Runners, spectators brave bone-chilling weather

Runners make their way through the rain and mud in the athlete’s village prior to the start of the Boston Marathon Monday.
Keith Bedford/Globe Staff
Runners make their way through the rain and mud in the athlete’s village prior to the start of the Boston Marathon Monday.

Foul weather kept the crowds thinner than normal along the Boston Marathon route Monday, but diehard spectators who did brave the elements said no amount of rain could dampen their spirits.

A popular Newton stretch along Heartbreak Hill — typically filled with fans on the morning of Marathon Monday — remained almost completely empty at 10 a.m.

“It’s a ghost town,” said Jaclyn Ford, 29, of Waltham, who stood under a tent with a group from the Waltham Trailrunners running group.


In a typical year, she said, the group had to be there by 7:30 a.m. in order to secure this spot. But as Monday’s dismal weather led many fans to stay indoors, they had almost the entire area to themselves.

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“It would be filled by now,” Ford said. “And considering the weather, [even] this is a good showing.”

Two and a half hours after setting up a small sausage cart on Heartbreak Hill in Newton Monday morning, Orlando Diaz was still awaiting his first customer.

“Every year it’s always packed,” said Diaz, who was working on behalf of Boylston-based Mike’s Moonwalk Rentals and Backyard BBQ. “Even when there’s a little rain, there are still people out here.”

Foot traffic in the area was almost nonexistent, and the few spectators who did dot the area were focused on keeping their tents erect in the midst of brutal winds.


Diaz, who said his boss had considered skipping the marathon this year due to the severe weather, did his best to stay warm Monday morning, with two sweatshirts, a jacket, and a poncho.

The best antidote, however, proved to be the flames of the nearby grill.

“My hands, I just put ’em over there and toast ’em up,” he said.

One spectator along Heartbreak Hill, Breda O’Connor, 30, of Framingham, said she’s only missed one marathon.

“And that was because my family was on vacation,” O’Connor said, adding that even that year, the family watched it on TV.


So she and fiancé Matt Hurley, 32, weren’t going to let crummy weather stop them from being on the sideline Monday. Dressed in rainproof gear and toting a cowbell, the pair stood near Heartbreak Hill cheering on the first elite women runners to arrive.

Though they’d been hopeful the dismal weather reports from the past few days would prove inaccurate - “Even yesterday, I was still convinced it was going to change,” O’Connor said - they were preparing for a long day Monday out in the elements.

“Most of our friends are running for charity teams,” she said. “So it’s gonna be another four or five hours until they get here.”

At Wellesley College’s Munger Hall, students said they spent weeks making 533 signs to encourage runners passing the halfway point of the Marathon in front of their dorm.

Within a few blustery, rainy minutes on Monday, most of them had been transformed into multicolored paper pulp.

Looking at one sign wadded on the ground even as she hung fresh signs, Ava Mackay-Smith said she thought the general message would come through anyway.

“They need energy to keep going, and we’re going to give it to them,” the sophomore said.

The residents of Munger Hall are the vanguard for Wellesley at the Marathon. They took requests online from people supporting runners in the race, and they were hanging them along the stretch of Route 135 that’s known as the “Scream Tunnel” because of the enthusiasm of Wellesley students.

Even if the signs don’t hold up, that noise will be enough to urge runners along, students said.

Sophie Ack, also a sophomore, said she had been hoping the weather would change. But she is planning to stick it out.

“If it were any other day, we wouldn’t be out in the rain,” she said.

She’s not crazy though. After she was done hanging signs, Ack and her friends disappeared back on to campus, staying dry at least until the runners started passing.

Jim Pathman spent part of Sunday running on a beach in Hawaii.

On Monday, the 53-year-old San Diego resident stood along Heartbreak Hill in Newton, as rain and heavy winds threatened to launch into the sky the tent where he took refuge.

Pathman was among a group of about a dozen gathered together Monday in support of Team Hoyt, which raises money for the Hoyt Foundation. Many had run Boston before on the charity’s team.

“I’m happy not to be running today,” said Pathman, who has run Boston five times but was a spectator on Monday. “You always want to run it, but this is the perfect year not to run it.”

The group remained in high spirits as they awaited the arrival of the first runners, but the day’s weather dominated conversation.

Many said these were the cruelest Boston Marathon conditions they could remember, even harsher than the notoriously hot 2012 race, when temperatures reached into the 90s.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” said Corey Hanraham, 37, who along with Pathman is part of Team Hoyt’s San Diego chapter. “This is brutal.”

