There’s no doubt about it. The 2018 Boston Marathon was brutal. I underestimated how cold it would be, thinking that it was going to be a replay of 2015, which was cold with drizzling rain. Since I ran a PR in 2015, I figured the cold and rain were welcome news. However, this year it was colder (apparently the coldest in 30 years), with driving rain, and 25 mph head wind.
I was prepared to run in a singlet like I did in 2015, but luckily I decided to bring a long running shirt that I could peel off later in the race. I did prepare throwaway fleece pants, jacket, gloves, and an ear flap beanie hat to wear on route to the Athlete’s Village; but I didn’t have any rain gear, so I got a Kirkland drawstring trash bag from my sister, cut a hole on top and 2 on the sides, and voila, I had myself a rain jacket. I was certain I was prepared.
That was until I got out of the T at Boston Commons. It was raining, and before I had even gotten onto the bus my socks and shoes were already wet. I was not prepared.
Luckily the bus was toasty, but as soon as I got off I was shivering. I needed to start moving. I so wished I could run in my throw away jacket and fleece, but that would’ve been unwise given that they would just get soaked and weigh me down. I ended up keeping the beanie, and leaving the trash bag on so that I would not get any wetter during the race. I believe that decision ended up saving me from a DNF.
Given the ‘cooler’ race conditions, I had set to go for the elusive 3:35 the day before the race. However, once the race got going, the goal quickly turned into ‘just try to survive this’. There really was no other option but to keep moving, because I knew as soon as I stopped moving I’d freeze. I think the wind made a huge difference in how this race felt compared to 3 years ago. Not only did it make everything feel colder, it also was hard to run against. As a result, I hopscotched from one tall man/woman to another to run behind throughout the race – one of the benefits of being 5’3. That helped tremendously. Granted it slowed me down a little since some were running at a slightly slower pace, but it made the conditions bearable.
You’ll often hear that running a marathon is a mental game. It truly is. How you play the game will determine how well you do. All negative thoughts need to be banished. Thoughts such as “if I were to collapse right now, would there be medical personnel to come fetch me” or “maybe I should just stop now, because there’s another 25 miles of cold, wind, and rain”. Yes, these thoughts will pop up, but it’s important to shut it down immediately, and not allow them to grow roots. Instead, I conjure up all the reasons I must finish the race, “I didn’t spend all this money to fly out here just to drop out”, “I need to finish in the top 3 of all the runners from my city”, “this is the year I can get a huge cushion to BQ for next year”, or “the family is waiting, I shouldn’t let them worry about me”. One trick that worked for me was breaking up 26.2 miles into segments and individual miles, and to conquer them one at a time. Knowing the course and knowing what to expect helped a great deal. When I know that the first 16 miles are mostly downhill it’s easier to stomach, and then when the hills come, I just tackle them one at a time. The last 6 miles is just cruise control going downhill/flat to the finish line.
The usual spectator crowd was a little thinner this year, and it was nice to run in relative peace, because the last thing I wanted to hear was “you’re almost there” when I’ve only covered 1 mile – believe me someone did say that. However, I did appreciate the ones who were out there cheering us on. They really didn’t have to given how miserable it was out there in the element.
The volunteers were nothing short of spectacular again this year.
I made sure to take it easy earlier in the race so that I wouldn’t beat up the quads, and it definitely helped because I did not get any of the cramping I got during the last 2 races. After I crested the last of the Newton hills, I was able to lengthen my stride and pick up the pace. However, looking back at the data from 2015, I had run faster those last 6 miles that year, and I suspect the head wind this year had a lot to do with the slightly slower pace. I distinctly remember how tough it was for me to sprint down the home stretch because of the gust.
At the end, I survived this epic misery and actually ran my second fastest marathon (I was racing to get to the end and the hell off that frigid course) and qualified for next year’s race by 15+ minutes. I remember swearing off running the marathon between miles 20 and 21, but as I was ready to toss my water bottle at the finish line I held on to it and mumbled, “I can use this next year”. Running the marathon is like going through labor pains (luckily, I’ve never had the misfortune to go through that), you’re hating it at the moment, but once it’s over, you’re ready for another go at it.
Finally, it was a combination of grit determination and strategy that got me through the race, but I honestly think the garbage bag (and the beanie) made a huge difference between finishing and being forced off the course by hypothermia.