I arrived in Boston on the Saturday red eye with two suitcases - one full of clothes, and one full of every rain gear option from "light mist" to "typhoon". It turns out that "Nor'easter" means it would most likely be closer to the "typhoon" end of the scale. I was showing my ultrarunner roots and preparing for snow, sleet, ANYTHING. The storm that was dumping 3-4" rain daily all weekend was projected to ease up by race day on Monday, and we had our fingers crossed. But even if it let up, this race was going to be an adventure.
The Race Expo on Sunday was alive with first-time Boston runners (over 60% of the field this year), and rain jackets were selling like hot cakes. Famous runners were everywhere - I got to meet Grete Weitz (nine time winner of the NY Marathon and world record holder), Amby Burfoot (1968 winner and Executive Editor of Runner's World), Bill Rodgers (4-time winner of Boston and NY), Frank Shorter (Olympic gold and sliver medalist in the marathon), and more.
(Bill Rodgers poses for a pic with some fans) -->
Talk about a race with history - the history was there in person! All were gracious enough to hear about how runners got to Boston, and offer up any tips for the challenging day ahead. I felt like little kid, and wasn't afraid to ask for autographs. Grete Weitz signed a poster for me that said "good luck at the 100-mile nationals this year", and I almost peed my pants I was so excited. ;-)
I especially enjoyed meeting Kathrine Switzer, who 40 years ago became the first woman to officially enter and run the Boston Marathon. She was launching her book, Marathon Woman: Running The Race To Revolutionize Women's Sports, and sharing stories of how things have changed over the last 40 years. Kathrine is a gifted storyteller, so when you hear her say "the AAU didn't allow women to run more than 1 1/2 miles in those days, especially without a chaperone" or "that's when my hammer thrower boyfriend stopped the official trying to remove me in one shove", we really felt how much courage it took to toe the line at Boston back then. I told her about all us crazy ultrarunners, and how women were stretching the boundaries of human will as much as men. She loved it! She regularly ran 30 miles at once when training for the Boston Marathon in the late 60's and 70's, but in grey cotton sweats and no food. Can you believe that? I think we can give her honorary "ultra" status for that. (I read her book too, and no surprise it is an engaging recount - highly recommended)
At 4am on race morning, the Nor'easter woke me up with a 40 mph wind on my hotel window. "Wake up, puny mortal. Time to be tested!". I packed all my heavy storm goodies - hat, gloves, tights, wool Injinji tsoks, and Sugoi rain jacket - plus a full change of clothes for after the race. I remembered to bring warm clothes for the morning wait at Hopkinton High as well; although the race time was moved up two hours to 10am, there would still be 1.5-2 hours of hanging out.
Plastic was the "in" fashion in Boston on Patriot's Day, as runners wore anything from garbage bags to tablecloths to stay dry while we loaded up on buses. Spirits were up, however, since the storm was beginning to simmer into a clammy soup of grey over our heads. One thing for sure - nobody was making it this close to Boston and NOT running, no matter what Mother Nature had in store. I made a pact with a couple of runners to run the course even if canceled, since we could just hit the Dunkin' Donuts that seem to be every two blocks around here. I met some great people on the bus, and heard lots of "1st time Boston/2nd time marathon" stories. Lots of people using Boston as a goal race to stay in top shape.
Hopkinton High School was muddy and soaked, forcing most runners into the tents for cover. I was impressed that many brought enough gear to stay dry, and if not, weren't afraid to poke some arm holes in plastic bags for a vest or wrap their shoes in plastic grocery bags. Volunteers were everywhere, and happy to help with a friendly smile. We were relaxed, but concerned that it was raining fairly steadily from 8-10am.
At 10am, I joined Corral #2, a sea of runners in plastic and Gore-Tex. (note to future runners - the porto-potties near the corrals have MUCH shorter lines) After the national anthem and a moment of silence for Boston volunteers who have left us this year, the gun went off and we were on our way!
