Standing in my start corral before Wave 2 departed Hopkinton, the weather dominated conversation. The mind-over-matter consensus: The rain and wind wouldn’t be as bad as predicted. I heard one man say, “If we’re not stuck here in the rain before we start, we’ll be fine.” A woman on my left decided to take off her jacket and start in her singlet and shorts. “How cold could it be once I get running?” she asked. Everyone was an optimist. No one was a realist.
But it wasn’t long before reality hit hard and the weather made for an uncomfortable, yet memorable race.
Light sprinkles started around Mile 2, then became more of a steady rain as I made my way through Ashland. In Framingham, around Mile 6, a man behind me shouted, “Hey, at least we don’t have a headwind.” The crowd of runners within shouting distance all promptly shushed him. We knew we were in for a tough day and no one needed a weather jinx added to the mix.
Sensing the worst weather awaited, I went with a risky strategy and started slightly faster than planned. I knew a couple 7-minute-10-second miles wasn’t the smartest move, but I also worried about the headwinds and figured I better get going while I could. Soon, the rain alternated between downpours and a pitter-patter. And I could feel the headwind start as I ran through Natick.
I tossed my soaked gloves to the sidewalk, but could do nothing about my drenched long-sleeved T-shirt, shorts, socks, and shoes. It felt like I had 5-pound weights on each foot. But more disconcerting, my body wasn’t staying warm. Not the normal state of affairs after you run 10 or 11 miles. But here I was, wet and cold and getting colder. With my legs tightening from the cold, not early fatigue, I knew it would be a much longer day than expected. It was time to recalibrate my race goals. Given the way I felt, a time under 3 hours 30 minutes seemed reasonable. I was an optimist turned realist.
After all, there is nothing quite like reaching the half-marathon mark and knowing every mile after would be a struggle. I don’t remember it being quite as bad when I ran the 2012 Boston Marathon with temperatures in the high 80s. Yes, the weather that year tested mental and physical limits, too. But there was something about the heavy rain and the gusts of wind on Monday, the unpredictability of it all, that made it more challenging and more miserable.
Plus, to a lifelong New Englander, heat always seems like the greater danger and I approached the 2012 race cautiously. After the winter Boston endured, I may not have taken the rain, 30-mile-per-hour wind gusts and mid-40s temperatures as seriously as I should have. But of the 15 marathons I’ve run, including eight in Boston — but not the one during the 2007 Nor’easter — Monday ranks at the top for toughest weather.
It appeared, however, that the marathon’s biggest fans adjusted and prepared well for the conditions. Several fans handed out paper towels instead of the usual wet sponges. The paper towels were much appreciated, even if they were no match for the rain and water all around.
Initially, I tried to avoid puddles. As I made my way from Wellesley to Newton, I was too wet to care and splashed right through them.
While the spectator numbers were visibly smaller with some popular stretches almost empty.
Spectators also kept a sense of humor about the weather. Initially, I tried to avoid puddles.
Besides, I had bigger problems to worry about.
Between the wind and my tight quads, forward progress felt painful and slow. I knew I had to do something, anything to push through. Although marathon experts say never try anything new for a 26.2-mile race, I grabbed a caffeinated, citrus-flavored Cliff Shot at Mile 17. As I turned the corner at the Newton firehouse and heard de facto race anthem “I’m Shipping up to Boston,” I felt a small surge of energy. I’m not sure if it was mental or physical, but I welcomed it.
Going up the Newton Hills, I had two thoughts: Hot shower and nachos. The first is easy to explain. The second is the late-marathon mind wandering that sometimes happens. More than a few expletives entered my thoughts, too, especially when three gusts of wind came while I tackled Heartbreak Hill. Some may have even escaped my mouth. But I was not alone.
Covering the final miles, it was easy to see the toll the weather took on many. There were the usual late-race runners-turned-walkers along the side of the road, but I also saw volunteers hand out silver-and-white heat blankets to keep marathoners warm. And runners were wearing those heat blankets as they made their way down Beacon Street and Commonwealth Ave.
I tried to pick up a little speed on those roads, seeing that my new sub-3:30 goal might be in jeopardy. I didn’t grab any water after Mile 22, partly to save precious seconds and partly because I was so waterlogged the thought of drinking water made me slightly nauseous. I hit the 1-mile-to-go mark in 3:21:14 and knew I needed to hustle. I’d been averaging around 8:45 per mile since I crested Heartbreak Hill. I dashed toward Boylston Street as fast as I could, crossed the line, and looked at my watch. It was still running. My fingers were so cold and numb that I didn’t know I completely missed the stop button.
With teeth chattering, lips blue, and hands icy, I made my way home, where I learned I finished in 3:29:18. Then, it was time for a hot shower and nachos.