By: John Rotella
My first Boston marathon would end up being one of the top 10 hottest ever. With warnings throughout the weekend about the hot weather, the race organizers had me pretty uneasy. Emails said “Only the fittest runners should consider participating” and “you should adopt the attitude that THIS IS NOT RACE. It is an experience”, I found myself thinking hard about what my race day might be like.
I was up by 4:30 am, eating hard-boiled eggs, fruit, chocolate milk, bread and Greek yogurt. I wanted to be fueled for a 10:00 am start. Heading out to the bus pick-up at Boston Commons, it was great to see thousands of runners filling the streets at 6:00 am. You could hear the excitement building from the runners on the bus ride as we got closer and closer. We arrived at the Athlete’s Village and I was surprised by how well organized it all was. Hundreds of port-a-potties, fluids/snacks stations, and massage tents in a setting that felt like the Olympics. “Hopkinton: It all starts here!” is what one of the signs read in the field. It was 80 degrees at the start, and I was pouring water on myself 10 minutes before the race even started.
The gun went off and we all started shuffling towards the start. Two lanes opened to four lanes to help spread the runners. It was still very crowded till mile 6 and I spent most of the time hugging the right edge to find some space to run. At mile 1, I heard girl yell out, “Only 25.2 miles to go!” That is the last real time I remember hearing another runner speak out loud. I normally enjoy meeting runners during these events and chatting the miles away (as Jeremy Ploessel can attest to), but this was the quietest marathon I have ever run. Runners quickly realized all our strength would be needed to keep moving and speaking to each other was no longer an option.
Now mind you, it was also the noisiest marathon with respect to the crowd support and volunteers. Almost every single stretch had folks cheering us on. The first 6 miles just flew by as I poured water all over myself every chance I got. Miles 6 through 16 had me focusing hard on settling into my pace. The highlight of this stretch was the Wellesley College girls screaming for kisses from the runners at the top of their lungs. I give one a kiss on the cheek, and took off in more cheers. Around this time my HR monitor decided it wouldn’t work, so it was time to play it by feel. Runners were starting to walk and cramp up left and right. The temperature got to 89 degrees at its hottest point. When the hills really started, I knew I was in for a battle. I felt strong up the hills, weaker on the downhills, and after Heartbreak Hill I didn’t think I had 5 miles left in me. I played the usual marathon mind games, “just keep running”, “You’ve made it 22 miles…, you got this”, “the worst is over”. And I did my best put a smile on my face and think positive. At mile 24, a woman screamed to me that I looked strong. I gave her a pitiful look as I ran by her that made her scream even louder, “No, REALLY, you look REALLY STRONG!” I truly soaked in the last two miles: listening to the crowds, feeling the excitement, and seeing that finish line. It was just amazing. I crossed the line at 3 hours, 15 minutes and 36 seconds, and am now a Boston finisher.
The volunteers asked how I was doing and if I was ok. My only response was, “is it possible for you cut off both of my legs up around the hip?” and one of them responded, “no, I’m sorry, that would be quite messy. We aren’t allowed”. One important lesson I learned was the benefit of immediate ice wrapped to my hamstrings. I felt ten times better after that (not a hundred times, just ten). A wonderful massage followed, and then an ice bath at the hotel. After a big cheeseburger, fries and a coke, I went out to cheer on the remaining runners on the course. It is some sight to see the determination, pain, exhilaration and satisfaction on their faces when know they are going to make it. I can’t say I can recall the buildings or streets or signs I passed as I made my way through the course. The screaming crowds, the quiet runners, the huge smile on my face, and the feeling of crossing the finish line is all I’ll remember.