Other Wellesley spectators included Katie Hodges, who stood on the lower bar of the barrier to shriek for the first wheelchair to pass. The sophomore said the turnout wasn’t much compared to last year, when the weather was nice.

“It was crazy, energetic, and excited. I don’t think I could hear my own screaming but I told myself I was screaming,” she said. On Monday, her voice was a part of a smaller chorus.

She planned to come in and out as the day went on. The college was offering hot drinks and ponchos to students who came in to warm up.

Many of the students were also participating in another Wellesley tradition, asking runners to stop and give them kisses. These are more popular with the non-elite runners.

Mary Ollen had taken some waterproofing steps. The senior took a break from singing Rihanna’s Umbrella with her friends (none of them had one) to show off how she had embossed her sign with Mod Podge sealant.

A California family stood under a tree at the border of campus, wearing plastic ponchos as they awaited a relative running the Marathon.

They had misunderstood the meaning of the the term “scream tunnel,” which it turns out, is figurative language and does not provide any actual shelter.

“When you hear tunnel, you think you’re going to be underneath something,” said Dianna Hawkins.

Nonetheless, her mother Lynn Geiszler said the students’ enthusiasm was a welcome distraction from the cold and wet.

“The excitement overweighs the weather,” she said.

At the finish line in Boston, a number of ponchoed and umbrella-clad spectators had already formed along Boylston Street by mid-morning, with some huddling in nearby doorways or an ATM to ride out the raw, rainy weather until the elite runners, friends or family made their appearance in Copley Square.

Karen Canata Boydston, 49, of Holyoke said she’s watched her husband, Robert, run the Boston Marathon eight times before and 18 marathons in total.

“I’m going to say this is the worst [weather-wise],” she said. “A couple of years ago it was hypothermia conditions. But this is the worst. This is raw, windy. I’m afraid for a lot of the runners.”

That’s why her husband — usually a singlet-and-shorts-only runner — suited up with long sleeves and pants. And for her, she said she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. (Anyway, Canata Boydston, a marathoner herself, came prepared with a backpack full of hand-warmers.)

“There’s nothing like being in Boston on Marathon weekend,” she said. “This is the ultimate experience.”

For Ben Shover, of Indianapolis, it’s his first Boston Marathon experience. The 32-year-old flew in with his wife, Molly Shover, who’s running her first Boston Marathon, completing a long-held promise he made to her.

“I told her when we got married that when she qualified for Boston, we would come,” said Shover, who was wearing a black poncho tucked under a now-soaked yellow T-shirt bearing the name “Team Shorts,” Molly’s running club.

“It just so happens the year she qualified is the year it’s 35 and rainy,” he said with a laugh. “But promise kept. I couldn’t be more proud to watch her cross the finish line.”

The security checkpoints surrounding the finish line largely moved people through quickly, with the occasional bottleneck developing at a divider as rain-soaked spectators looked for ways across Boylston Street to shelter.

Along the route, others had hunkered down in their spots for hours.

James Barnes, 49, of Brighton said he found his place under an American flag at the corner of Exeter Street and Boylston at 7 am for the chance to cheer Shalane Flanagan and Galen Rupp to victory.

He said the chance to see two Americans potentially sweep first place for the first time in decades is one of his favorite things about the marathon. “Maybe the weather’s not one,” he said, looking down at his shoes wrapped in plastic bags. “But I’m still enjoying the day.”

Darcie Schoenfeldt-White, 36, said she was using lots of layers, coffee, and prayers — “lots of prayers” — to get through the rain before her friend, Sara Mehler, reaches the finish line.

Mehler started a running club in their town of Meadville, Pa., for people “who don’t think they can be runners.” Now 20 of them are in Boston to see her finish, no matter what.

Meanwhile at the medical tent located near the finish line, volunteers were starting their preparations in the morning long before the elite runners started coming in.

A sea of cots covered in shiny space blankets covered the floor of the white canopy tent. Defibrillators, heart monitors, and other medical material were assembled down the middle of the room.

“We have to be ready when they come. Every few minutes is precious,” said Felicia Bennett, a three-time medical volunteer.

“It’s a bit of triage, a bit of TLC,” Bennett said. “They just gave it their all and then we gotta calm them down and treat their needs.”

The volunteers, a mix of medical professionals, assess the issues in a methodical approach, working through the common leg cramps to life-threatening heart pain.

The most severe cases are taken to the hospital by ambulance.

“Hopefully, it should come to that today,” Bennett said.

Travis Andersen of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.