Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Wet and Wild 2018 Boston Marathon


Courage in the face of great odds.

Triumph over adversity.

When the prepared overcome the unexpected.

When we, the endurance warriors, toe the line at a race, this is the shared and unspoken dream we hope unfolds. We don’t train so it all goes easily; we train to be laughing at the top of our lungs when the shit hits the fan at Mach 2. If it doesn’t, we just sign up for a new race and go longer, higher, harder, and in more extreme conditions until it does. It is the perpetual pursuit of the real.

And when “the real” delivers? Ooohh man, that’s the good stuff. Ambrosia for the soul. Stripped to the core, ditching our self-imposed ego baggage along the way out of sheer survival, the finish line cleanses us in unexpected ways every time. We dig deep to get there, unearthing pockets of courage, persistence, and humility that powers us beyond our own high expectations, then cross that finish line forever changed. For days afterwards, every moment has a perfect beauty...a glow that hums from the bruises, chafe, and lactic acid-filled muscles that scream in harmony with every handrail-gripping step down the stairs. Those around us may question why we do this, but we know why. It is nothing short of glorious.

(Runners tackling the weather at the 2018 Boston Marathon, photo courtesy of The Boston Globe) 
The 2018 Boston Marathon delivered big time. In 14 consecutive Bostons, I have never seen anything like the nonstop weather calamity of this one. From this day forward, “I ran Boston in 2018” is instant legacy and permission to tell the tale of snow drifts and mud fields at the start, the relentless 20-30mph headwinds that kept the wind chill below freezing, and the endless sheets of rain that sent thousands to the medical tents along the course. A coach at the finish line summed it up perfectly for me - if you made it to Boston 2018, you are a hero. If you finished, YOU ARE A GOD.

(Yes, that's snow along the tent, and enough mud to soak every foot)

(Layer up!)
I arrived at the start layered up like I was trying to avoid an airline $25 luggage fee by wearing all of my clothes at once. Inov-8 shirt, vest, sleeves, gloves, cashmere hoodie (that the moths got to), peacoat (a gift two sizes two big), jeans, a homemade garbage bag hoodie that a homeless guy showed me how to make, extra shoes to toss at the start, and a big roll of contractor garbage bags to hand out (they lasted 15 minutes). My fellow warriors were similarly clad, with extensive use of grocery bag-wrapped feet, shower caps, and hazmat suits. The snow was piled up along the tents in the athlete village, and three inches of mud faced anyone trying to enter, yet there were plenty of smiles and cheers of encouragement once you got in. You don’t come to Boston and not run. You come to eat up everything it has to offer. It was good to have some playmates!

(Layered up and ready to roll!)
I was in Corral 2 this year (#1644…gotta work on that), but had no visions of PR’s today despite being fit. Pictures were also a no go, so the focus would be on “just don’t get hypothermia”. We all yelled out a cheer as the elites lined up at the start – once again, it was the best runners in the world, with a particularly deep field of Americans in the Women’s division (Shalane, Des, Huddle, etc.). I found comfort knowing they were right in front of us, all in for the big dance, come hell or high water (and a forecast for both).

As we sang the national anthem and did the final countdown, I stripped down, but couldn’t get myself to shed the warmth of the soaked cashmere hoodie cinched tight around my face. It may not be fashionable, and the sleeves were already hanging to my knees, but dang, it was comfy! So be it. My first Boston in a cinched cashmere hoodie with seal flipper sleeves. Let’s roll!

(And we're off! Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe)
It only took a mile before the waves of rain came like the apocalypse, but we got strength from cheering Bostonians who lined the streets in their duck shoes and umbrellas (and a few semi-naked just for fun). The speed of the clouds felt like time lapse thanks to the headwind, and you could see each black cluster of rain and sleet soar through the sky before pelting us with half frozen evil delight. There were some groans, but if it got too bad, you could count on yet another runner doing a Bill Murray Caddyshack impression saying “I don’t think the heavy stuff is going to come down for quite a while”. Yup, still funny!

