if it got blown off my head I wouldn't mind) with a headband underneath. And then a throwaway long sleeve techical t-shirt (knotted at my bustline so my number showed) and a clear poncho.
I went with this because this same outfit, less the arm-warmers, had worked very well at the Shamrock Half-Marathon in 2017, where we had similar weather. However, I failed to consider that I would be running for more than twice as long in a marathon, and also that I would be running significantly slower, and thus generating less heat.
This outfit also resulted
in lousy pictures.
Of course the problem here is that there's really no running clothing designed for these exact conditions - sustaining moderate effort in rain, high wind, and below 40 degrees for multiple hours. I have a raincoat for running, but it doesn't breath well at all - it's only good for easy running. I also have some lighter water resistant stuff, but it was way too loose fitting and would have created significant drag in the headwind.
Thinking about it post-race, I realized that there is another type of athlete that deals with those conditions occasionally during long all day rides at moderate effort - cyclists.
You have your Boston Jacket
and I have mine.
Incidentally, I don't regret wearing shorts instead of tights. I'm confident that my tights would have been waterlogged within a mile or two, and chilled me more than bare legs would have.
- Hands. For my hands, I wore Scotchgarded glove-mittens with handwarmers tucked inside and plastic gloves underneath. This didn't work that well. The Scotchgard in particular was a wasted effort.
Perhaps if I had donned the plastic gloves earlier when my hands were warmer, they would have retained more heat. But other than that, I'm not sure what else I could have done. Others have suggested wearing the plastic gloves as a top layer. However the issue there is that my hands do not generate any heat on their own when I am running. That's why I carry handwarmers almost constantly - to generate the heat to be captured within my mittens. And handwarmers wouldn't work under plastic gloves, since they require exposure to air.
I think that in the end, my hands were a lost cause. My only other option would have been to wear my "boxing gloves" - massive snowboarding mittens that I wear when it's 25 or below. However, I can't take gels at all while wearing those (it's hard even to lap my watch in them) so I couldn't have used them for the marathon, even if I had brought them with me.
- Pacing/race execution: With regard to pacing, I almost always prefer to start slow and then gradually build my pace over time. It works in nearly all conditions - when it's warm and humid I'll alter slightly to staying conservative for an extended period of time and then hammering the last quarter to third of the race.
However, I think these conditions were the one time that strategy didn't work. I didn't save any energy by running conservatively - in fact I expended as much energy, if not more, by trying to stay warm. It would have been far better to pick up the pace after mile 4-5 (not hammering, but just slightly less cautious), so that I could have stayed warmer. I would have been running faster with the exact same energy expenditure.
- Seeding/Starting Place: In hindsight, part of me also regrets not seeding myself further back. Because I'm sometimes worried about gun time (when masters prize money is at stake) and sometimes not I've experimented with seeding myself at different places within a start. And I've learned that when there is a headwind, your experience in the race depends greatly on where you are in the crowds. The further back, the better. It doesn't seem like it at the time but you lose much less time and spend much less effort weaving around slower runners than you do fighting a headwind.
The best example I can point to is Cherry Blossom 2016, where we had a sustained winds of 15-20 mph with gusts much higher. I accidentally started in the wrong corral, with those significantly slower than me. I had to do a lot of weaving in the first 3-4 miles (much of which was directly into the wind) but I didn't consider the wind a real issue until I caught up to where I "should" have been.
[Related to this point, anyone who started at the front of Wave 1 had a completely different experience from the rest of us running Boston. If you were 1/1 or 1/2 at Boston 2018, I owe you a drink next time I see you. Because you ran the hardest race of all.]
So...with this knowledge, why did I start in my designated wave and corral, rather than move back? At the time, I chose to stay in my wave because the forecast indicated that the weather would be deteriorating over the course of the day. I thought that the earlier I could start, the better. It wasn't until I got to Athlete's Village that I realized I had miscalculated, and the weather had already rolled in.
That being said, in the end I'm not too upset about not moving back. Sharing the whole bus/Athlete's Village experience with my training partners Larry, Chris, and Juan is actually one of my favorite memories of the day, and something I will always treasure (as sappy as that reads). I wouldn't trade that for the possibility of a slightly faster time.