We started off slowly. The lake-sized puddles on the road forced the pack to skinny up and slow down more than expected. Usually the downhill start gets everyone rolling fast, but even Corral #2 (who qualified in 6:40'ish times) was slugging along at 7:10/miles for the first two miles. There was some groaning about being off pace so early, but most were just happy that the wind continued to stay dormant. I didn't have a goal time for this race - it was all about having fun and staying warm. If you work hard to get to Boston, there's no need to go hard when you get here, right?
As we approached Ashland (mile 3), we were stoked to see that the rain did not stop the locals from coming out to cheer us on. I saw on the news that live power wires fell along the course here, but was cleared an hour before the start. It didn't stop the die-hard fans from going 2-3 deep on the sidelines, cheering as hard as ever. This is such a special community, and even more so now that I've seen (and heard) them brave the storms.
At the Ashland clock tower (mile 4), we finally had enough room to spread out and pick up the pace or slow down as needed. The sub-3 hour runners had to make up some time, so they ditched excess gear and ran along the sides as fast as they could. This was a bold move, since there weren't any runners to block the occasional gust of wind that made keeping pace a challenge. My group in the middle of the road was cruising along at 7 min/miles, which felt strong and warm. The sky was grey, but overall, it wasn't bad running conditions. A Boston veteran of 14 marathons beside me summed it up well - "I'll take rain over the '04 heat any day".
Framingham and Natick were also full of hearty supporters, which helped us pick up the pace a few seconds on miles 5-10. My watch read 40 degrees, which was cool enough to go hard. Every once in a while I would pass someone with no shirt or hat and wonder how in the heck they can do that. I had two layers on, and my nipples could cut glass they were so cold.
<-- (Rain didn't dampen this guy's sense of humor)
Overall, my combo of hats, gloves, jacket, and tights were working well. I would occasionally take some off and put them back on, and was glad I brought it all. My feet were definitely soaked, but the wool tsoks were keeping me toasty.
At mile 11, we heard the familiar banshee sound of the Wellesley College "scream tunnel". The Boston marathon veterans around me smiled, while the new runners began asking if that could possibly be Wellesley even though it was still 2 miles up the road. Oh, just you wait - it gets even crazier!
Sure enough, at the halfway point (watch said 1:32:30), the Wellesley girls lined the streets with cheers, beers, and "kiss me, I'm smart" signs. I whipped out my camera and slowed down, and was instantly drowned in kisses from the gorgeous froshies. Turns out, they aren't kidding with those signs! I said thanks (call me!) and picked up my pace to catch up (or was it a t-surge?), only to find that everyone was going faster from the energy rush that Wellesley throws off. A perfect boost at the halfway mark. Bless you, ladies, you're the best!
After two miles of fast flat ground, we entered the "hill country". This starts with a drop at mile 15.5, and rolls up and down through the neighborhoods to Newton where the famed Heartbreak Hill awaits at mile 20. The hills were tough on a lot of these runners, some of whom said out loud that Chicago, Dallas, and Cinncinati didn't have anything like this. I had learned in previous races that although these hills aren't big, they are pyschologically tough because you hardly ever get a clear view of the top. It just keeps going and going and going. The runners went quiet, heads down, focused on the hills.
I do know one easy way to tame Heartbreak Hill. The Hash House Harriers (self-proclaimed drinkers with a running problem) have a beer aid station at mile 20 that is a MUST. I stayed to the left and grabbed a 2 oz beer off the table, and every Harrier there grabbed the remaining ones to toast with me (then refilled to wait for the next victim). I had one more for good measure, and they told me the pace of beer drinkers was beginning to pick up! I guess the Kenyans pass on that sort of thing. ;-) With a little "liquid courage", I charged up Heartbreak Hill with no problem.
The collective sigh of relief was audible atop Heartbreak Hill, as most runners leaned into the downhills of miles 21-24 to fight the natural tendency to slow down. The wind, however, was beginning to be troublesome and gusting 20-25 mph every 2-3 minutes. Just when I thought this might mean no supporters, we hit Boston College where supporters were as plentiful as any place on the course. There was even an oompah band playing. I love this town!
