Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Boston Monsoon Marathon 2018

My thoughts two days before the Boston Marathon went something like this:  The weather sounds pretty bad. But it’s not heat, thank God. It’s rain, wind and chilly temps. I’ve run in the rain many times, even races, but never an entire marathon. I have enough experience to know I must make sure I stay warm, and relatively dry before the race. I have enough experience to know the wind will slow me down, but the rain probably will not. Much of my race plan can stay in place, try to maintain my pace, walk the hills, keep on top of nutrition and hydration. But I really have no idea how a driving rainstorm and a headwind will affect me over the course of 26 miles.

My Look for the Athlete's Village

I went to the expo on Saturday. I was generally purposeful, got my bib, got my T-shirt, which is very cool. It has the names of all the towns you pass through on the back. Got my celebration jacket, a little stuffed unicorn named Spike (the symbol of the Boston marathon), a marathon commemorative pin. Then I walked up and down the rows, trying various products, looking for free stuff. I bought some water resistant gloves and that was about it.

And then it was Marathon Monday:

I woke up at 4:30 am. Usually I can’t sleep the night before a big race but last night I slept like a rock. No getting around it, the weather will be terrible. Lee took me to the Boston Express bus station in Salem New Hampshire at 6 AM and before too long we were heading into Boston. Everyone on the bus wished me good luck! From South Station I took the T. Red line to Park, switch to Green line, Green line to Arlington, where dozens of marathoners huddled in the station staying warm and dry and using the bathrooms there. Me too.  Eventually I put my plastic bags over my shoes, donned my plastic rain poncho and marched with the other runners to the bus pickup to Hopkinton. 

That’s a long bus ride, but at least during it we could stay dry and warm. Hopkinton’s Athlete’s Village is in the field behind their school, which had turned into a sea of mud. Even with my plastic bags my Brooks Run Wicked Run Happy Lobstah Launch 5 shoes got muddy, and it was so wet that before too long my plastic bags were full of water, so I just got rid of them. If I ever try that again I’ll have to refine my technique!

The walk to the starting line was exciting, even in the pouring rain. I stopped at the bathrooms at CVS (dry parking lot and no waiting, thanks Robert Wang!), shed my rain poncho and heavy sweatshirt at the last minute. Many, many people ran in their rain ponchos but I thought I would be ok in my water resistant jacket. Who would have ever thought I would have been better off running in my waterPROOF jacket? I was so worried about being hot, and that was never the issue!

Instead of making us get into corrals the race officials told wave 4 runners to just go ahead and GO. This made for a lot of people passing me in the first mile as we got ourselves sorted out and I settled into my 30/30 run/walk intervals. In fact sometime during the first mile a girl lost her footing and fell, almost knocking me over. She was okay but I was a bit unnerved. The last thing I needed was for my race to be over before it even began! I’ve been telling myself for weeks that this was a race with a bunch of BQ’s (Boston Qualifiers), the best runners for each age group in the world, so there was no need to even begin to compare myself to anyone else. I later found out that there were 112 finishers in the women 65-69 age group. Most of those women were much, much faster than me. But there were around 10 DNF's in my age group too. And there were lots of charity and invitational runners back with me. I never felt out of my league, OR alone.

The first 12 miles of Boston are very enjoyable. They don’t get talked about as much as Newton and the infamous hills, but its really nice going from one little town to another, with enthusiastic crowds in each downtown. I’m sure the crowds were much thinner than usual but there were lots of people cheering us on, especially considering the weather.

After mile 2 I changed to a 45/30 run/walk and that’s what I did for the remainder of the race. I realized pretty quickly that between my hood, my cap, the crowd, and rain and wind noise, I couldn’t hear or feel my watch when the timer went off to change from running to walking and back. So I scrolled to the view that showed me whether I should be running or walking, and how many seconds were left in each interval. Every once in while I scrolled back to see how my pace and progress were going. I wasn’t setting any records but I was doing okay and with the conditions I didn’t want to push myself too much so it was probably just as well that I was mostly running by feel.

At mile 13 we entered the town of Wellsley. The famous scream tunnel at Wellsley College could be heard from far, far away. It was SO MUCH FUN! I must have high fived 50 screaming, enthusiastic, cute little college girls. It was invigorating and joy-producing. It buoyed me on for several miles after that!

My hands were wet and cold very soon after the start of the race. After the first gel I had to ask unsuspecting bystanders to open the zipper in my SPI belt and get a gel out for me. Same with my phone; I got it out, realized I couldn’t use it because my hands were so wet, and had to ask someone to help me put it away. I worried about finding my friends in Newton and Lee at the finish line since I couldn’t contact them.

After Wellsely came a quiet portion, reservoirs and pockets of population. We descended to the lower Newton Falls and then turned right at the Newton Fire station. I have the strangest concept of the overall elevation changes in the marathon. The first 16 miles are a net elevation change that is downhill, but I noticed plenty of uphills in this portion. And the 4 Newton hills, including Heartbreak? Well I noticed two of them. I’m not sure I would have even known it was Heartbreak Hill except that the crowds were screaming that it was. There were two long hills and neither one was very steep. I really don’t know what all the fuss is about! 

