The Hardest, Hottest Run of My Life

As you may have read in previous posts, I have run a couple of marathons and aim to now run at least one or two a year. The past few months, I’ve been training for the Boston Marathon, which took place Monday, April 16th. Many would say just to qualify is an accomplishment, and I would agree. I qualified with a time of 3:35 in 2010 at the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington D.C.

My training for Boston went so smoothly, that I set a lofty goal of beating my Marine Corp time, about 2 weeks before the race. I was averaging 7:30min/mile on my long runs, so I really felt like this goal could be achievable. The week of the race, forecasters were warning that the temperature on marathon Monday would reach into the 80s. I thought – I’ll be fine – I’ve been training in the Texas heat. Little did I know that even the TX heat (which has really only been low 80s at the peak of my training) could not even compare to what I would encounter on April 16th.

Dean and I at the Runners World booth at the Boston Marathon Expo

I arrived in Boston on the Saturday before the race minus one bag (thankfully I packed my race day gear in my carry-on). My bag arrived later Saturday evening and I enjoyed seeing some of the sights and sounds of my old home (I lived, studied, ran and ate in Boston between 2006-2008). Sunday, my faithful super-fan (my mom) and I made our way to the over-crowded expo to pick up my bib and roam the expo hall. We met Dean Karnazes, a running idol of mine, and bought a couple souvenirs. The rest of the day was full or R and R as well as a lot of carbs and fluids.

Throughout this time, all registered runners were receiving warnings and updates from race officials about the heat. They even offered participants the opportunity to defer their entry until next year. I felt as though I would be OK – but seriously started doubting myself when I learned a fellow Texan would likely defer. Would I really be OK? Would the heat allow me to finish? Should I go through with it? Ultimately, through the encouragement of a few others as well as my super-fan, I decided to run – but to take it easy – and still aim to finish under 4 hours (another mistake I’d soon learn).

The morning of the race was a warm one – upper 60s at 7am. By the time of the wave 2 start (10:20 am) the temp was easily in the upper 70s. I was sweating at the starting line and all I could think about was whether or not I could handle this. Before I had time to think too long we were off.

Miles 1-13.1

I carried a bottle of water with me for the first 2-3 miles – a recommendation from one of my fellow runners, so as to avoid the full-contact water stations at miles 2 and 3 as the running crowd started to spread out. I felt good and was really starting to feel like maybe my TX training would come in handy. The first half went by relatively fast, but the heat was definitely there, lurking. Every chance I had I ran through sprinklers and sprayers and poured water over my head. My feet and clothes were soaked by mile 5. I alternated between water and Gatorade as I normally do and took spectator offerings of oranges and additional water. I finished the first half with a pace of 8:19/mile. Perhaps I could do this under 4 hours after all.

Miles 13.1-21

At the Athlete's Village awaiting the start of the Boston Marathon

We passed a group of women outside Wellesley College – I believe somewhere between miles 14 and 15 and the crowd was amazing. The girls all had signs requesting runners kiss them. Personally I felt as though there should be a few men out there too – to which one guy offered to kiss me. I laughed and continued my pace into the streets of Wellesley. Then, reality set in.

I got a cramp in my lower stomach. I tried running through it. I tried putting my hands over my head. I tried massaging it out. I tried everything I could think of but it kept getting worse. Finally at around 15 1/2 I entered a medical tent. My body did not like me – I was hot, tired and now very emotional and I could barely stand up straight. I was mad. Why didn’t I just defer? Four months of the best, most dedicated training I’ve ever given towards a marathon – all to be ruined by 90 degree weather. It wasn’t fair. I started crying. The medic took my blood pressure, which was normal, and offered me some ice cold diluted gatorade. He gave me his cell phone to call my mom – something I hesitated to do as I didn’t want her to worry. I called her regardless, let her know I was thinking about quitting. She said she was proud either way. I told her I knew that but that I wasn’t – that I had to finish this race. We hung up and another runner who had entered the tent for some vasoline and to take some salt pills approached me. He looked familiar and we started talking about the race’s brutality in this heat and he told me he had set out to run it in around 3 hours. He wasn’t happy with the conditions either – but he encouraged me to continue and even offered me a hug – to which I gladly accepted. Then I found out – of all places – he was from Austin – and helps out with a local running group there that I have been thinking about joining. What are the chances of out of the over 24,000 runners that choose to start the race, he’d enter the tent and talk to me? I suddenly felt like I could at least jog/walk the next few miles. I thanked him for his encouragement and told him I hoped to see him back in Austin.

So I set out on the next 5-6 miles. The worst 5-6 miles of my life. I essentially ran 1/2 a mile and walked 1/2 a mile the entire time. I walked all of Heart Break hill. I was hot and at one point felt as though I might be sick. At the top of Heart Break Hill the second amazing thing happened that would motivate me beyond what I thought was possible. I happened to see a sign with my favorite Dean Karnazes quote ‘Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.’ Having just completed his first book about 2 months ago, which has significantly impacted my outlook on life and running, the quote was so significant in this moment.

Miles 21-26.2

Big Smile after Crossing the Finish Line!

I suddenly felt a surge of energy. I started running. I didn’t stop. I embraced the crowd – I even smiled a bit. I really started to enjoy this race and realize it’s importance. It’s significance. I ran with joy, passion and love of the experience. I slapped the hands of spectators, enjoyed the most amazing Popsicle of my life at mile 23 and allowed myself to really just take it all in. This was Boston, on the hottest day in over 30 years and possibly on record – and I was going to do this – I was going to finish.

When I turned the corner onto Boylston and saw the finish line I became emotional again. I reached deep to compose myself so that I could finish. Tears streemed down my face and at one point and I could not believe that the finish was actually in sight. While I may not have finished with a time I’m proud of. I finished. Many did not – including the 2011 men’s champion. I could wear my medal with pride.

I found my super fan and it was all I could do to keep myself from collapsing in her arms. I could see the tears streaming from her face. Every marathon comes with emotions – but this one – this one was different. With so many people just happy to finish – I too joined them in a celebration of success.

A couple hours later, as I sat in the car, I turned to my super fan and asked “you think I could run another one in May?” She responded that I might consider taking a little more time off. “You are probably right,” I said. “Fall sounds more realistic.”

Thanks, Mom, for your support, encouragement and guidance. This run is dedicated to you.