It was known to everyone that heavy rains and blowing cold wind would be the setting for the 2018 Boston Marathon, my first participation to the event. I prepared best I could for the weather by doing a 10mile run with a mix of aerobic and marathon paces while still in Chicago, by bringing what I thought was the right gear, by picking up my race packet on Saturday, and by running 5 miles at Easy pace in Boston on Sunday morning. I also scouted and planned the details of my train ride from our hotel near Boston Garden to Gear Check and to the Bus Loading Zone. The timing and amount of food and liquid intake were also listed down in my notebook from the night before to the last hour before the start gun goes off.
Just the same, I knew that my training was not enough. The weekly mileage starting from January averaged 30miles only. Speed was not there. The long runs always ended with the last 3 miles being a mix of walk and jog. I have been easy on myself and there was no one to push me. I did not sign up for a race during the training session.
Being bussed to the start line for a point to point marathon is not new to me. However, when I went through that in Big Sur in 2001, my goal was just to finish and be a tourist. In Milwaukee in 2006 and 2007, we were allowed inside the temperature controlled high school building, given access to bathrooms, and the field was no more than 2000 runners. The bus ride to Hopkinton was comfortable and was made more relaxing by a friendly stranger and chance seatmate who exchanged running stories with me. He also highlighted some of the features of the race course including the sights and sounds along the way.
The drop off in Hopkinton Middle School is a different story, though. It reminded me of movie scenes depicting Auschwitz in the 1940’s. The image was probably influenced by the visit we had of the New England Holocaust Memorial the day before. A less harsh comparison would be to a tent city set up by relief workers following a natural calamity. I made do with what I have. I scavenged for mats and blankets left over by those in Wave 1.
The walk to corrals could have been my chance for a warm up, but not knowing exactly where to go, I had to stay with the pack. Although I did not see him, it was announced publicly that Meb Keflezhigi was in the same corral as I am. And then, off the start gun went.
I have seen it in TV coverage, I have driven the first miles of the course, I’ve heard it from sports analysts and from those who have ran the course before – it was a downhill course. There were early rolling hills but nothing more than what I have encountered in training and past races. I was doing fine and managed my race well for the first 6miles. I have already re-assessed my goal by this time and settled at 7:45/mile average pace.
My outdated GPS watch could no longer handle the pouring rain and cold after a little past 10K marker. I knew from experience that it would continue to track my metrics despite the frozen screen. Wet gloves did not help in trying to reset the watch. I decided then that I must do the rest of the race by feel supplemented by race clocks along the way. It was not exact, but my chip time was 20minutes behind those displayed by the LED’s. I thought I was pacing fine while doing the arithmetic in my head, but later analysis showed that I have fallen off the pace.
When we were already in Wellesley, I was again transported into a movie scene, the scene where people were whistling in “The Hunger Games “. I would later find out that we were in the Scream Tunnel. There also was the distraction of trying to get a kiss from one of the college girls. I had to cross over from the left to the right where they lined up. I picked the left side of the street initially because that’s where the railroad tracks are. My wife said she would time her arrival at Wellesley Square such that we could see each other there together with a neighbor’s daughter who is enrolled in one of the universities in the area. After getting a kiss, I cut across again to the left in the hope that I could still see my wife. Maybe she got off at Wellesley Hills station. I would later find out that she actually crossed over to the right side of the street.
Around mile 16 was when I felt the beginning of cramps. It started on the outside part of my left thigh. At first I was able to “untie the knot” by shortening my strides and taking whatever range my muscles were giving me at every part of the gait cycle. They kept coming back though, worse than the one before and spreading or switching from one leg part to another. It was the anticipation of a photographer just around the corner that kept me running. I did not want to have a picture walking. This worked all the way up to mile 25. I was and am thankful that I ran the entire length of Heartbeak Hill in Newton. By now, though, my race could no longer be salvaged.
I prepared to look good for the finish line photographers after passing mile 25 marker. I took off the clear poncho I had on since leaving the hotel that morning. I also ripped apart the garbage bag that I fashioned as waterproof shorts. Cramps were threatening to launch a full attack again but I was managing it with my strategies.
It was at this time that about five feet ahead and at arm’s length to my right, another runner, an older gentleman, fell on the ground face flat. Another runner, a woman, squatted down to ask if he was okay. I stopped to check on him, too. He said he was okay as he was getting up and started shuffling along. The woman, after seeing that he was back on his feet, continued for her strong finish. The man, though, I noticed, was drooling. He, then, fell a second time. I offered him my hands which he gratefully took with his left. Another female runner wearing a red jacket, came to his aid, too. Instead of just reaching for her hands, he slung his right arm on her shoulders and he told me that he wants his left arm slung on my shoulders, too. We were able to get him up on his overcooked spaghetti noodles legs. My background as a healthcare worker came handy. I grabbed the waistband of his running pants giving it a combination of lift and forward push. I noticed that Lady in Red had her hand on his sternum. She was taking cues from my commands to him to stand up tall as best as he can to lighten the load on us. I kept talking to him. He was able to tell us that his name is Mike and he is from Colorado Springs. He could read the sign saying Mass Ave ahead of us. He followed when I asked him to take deep breaths. He swallowed without coughing when I asked him to. But him asking us, “How much farther?”, after every minute told me could no longer go on. He was getting heavy on our shoulders. I was torn between leading him to the nearby medical tent to get the proper care he needs before crossing the finish line or having him finish the race first before seeking medical help. What swayed me to the latter was when some medical personnel approached us asking if we needed help. Mike was quick to say, “I wanna stay with you!”, referring to Lady in Red and I.
So, there it was, for more than a mile, the three of us walked together tied around the hips. Another woman runner approached us and offered to take over for me. She was wearing a Bruins jersey. I took her offer. That was my chance to have a nice picture with the finish line mark in the background. My intent was to run back to take the place again of Lady in Red or Bruins, but a race official blocked my path. I understand, it might mess up the electronic timing and I could clog up the stream of incoming runners. The next moment, I spotted a female volunteer pushing a wheelchair. I guided her where to go and what to look for while keeping my eyes open for the 6-legged monster. When the three of them crossed the finish line, Mike was in worse condition. He was confused bordering on being combative. He tried to push the medics and officials away when they were putting him on the wheelchair. Mike kept asking, “Where is the finish line?”. He could not understand that he had finished the race. When he heard my voice again repeating the same things they were telling him was when he calmed down and allowed himself to be seated on the wheelchair for transport to the medical tent.
I will leave the final decision to the race organizers on whether Mike deserves a finisher’s medal, or should he be listed as DNF.
As for me, once Mike was in the medical tent and I have tapped Lady in Red’s shoulder and said, “Good job!”, I proceeded to collect my medal. I am a Boston 2018 Marathon Finisher at 4:19; rain, wind or sleet.
At the time of this writing, a plan has already been hatched to get a BQ for 2020. But, I have yet to see the finish line photo with me smiling.