From mile 24 on, it was a push. The headwind was constant and the clouds were getting darker. Two guys from Korea began a surge and a couple of us joined in to work as a pack, making our way up the left side. Their numbers were in the 6000's, so if they wanted to get under 3:10 (the universal Boston qualifying time), they would have to work for it. Such gusto! I though Kathrine Switzer would definitely be cheering these guys on, and that inspired me to help. My energy was good, and the beer buzz felt great, so I took some long pulls at the front of the group and asked to make sure I wasn't going too fast. "More!" was all they said in their broken english. That's the spirit!
In the last few miles, we passed some wounded soldiers - those brave enough to pace a record time, but not having enough at the end. Every street post seemed to be working double-time as stretching areas, and a few runners were sitting on the sidelines to catch their breath. But I didn't see anyone in real trouble (like past years). All in all, it looked like everyone had enough reserves to get there.
(The ever-present Citgo sign pulls us in, under the ominous clouds) -->
Turns out that was true all day - only 314 of 20,348 runners didn't finish (98.5% finish rate). It didn't matter how wounded the runners were, they were cheering on everyone around them. When our pack would surge around a corner, both the crowds and runners would go crazy, yelling "That's it! That's the way to finish a marathon!".
We snuck into the cityscape and passed the last mile marker at full tilt (I clocked 6:05 in the last mile - nice work, pack!). Once the finish was in sight, the Koreans gave each other the steely eye (showdown!) and went into a dead sprint. I crossed the finish line in 3:07:44, good enough for 1,619th place (and 30 places behind the Koreans), so I know they were well under 3:10. Perhaps I will see them again next year!
At the finish line, the volunteers were quick to wrap us in those foil blankets that make us all look like giant burritos. Turns out there's a reason - we stay warm! And if the Nor'easter dropped salsa (although that would probably be a South'wester), we would be protected. Once we got wrapped, it dawned on all of us we were going to get cold fast, so we hustled through to the buses to get our gear. A volunteer asked me "how many Bostons", and I was startled to say "3", so she grabbed my camera to get a shot and make it official.
I felt the cold in my bones, so I changed socks and quickly make my way back to a hot bath in the hotel room. What a day! It was one of the craziest on record, but everyone triumphed. It turns out that Robert Cheruiyot, whom I met after winning in 2006, repeated with a slower-than-usual-but-deserved win in 2:14:13. Lidiya Grigoryeva from Russia beat a tough field to win the Women's division in 2:29:18. She was so pleased, I don't think she noticed that they played the wrong national anthem. ;-) Other notable finishes include Peter Gilmore (first American, 2:16:51, 8th overall), ultra-stud Uli Steidl (2:19:54, 12th overall), and Deena Kastor (2:35:09, 5th Woman). First place American finishers also won the USA Marathon Championships. You can check out these video interviews for more. I got a text message from Jean Pommier saying he did well (2:45:22), but that the masters age groups were fast and furious this year. Overall, I think the big heroes for the day were all the first-time Boston runners and the amazing volunteers and supporters who braved the storms to cheer us on.
After a good soak, I went out for a walk to loosen up and saw a familiar sign. Could this be the original Cheers bar of TV fame? Seemed like a classic place to get a post-race brewsky. It turns out it isn't the original inspiration for Cheers (that's across town), but it was a great pub.
I met plenty of runners inside, all sporting their medals and having a great time. Stories of survival and triumph rung out over the clinking pints, as both runners and supporters joined in. As I heard the stories, I'm not sure which would be harder - running a marathon, or standing at mile 16 for two hours in the cold waiting to run 4 miles with your running group buddies. No surprise everyone did so well with support teams like that!
I joined a pack of Dallas runners for some celebratory beers and shots, and we toasted Kathrine Switzer for paving the way for so many fast females. The magic of Boston is a part of all of us now, and I already can't wait to get back for #4. My congrats to everyone who had a great race, and to the volunteers and supporters who made it such a special day. We can say we were there for the crazy Boston '07!