It took about an hour to get to the “Athlete’s Village” - the staging area for runners prior to the start. It’s on athletic fields at a local high school, and the fields were surrounded by snow, merging into a sea of mud in all directions. The rain poured, the wind howled, and I started shaking uncontrollably once again. It was so cold, I was so miserable (as was everyone else, visibly so), and still in denial that this was actually going to happen. I went to the porta-potty and could not undo my pants, my hands were so frozen. I managed to take care of business somehow, and then set about to try and change my shoes and strip off my throw-away layers. The mud and the muck and the refuse of 30,000 runners was everywhere. It was raining and blowing so hard it was raining INSIDE the tented areas. I peeled off my track pants, sat down on an abandoned trash bag in the mud, and changed shoes. We were then called to start the .7 mile march to the start line. About 100 yards into the march my “clean and dry race shoes” were completely soaked through and covered with mud. Oh well…
I tried to put in my earphones, but the pounding rain and gusts of wind blew them right out of my ears. I opted to stick them inside my shirt, figuring I would try again further down the road if the weather let up. We finally made it up to the start line, the gun went off, and I suddenly realized we were actually going to do this. And we were off. Only one problem - my fingers were so numb I could not start my running watch, so I would have no idea of what pace I was running the entire day. No matter, it quickly became apparent that this was going to be a race of survival, not speed. No watch, no earphones - I just smiled and decided I had no choice but to roll with it.
Fortunately the early miles of Boston are mostly downhill, so it was relatively easy to settle into something resembling a normal running rhythm despite the weather. As we started, I realized that my shoes, socks and feet were so soaked through and cold that my feet had gone numb. I couldn’t really feel my feet until about mile 3 or so. My hands were just absolutely gone. My gloves seemed to make it worse, so I abandoned them early on and just pulled my hands into the sleeves of my running jacket to try and keep them from further exposure.
I was immediately struck by the amazing crowds of people who came out to cheer on the runners. There were 30,000 runners, and must’ve been over a 100,000 supporters out there lining the course every inch of the way, and screaming support and encouragement like nothing I’ve ever witnessed. It is truly amazing - old people, kids, everybody everywhere - I found myself smiling almost non-stop, it was so inspirational. I later learned from locals and Boston veterans that the crowd this year was perhaps even larger than usual - they really came out to support us on this savagely difficult day.
The rain was absolutely relentless. At times it would kick up several notches and rain so hard and the winds would blow us sideways - it was almost comical. I screamed out loud “you’ve got to be kidding” on a number of occasions. It was as if nature was saying “you think this is bad - try this!”
At about mile 12 or so, I decided to try again to put in my earphones. On long runs I usually listen to podcasts - I find that having something to focus on besides the run helps me lock-in to cruise-control mode, and I knew the daunting Newton Hills were looming a few miles ahead. I stopped at the water station and reached into my shirt for my Bose wireless earphones, only to find that they were gone. Merde! Must’ve fallen out somewhere along the course. Oh well. Keep on pounding, as my coach always reminds me.
Somehow, the conditions were so biblically bad that I was able to ignore them for long stretches at a time and just get into a good rhythm, inspired by the amazing support from the crowds. It turns out the hills - there’s a series of four of them from mile 16-21 - are not as bad as I had led myself to believe. The last one, Heartbreak Hill, is not so steep but it is agonizingly long. And of course the wind gusted up to a 40mph headwind about halfway up. I shouted out loud at Mother Nature yet again, and really had to laugh. It was so off-the-charts brutal that it started getting funny.
After the hills, it was just survival mode. That finisher’s medal at the end was the lure that pulled me on. That and the crowds. Boston - you people rock! When I turned left onto Boylston to head the last half-mile to the finish, I felt like I was winning the Olympics. The crowd was so loud - deafening - it was deeply moving and inspirational and a feeling and a sound I will never forget as long as I live. As neared the finish line I raised both hands in exultation, pumped my fist and screamed out a “Fuck Yes!” in honor of Shalane Flanagan (her husband Steve is my running coach), and hobbled my way through the water and food and medal and blanket stations.