Boston Marathon or Social Event

was it that bad?

Two years after my first participation in the Boston marathon, I was in Boston again and I was going to beat my 2010 finishing time of 3:08. The mild winter contributed favorably to the training plan. I was on the right track. Not only I wanted to surpass the previous time, I wanted, as I always do, to run a sub 3-hour marathon. About mid-week before the marathon, the news of elevated temperatures in Boston culminating on the day of the marathon appeared in the media. The news wasn’t disconcerting yet.

Each day, the forecast was becoming more and more specific. On Saturday and Sunday preceding the Monday race, I received 3 emails from the organizers, the BAA, each was more serious than the preceding one about the excessive heat, estimated to be 64° at the start and increase by 20° during the marathon. The last message was discouraging me from running at all and was recommending to defer for next year. The night before the race, it was clear that I better change the plan and take the marathon as a social event.

On the marathon morning, it was 64° already at 7 a.m. and the sun was up. Since it was a “social event” and I didn’t have to concentrate on my performance, I was observing other runners and engaging in gibberish talk about shoes, watches, training plans, and anything. I took notice of gel pouches pinned to the waste band of shorts. Forget about a belt of deep pockets. I observed a runner who swallowed 12 pills of 3 different “enhancements” which names I have already forgotten. I registered a training plan of a runner who prepares, like me, for 2 marathons a year, but, unlike me, he runs marathons throughout the year as training runs. Interesting. That eliminates sudden spikes in mileage and so reduces possibility of injury. While I was killing those 2 hours of waiting time by socializing, the comfortable temperature of the early morning changed in a comfortable temperature—if you happened to find a shade. At the time of the start of the 1st wave, 10 a.m., we were nicely warmed up. I didn’t get the temperature updates, but I estimated it would be around 70°.

The organizers introduced waves and corrals this year, but kept the access time to the corrals without restrictions. We could get there with the sound of the horn and run. In contrast, the corrals of the New York City marathon close 45 min. before the horn pushing the latecomers to the later wave. I was assigned corral 4 of the first wave. It took me 2 minutes to cross the start line. The field was moving reasonably, in about 30 seconds slower pace than my usual competitive pace. My plan was to run comfortably and slow down with the increasing temperature and not to try to keep a steady pace. Time didn’t matter. At Wellesley area, reading the collegiate slogans made me think I was going to kiss a woman looking at least 10 years older than I am. Of course, I didn’t see any. They know better. I also regretted I didn’t take a camera. I would have time to take few pictures. The social aspect of the Boston marathon was working till about noon, or mile 14–15, when I caught myself thinking that I was actually running only in order to finish faster than the sweep buses. It was a very miserable motivation. I have been walking at liquid stations while sipping Gatorade or water. I reasoned that if I walked a little and run a little I would still be faster than the buses. …Big mistake. I was walking only. This kind of thinking and running without a motivation ended the social part of the event.

The Inferno

The true hills of the Boston marathon course don’t come until mile 17. At that point I already lost the mental battle. I reconciled with my mind that I would walk them up all. What Heart Break hill? Although there were mile marks diligently placed at each mile, I lost count. That long, it took me from one to another. My mind could not retain that information. I asked an older couple sitting comfortably in the shade of a tree at what mile we were. They responded: “Probably at 19 or 20″. It didn’t help my mental status when, shortly after that, I spotted the mile mark 18 in a distance.

Around that mile, I started looking for vaseline. My soles and toes were burning. I expected blisters. Before, the vaseline was offered everywhere. Now, I was looking desperately at each hand and table and little container laying around. After 2 miles, at the top of the Heart Break hill, I finally stopped at a medical tent. Stupid, of course they have vaseline. I wanted to sit down there and use it, but one look at the attendant revealed that he was evaluating my mental status. I didn’t want to start answering questions like if I knew my name, and where I was, and what day it was, so I walked away. Instead I talked to locals who lived on the course of the Boston marathon and never got inspired by the event to participate in it.

The combination of downhill after the Heart Break hill, freshly balsamed feet, and the little chat inspired me to run again. It lasted till mile 24 when I had to stop and walk. For no apparent reason, as nothing hurt. I just wanted an ice popsicle. I have to mention that locals went beyond their means in comforting the runners. Those with hoses long enough created misting stations, there were pretzels, juice boxes, water bottles, thousands of ice cold rags, sponges, crushed ice filled conveniently in small zip locks, sun screen tubes, oranges, bananas, anything. Thank you very much. It was appreciated.

The Conclusion

Walking and running, I finally crossed the finish line of the 116th Boston marathon after 4 hours and 24 minutes. What an experience. Everybody has to go through it, I think. I was very lucky so far. The other marathons I ran were in the perfect temperature range of 32-53, dry, and without a significant wind. I wasn’t mentally prepared to fight the high temperatures. My stomach flushed by gallons of water got upset for several hours after I finished and my heart beat was fluctuating regardless of the activity at the moment. I was definitely closer to ER than PR that day. I am determined to schedule a training 20-miler in similar conditions this summer with a simple goal to jog continuously through all 20 miles. I don’t know when or if I sign up again for the Boston marathon, as I like to run different marathons, but the inferno didn’t discouraged me. When my daughter drove me back home, I signed up for Philadelphia marathon that will take place on November 18 and I plan to run a marathon on the day of my upcoming 50th birthday.