Fueled by a bag of Goldfish and a steely determination, 31-year-old Lauren Paquette of Memphis won the Tufts 10K for Women on Monday, crossing the line in 33 minutes 30 seconds, then collapsing into a wheelchair.
Paquette, a former All-American at Baylor and a 5K specialist, ate a plate of food Sunday night that did not agree with her, and she was so sick the only thing she could stomach was a bag of Goldfish.
But when the start gun went off at Boston Common for the annual Columbus Day women’s race, she drove right to the lead and never relinquished it. Running down Beacon Street with a pack of five chasing her, Paquette ran a 5:04 first mile, only Natosha Rogers and Elaina Balouris able to stay with her.
After about 2½ miles, the challengers fell back and Paquette was on her own. She turned around to check on her pursuers several times as the course wound its way from Cambridge back across the Mass. Ave. bridge to Boston, but saw no one was close.
As she raced down Charles Street to the finish line, her only accompaniment was the sirens of the police escort vehicles. And only she knew how bad she felt.
“The last 2 miles of that race I started to feel weak,’’ she said, “and I was like, ‘OK, just try to relax.’ I was just trying to get there so hard, my legs were failing, I felt like I was running out of energy.’’
Rogers remained her closest pursuer, some 14 seconds back.
“I knew Natosha has a kick,’’ Paquette said, “and I didn’t know where she was, so I was starting to lose a little composure the last 200 meters. So I tried to put a little bit of distance on in the middle of the race just in case.”
Paquette, who took home $9,000 for first place, made a quick stop at the medical tent to regain her strength and then was good to go.
“I’m feeling really tired but I’m making it,’’ Paquette said.
Rogers, 26, of Littleton, Colo., was second in 33:44, and Watertown’s Balouris, 25, was third in 34:03.
Paquette blamed her condition on her dinner Sunday night, a meal that immediately sent her to the bathroom to vomit.
“So I went to Walgreen’s and got some Pedialyte, Goldfish, and a couple of saltines, and that was my dinner,’’ she said. “I had an entire bag of Goldfish and just tried to relax and not let it mentally get to me, treat it like nothing happened. That was a mental hurdle.”
Paquette called on her memory of another runner who persevered.
“Shalane Flanagan got food poisoning when she was at a world championship, I think China, and got a bronze medal,’’ she said. “So I was, ‘OK, she probably did not freak out because she’s that caliber of an athlete,’ so I’m going to try and do that.’
“I’m just trying to get better and better and I just tried to see this as a challenge, something that may come up later down the road in my career.”
Paquette was fourth here last year, in a faster time (32:53).
“The time today wasn’t super fast,’’ she said. “I just tried to race.’’
The race began in a slight drizzle and with unseasonably high humidity. Paquette ignored the fact that she was feeling weak, and cut right through.
“You can’t be timid if something like that happens; you’ve lost from the beginning,’’ she said. “Natosha and Elaina are amazing athletes. They could have easily snatched me up.”
Rogers, who ran a 10-mile race only seven days ago, said it was too hard to keep up with Paquette.
“I stuck with her for the first 2½ miles,” Rogers said, “and then I just couldn’t physically stick with her.”
Local favorites Lindsey Scherf (Harvard grad) and Jen Rhines of Boston were both late withdrawals.