My strategy all along had been to walk the hills but with Boston I think I should have modified this a bit. There are plenty of hills, but they are long and not nearly as steep as the ones in the Manchester City Marathon that I ran last fall. So I think I could have run more of them. I’ll think about this for Twin Cities in the fall, because its not very hilly but it does have some long moderate hills at the end.

As we entered Newton I started looking for my friends. I think they saw me before I saw them. I knew the streets leading to my cousin Mark’s neighborhood so as each of those streets passed I scanned the thin crowds for the sight of them. They were at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill, at the Johnny Kelly statue. They had beautiful signs and the sight of them made me cry. I hugged them all, kissed my cousin and told them to go get warm. It made me SO happy to see them!
Amy's Wonderful Sign

My Awesome Friends!

So Very Happy!!

Although the weather was so insane, just buckets of pelting rain that actually HURT at some points, giant puddles and impromptu streams mid-street that were impossible to avoid, gusts of wind that made it flat out stupid to try to run, and cold temps that gradually crept deep into my bones, I didn’t start to really suffer until around mile 22, after the Newton Hills. I never hit the wall, I was always able to keep running, and although I slowed down, I stayed under 14 mpm the entire way. But the cold….my leg and arm muscles hurt, my hips hurt. My teeth would start to chatter and I would force myself to relax and stop. After the Newton Hills there is a whole lot of downhill, and THAT hurt. It was very, very hard.

Most of the race went by very quickly. I was almost always surprised when we came to a mile marker, that we were already to 8, 12, 14 miles. But after mile 22 time stopped. I’d been warned about seeing the famous Citgo sign from far away. I don’t remember where the Citgo sign is on the course exactly but I think it’s close to either mile 25 or the “one mile to go” sign. I did see the sign far off in the distance, shrouded in fog. At the time I was so confused about how far we had left to go that I thought the sign was at least a couple miles away. I was pretty surprised when we ran right by it not too much after that. By then I was so tired and cold. I longed for the “right on Hereford, left on Boylston” that marks the last half mile of the race.

But of course eventually I got there. Turning right on Hereford we ran into a veritable sea of discarded rain ponchos. I guess lots of runners wanted to look good for their finish line photo!! But it was dangerous. Here come a bunch of exhausted runners and now we have to dodge mounds of plastic and try not to slip and fall. But at least when we turned on to Boylston anything that was going to be discarded had been lost and the road was basically clear.


I knew Lee was going to try to see me at the finish line. I scanned the crowds for him. I think I even heard his piercing whistle but didn’t see him. I tried to smile and hold my head up at the finish. I ran all of the last half mile too. 

Boy I was tired, in pain, and freezing. A volunteer gave me a water bottle but it was too cold to hold and I put it down. Someone draped a medal across my neck and said “Congratulations! You just ran the Boston Marathon!” They put fleece lined heat ponchos around us and that helped a little. Very little.

I limped to the gear check tent and got my dry clothes and went into the women’s changing tent with a bunch of other freezing, moaning women. It was hard but I took off all my wet clothes except for my compression socks. I didn’t think I could get the socks off and I was too tired to try. I put on dry shoes but they were quickly wet again. I put on dry pants (that also got wet quickly), a turtleneck, a fleece, my BOSTON MARATHON CELEBRATION JACKET, and the poncho and went out to find my husband. 

I slowly made my way to the family meeting area. When I got to the “N” sign at first I didn’t recognize Lee in his bright yellow rain jacket. Besides he was with two other people….Paula and Steph!! I couldn’t believe they made their way from Newton to the finish line too! God what wonderful people….

We found some building with a lobby where I could sit for a few minutes and try to get warm. Lee had my warm rain coat and that helped, and dry gloves and a hat. When we entered the building suddenly I couldn’t breathe, I was actually wheezing. I was a bit like what happened in Duluth, but I just calmed myself and it gradually went away. I think I might be developing a bit of exercise (or maybe just marathon) induced asthma..

We walked a bit more and stopped into a smoothie shop. My stomach was in revolt and I didn’t really want to eat or drink anything until someone mentioned hot tea…that tea was so wonderful. Finally I began to warm up.

I was just too cold and tired to try to make it to the North End to eat. But I suggested going to Tbones in Salem and everyone was up for that, so that’s what we did. Amy and Amy and Bill joined us too. Lee went home to feed the dogs and let them go potty.

Medals and Margaritas

My Awesome Team

Boston is an interesting course. I can see why people come back and run it year after year. Its different…so historic, the subtle and not so subtle changes in elevation, the little towns, the massive collection of very good runners. I’d love to run it in a good year and see what it was like with more crowds, but it will probably never happen. It was hard enough to get a bib this time, I’ll never qualify and there are still lots of other marathons on my list. I’m so glad I got to run it though. And yeah, this year will go down in the history books. Probably one of the very toughest Bostons in its 122 year history. And I did it, finished and smiled at the end. EPIC!

Thanks to Paula Adams, Mark Wenneker and Marathon Foto for the pictures! I've bought pics from Marathon but haven't received them yet so these are their watermarked versions...

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