A completely self-indulgent account on surviving the rather toasty Boston Marathon, 2012 Edition
14.04.2012 - 21.04.2012 32 °C
The Boston Marathon - it is the race that many runners want to do once in their lives. How lucky am I that after eight months of travelling the world, I was able to meet my good friend Michelle and have the most amazing running experience of my life.
I flew from Phoenix on Friday, April 14th leaving Max, Nils and Angus to pack up and leave our Tempe condo to begin their drive north to Las Vegas. My flight was a red eye so I arrived in Boston with a number of other marathoners. The pilot wished us all luck on our run, which prompted much discussion about training, number of marathons, shoe types, pacing and all other subjects that bore most people to tears. Michelle arrived a couple of hours later and we jumped up and down at the gate hugging, not quite believing that what had been the subject of many transatlantic e-mails was actually happening!
A little background...Michelle and I had both been part of a group of thirty-five Whitehorse runners who ran in the Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon in June 2011. The icing on the top of an amazing weekend was that we both ran this marathon in a fast enough time to qualify for the Boston Marathon. That August, as I was leaving on the Clarkesabroad adventure, we both decided to enter, not exactly sure where I would be for the April 2012 race. The lovely village of Mèze was an ideal training spot for long runs under lovely ocean breezes and the half marathon in Marrakesh was a nice pre-full marathon appetizer. My ski mishap in Rossland set me back a little but buoyed by lots of icing, a supply of Tylenol and promises by Michelle that she would carry me if needed, I set my sights on April 16th.
The wonderful John picked us up at the Boston airport and drove us out to Plympton, where we were staying with John and his equally kind, generous, funny wife Margaret who is my mum's first cousin. Twenty-five years ago, when I was an au pair in Paris, Margaret and John hosted me and my friend Lisa in their St. Alban's house when I visited London. Over the four days that we were there, we spent time with Daniel, their son and Gaurav and Shivain, their foster sons from India...as well as the three goats in the back yard.
Margaret drove us into the Boston the next day to pick up our bib numbers at the Marathon Expo and we both bought bright orange marathon jackets and sampled the many power bars and granola mixes on display. I picked out a bright orange running cap as well since at that point, we had received three e-mails from race organizers warning us about the extreme heat forecast for race day.
On the morning of the marathon, both John and Margaret woke up really early to see us off at the train station. We caught the 5:30 am train which got us into central Boston by 6:30 am and close to Boston Commons, where hundreds of yellow school buses were making repeated 45 minute trips to take the 22000+ runners to the town of Hopkinton where the race would start. Already at that time, it was very hot and people were shedding the extra clothes that they were wearing.
Michelle and I made it to the front of the line by 7:10 am, boarded the bus and began chatting with our fellow runners (see above for topics which were discussed). At 8:40 am we were still driving on that bus. Ever observant, Michelle said "I think that we are lost". At that moment, the driver, an affable black man, picked up the bus speaker and said "Ladies and Gentlemen, we were lost...but I think that I am on track now." The start of the run wasn't until 10 am so we all cheered. However, for this running cohort that had been working on their hydration, it was getting a little tense. When we finally pulled into the Athletes Village, all fifty of us streamed off of the bus and ran for the bushes. There were bare bums everywhere! Belatedly, we discovered that we were squatting in a swatch of bramble branches which twisted painfully up our legs. When you gotta go, you gotta go!
We waited on the fields at Athletes Village for over an hour trying to relax. We spent our time lining up to use the porta potties, peeing, looking for shade and then lining up to pee again. We applied sunscreen and talked about how hot it was. We did meet one guy from New York City in the potty line-up who was unusually well-informed about Stephen Harper and Canada in general which was an interesting distraction.
When our numbers were called, we were able to deposit our bags on a bus and then join the lines for the starting corrals. As has been done for one hundred and sixteen years before, all participants moved down the main street of Hopkinton towards the start. However, the eighteen runners in 1897 had a little more space than the thousands of us on this day and it was a very tight and slow-moving procession. It was very difficult not to feel physically sick with the heat, the crowds, and the prospect of the twenty-six hot miles ahead of us. When we finally made it to the starting corrals, the race was beginning. With about 15 seconds to spare, Michelle and I squeezed in and started the trot which would be our pace for the next four hours and twenty minutes.
Within five minutes, we were sweating and our mouths were dry. The organizers had put on double the number of water stations so at mile 1, we both grabbed a cup of water and one of gatorade. This would be our routine for the next twenty-six water stations. Sometimes we would drink the water, other times, it was dumped over our heads. At times we lost sight of each other, but managed to meet up again shortly after the water station crowds dispersed. We did not speak much during the run except when one of us would say periodically "I think that we can do this". We constantly had other runners around us but it did not feel claustrophobic. Many people were beaming just like us, not quite believing that they were there and wondering how it could be so hot.
The crowds were amazing! For much of the run, we went through small towns. Families were bbqing on their lawns while their kids held garden hoses spraying runners down or handing out orange slices...or later on in the race, popsicle sticks with vaseline on them. At one house, a boy enthusiastically played a drum set that he had brought out on to his veranda. When we ran down the main street of yet another bucolic, colonial New England town, there was often a decontamination tent set up in front of the fire station and all the runners would take a slight detour to take advantage of the water spraying down inside.
At the halfway point of the marathon, we ran through the grounds of Wellesley College, where hundreds of students traditionally line the sidewalks offering water, oranges, high-fives, kisses, and much-needed inspiration. They make so much noise, that has become known as the Scream Tunnel. At mile twenty, Margaret, Daniel, Gauvra and Shivain waited 1.5 hours to see us on Heartbreak Hill. It was so fantastic to see familiar faces!! As for Heartbreak Hill, both Michelle and I were in agreement that it paled in comparison to the hills on our "usual" run in Whitehorse.
For the final five miles as we approached Boston, the crowds grew larger and so did the number of runners walking. At this point as well, people were cramping up and sitting on the side of the road getting medical help. My knee felt okay... every 10 km I had rewarded myself with a tylenol and that seemed to help. We kept up the pace we had set at the start...in fact, our pace over the entire race was surprisingly consistent. The final two turns down the long streets were like a cruel joke but soon the finish line was in sight. I have never been prouder of my determination to get through a race.
The finish area was like a war zone with people looking everywhere for a shady spot to sit and many volunteers were calling for stretchers and wheelchairs. Nearly 2,000 participants had received some level of medical attention, and about 120 were taken to hospitals in ambulances. We tore open the package of food that we had been given and began stuffing the potato chips into our mouths to try to replace the salt which now covered our arms and foreheads in a dry white powder. Sitting down felt heavenly but getting up required Michelle's help as well as the kind souls who happened to be walking by at that moment..
We wore our medals while we went for a beer and, on the train home that evening and everywhere, people would stop us to say congratulations. The next day, we were very sore and I had huge blisters on my soles of my feet. Michelle's legs had a raised, ugly rash that we traced back to peeing in the brambles. Despite this, we doned our orange marathon jackets and walked the Freedom Trail from Boston Common, lunching around Sam's bar at Cheers. Again, people saw our jackets and the talk was all about the marathon.
Michelle and I rewarded ourselves for a job well done by taking the train the next morning for New York City, staying in the wonderfully located Pennsylvania Hotel. We stayed in the Big Apple for four days, walking, shopping, eating, drinking and of course, reliving the marathon.
Thanks Michelle for being patient with my indecision, making most of the travel arrangements and for being your supportive, enthusiastic, funny self every step of the way...literally!!