This is my second time running the Boston Marathon, but 19 years have passed between then and now, and this experience was different in so many ways. One difference stood out, and it was a big one: the weather! After I was packed and in New York the previous week, planning to race in a tank top and arm warmers, we began to receive emails from the Boston Athletic Association. The emails had a bit of a warning tone to them. Rain, and lots of it, was predicted, along with wind and cold temperatures. By the second email and some checking of the forecast, I was rethinking my clothing choices and strategizing how to find gloves and a warmer hat before race day.
As one meteorologist said, the runners will face a “car wash effect” with cold, drenching rain and stiff winds with gusts up to 40 MPH. On top of that, a text and some charts from my coach determined that we’d face a headwind for most of the race, with the biggest headwinds in the last 5, and hilliest, miles.
I woke up in Boston on race morning to the sound of rain already falling at 6 AM. The temperature was 38 degrees. I dressed in my running clothes, topped with old sweatpants and a sweatshirt that I would discard later. On top of that, I added plastic bags with holes cut out for my arms and legs. There is nowhere to drop clothes once you get to the start, so runners wear old clothing they can discard.
After coffee and cereal, we left the Air BnB apartment on Commonwealth Avenue and decide to take an uber to Boston Common for bus loading. Traffic was terrible so the uber driver dropped us a few blocks away, and at the last minute, tossed us his umbrella to have for the day. It was not unlike a lot of the citizens of Boston going out of their way for all of these runners that come into town the Boston Marathon.
The minute I started walking to the buses from the car, I was soaked. The sleeves of my old sweatshirt were soaked. My feet were drenched. Some runners wore old shoes and carried their running shoes in a plastic bag. That would have been a good idea, as well as a thrift store raincoat. Some runners taped their shoes with duct or packing tape, which I tried but my tape didn’t last for the walk to the bus.
Security, of course, was tight, so the only other thing we were allowed was just a small, clear bag for our food, and nothing else.
With all of the walking, we got on the bus late and rode one hour to the start. It was nice to be in the warm, dry bus! I began to pick my way through the runners’ waiting area. By the time I was there, what was once grass had given way to nothing but mud and spongy puddles. I stepped carefully around and then finally joined the smart runners who had tied plastic bags around their feet for walking around in this. I stopped in the porta potty, adjusted all of my now-soaked clothing and plastic bags. I grabbed a bagel from the crowded, even muddier-floored tent, and started the long walk to the start line. I wasn’t nervous, as I usually am, because I was too busy managing all of the wet things – my hands, feet, face, bag of food, bottle of water, and I still carried that uber driver’s umbrella which probably saved me from true hypothermic, wet conditions before starting.
As I approached the start corral, this odd assortment of everyone’s old clothes and plastic bags began to pile up everywhere. There was another section of porta potties nearer the start, so I stopped again and stripped off my first layer of wet sweatpants and threw them in one of the heaps.
Finally, I’m in the corral in Hopkinton! I hadn’t had time to enjoy all the New England ambience, but it did feel very special to be here at the starting line of the 122nd Boston Marathon with all my soggy, rain-poncho’d fellow runners. It wasn’t crowded, and I was right near the line. With ten minutes to go, I stripped off the rest of my sweats and plastic bags. And, IMMEDIATELY began to shiver. I grabbed a discarded poncho from a pile and put it on. When the gun started us off, everyone moved quickly and I was over the start line within seconds. I ran with the poncho, shivering, and decided I’d keep it on (like many others were obviously doing) until I was legitimately warm and and sweating.
That didn’t happen until almost mile three.
Once I was warmed up, I felt as good as in any long, rainy run. My jacket was sopping but I loved the last-minute wool gloves I’d bought yesterday! How had I not thought to wear wool gloves in the rain before? And a $3.99 knit pink hat I’d bought was also doing the trick. I’d worn sunglasses to keep myself from squinting into the driving rain.
The course was never too crowded, and when wind gusts came up, I adjusted my position to duck in behind a group of people or at the shoulder of a larger guy. Wellesley was screaming, as well as Boston College. I enjoyed people along the course, but crowds were probably thinner than usual due to the rain and wind. Around mile 12-13 I felt the first bit of fatigue, and started taking gels a little more quickly. I drank at approximately every other water station, stopped once at a porta potty quickly, and generally kept my rhythm.
Around mile 18, my legs began to hurt, a dull pain. I shortened my stride and sped up, doing math in my head to see if I had a chance at a PR. I did, and tried to do my best to stay steady. I would be close to a PR but wouldn’t make it.
Once the high of crossing the finish line passed, I knew I’d only have minutes to try to get safely warmed up. It was 40 degrees, still raining, and I was soaked. After running three hours, your body is going to shut down and cool off quickly, and I could feel it happening, so I hurried through the crowds, walked and walked, and made my way through medals, food, and to the clothes bags, slowly starting to shiver. Many other people, wrapped in their foil capes, huddled around the clothes tent, I stood there in a shivering line, with images crossing my mind. We do this by choice, with privilege, with grit and determination. My image then was of humans who find themselves in these conditions but NOT by choice, the desperation for warmth, food, self-preservation being the same, and still with grit and determination.
I couldn’t handle my phone because my fingers were so wet and cold, but managed a text to meet up with my friend who’d stood in the rain giving me encouragement all day and sending texts to my husband with updates.
Post race, once warmed up, I loved being around Boston with approximately 25K other finishers walking around doing the touristy things and congratulating each other. Everyone wore their medals around, and we spent the day walking some of the Freedom Trail, were offered a free tour of Sam Adams and enjoyed a visit to Cambridge for dinner.
When I read about the race afterward, a few things stuck out to me: Pros dropping out due to hypothermia, coldest Boston race in 30 years, 2 inches of rain during the race. Adding my own observations: local businesses were sold out of gloves, emails from the race organizers warning the runners about the weather and offering advice about what to wear, and certainly the run with the coldest and persistently rainy conditions I’ve ever done, even coming from Seattle.
Regardless, it was an amazing experience to be in Boston, and am so thankful for the opportunity, weather and all. Someday, maybe in another 19 years or so, I’ll be back! But hopefully a lot sooner than that.