(Fa, fa, fa, fashion! Photo courtesy of USA Today)
By the 10k mark (40:52), the temperature had dropped again (felt about 35 degrees), and I tucked in with a group of runners that were moving fast. The fog of their charging breath whipped past my head, and the puddle stomping made it feel like rain was coming in all directions. Intros were short, using first name and city/country for brevity, but I soon found “Jamie, Buffalo”, “Rolf, Switzerland”, “Michael, Indianapolis”, and “Rico, Sao Paulo” to be just the right pace. I felt warm enough to chuck the hoodie, just before getting a photo with Santa and having my GoPro die.

(The ever-enthusiastic women of Wellesley)
(...except for that hot shower!)
The women of Wellesley (mile 11) were sparse this year, but those who showed made up for it with soaking, screaming enthusiasm. I swapped wet sloppy kisses on the cheek with my favorite sign holder (“blue lip kisses rule!”), then pushed on through the halfway point (mile 13.1) in 1:24:22. Although I wasn’t paying attention to time, a quick pace was required to keep hypothermia at bay!

(Only the bravest would walk...photo courtesy of The Boston Globe)
The temperature picked up a well-needed five degrees once we hit the hills of Newton, but Mother Nature made up for it with a relentless wind that tossed us back and forth. The medical tents were all full of runners at this point (mile 16-20), and we were still in the first 1,500 runners! I would later learn that nearly 2,500 were treated for hypothermia symptoms. The critical error seemed to be slowing to a walk and not being able to warm back up, so I kept on my food and hydration and stuck to the quick pace.

By mile 23, my hands and feet were permanently numb, and my hearing started to go (this happens when I get super cold) so I grouped with a few more runners. “Daniel, Denver”, “Brian, Texas”, and I encouraged each other to the final stretch then went bananas for the finish line. Boylston gave us a welcome tailwind for about a half a mile, and I finished in 2:53:22 for 819th. A cold but controlled race, feeling good at the finish, so I was quite pleased with the result.

(Des Linden decisively captures the win)
(Yuki Kawauchi, the nicest elite there is, takes home the win)
It wasn’t until I jogged back to my Airbnb rental and jumped in a hot bathtub fully clothed that I learned that Yuki Kawauchi (2:15) had won, and Des Linden (2:39) had won the Women’s division (American women took 7 of the top 10 slots), both breaking 30+ year firsts. Des had her full jacket and mittens on at the finish, and had once again run a nearly perfect split in her sixth attempt. I was so stoked for her! In her post race interview, she recommends to everyone else to just “do the hard work, and keep showing up”. Yup, so true, and something all of the finishers today can relate to.  It was extra special that two of the most humble athletes in our sport came out on top in the most dramatic conditions.

(A little pub fare to get warmed up again)

(A finish worthy of celebration!)



I warmed up enough to hit the Boston pubs and relish my favorite part of the weekend, which is hearing the stories of triumph for all the other runners. The veterans among us assured the first timers that this was an epic year, and it couldn’t possibly get any worse. Or maybe, just maybe, it will! Either way, you have to come back. ;-) The tales poured out from Miami, Colorado Springs, Mexico City, Dublin, Tokyo, Auckland, Nashville, Milton (MA), all with camaraderie and a renewed sense of passion. We were all aglow.

My thanks to the great city of Boston, the race directors, and the hearty volunteers and cheering crews who stayed out there all day for us. You are the reason this is one of the greatest races in the world! Also a big thanks to inov-8 for keeping me fast, and Injinji for miraculously leaving my feet with no blisters after 26.2 miles in the rain,  I will see you again next April, if not sooner!

5 comments:

  1. Great story. Congrats on a great time and finish especially so considering the conditions. I did not run this year and was thankful I wasn't. Now reading your story I wish I could have been part of :Boston 2018"!!

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  2. Awesome Story, seems like this year the running race got much more publicity because of the weather conditions

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  3. Wow! what a epic story. I've just started running again, after a long long time. I wish I could've been part of such a epic event.

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  4. I've loved seeing pictures of everyone's creative things they wore to combat the rain like plastic bags and shower caps. I ran Boston last year when it was unseasonably warm. Being from the North, cold and rainy is much more my forte. Congrats on a great race on a tough day!

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  5. Loved every minute of it.
    Loved every word of your recap, Scott.

    Here in Seattle, I am hosting a “I Ran Boston in 2018” debrief this week for the stunned and recently unthawed. Seriously.

    Long live the stories you just can’t make up; long live those who keep showing up! ��

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