Running the Boston Marathon had been a dream of mine for about, errr, 18 months. To be honest, I’d never even considered Boston until my friend Jen suggested it to me in September 2016. Still, the idea didn’t really take off until 12 months later when, after BQing at Gold Coast Marathon, I was informed that I had successfully qualified for Boston 2018.
The rocky road to Boston
Unfortunately, the road to Boston was a bumpy one for me: at the start of my training, I found out that cancer had returned in my neck. This meant a major 6-hour operation at the end of November, as well as taking a full month off running. When the hospital physio visited me on the day after my operation, she visibly winced as I told her I was doing Boston. But, as they say, “never tell a marathon runner they can’t do a marathon” (especially Boston!); and come January I kicked off my training.
After living in the UK for more than a decade, I was not accustomed to training over a Sydney summer, but I thought I could use this “heat training” to my advantage when I got to a much cooler Boston. In my mind, the day of the marathon would be dry and sunny with a top of 14 degrees celsius. Perfect conditions to roll down the mostly downhill course, I thought. While I wasn’t aiming for a PB, my goal time was 3.25.00 (secretly 3.20.00) and I felt confident I could achieve that — especially in those conditions!
Last-minute outfit change
Just under a week out, I received an email from the marathon organisers with a weather warning and guidance to help runners “run efficiently, to maintain a healthy body temperature, and keep yourself safe.” Safe from what, I thought? Hypothermia is what! This meant a complete outfit change. Luckily, I had my winter compression gear that I’d worn during the previous week in New York and I’d also bought some cheap clothes to layer up in before the race. These included a poncho, a beanie, a scarf, my cap and gloves and, very importantly, a cheap pair of shoes so I could wear these to the race and change into my dry running shoes and socks just before the start. The night before the race I also decided to wear my black running jacket, thinking I would discard it part way through the run. (Because surely, I would warm up by then!)
Come race day I met my colleague Simon — also doing the marathon — at Boston Common and we were bussed out to the start line in Hopkinton 26 miles away. The bus was super warm and we could thaw out from our short time being outside. On the way, Simon calmed me down after I had a little stress about the gear bag drop (don’t ask!), and soon we started to get excited for the race. That excitement quickly disappeared once we arrived at the athlete’s village where we were simultaneously hit with freezing winds, horizontal rain, and arctic temperatures. And then we saw the mud right by the portaloos (or porta-potties as they’re called in the US). We had no choice: we had to queue up for them, as is customary before any big race. After that, we huddled in a tent, also full of mud, but thankfully the lovely organisers had provided us with fruit, bagels, tea and coffee. So, I grabbed a coffee (my third that morning) to warm myself up.
And we’re off!
After removing the extra layers and changing my shoes and socks (but keeping the poncho on), I shivered my way to the start line (losing Simon in the crowd). And then, before I knew it, we were off! I was actually running the Boston Marathon! I quickly discarded the poncho, although many runners kept theirs on, and the weather was soon forgotten. It was a lovely downward slope and felt great. The course was so scenic, taking us through some charming New England towns; and the crowds were already out, cheering us on and ringing their cow bells. I ran past a man playing drums on his front porch, another man singing Hound Dog on the back of his pick-up truck, college students drinking beer at 11am, and loads of kids offering up their hands for a high five. About 5 km in I had a quick loo stop and noticed my heart was beating quite fast — a combination of excitement, the cold, and too much coffee. I needed to calm myself down, so I did what I often do in a long race: broke it down into 5 km chunks.
The first half went by really quickly and I noticed I was paying less attention to my pace and focusing more on the distance I was covering. The weather was worsening but I kept going, getting water or Gatorade at almost all the drink stations — despite never getting hot or feeling sweaty. Mile 13 soon approached, which meant the Wellesley Scream Tunnel was close. I naively thought this would be an actual tunnel and I looked forward to a brief respite from the rain. But it was not to be, as the actual tunnel consists of the ladies from Wellesley College screaming out “Kiss me!” and pointing to their cheek. Well, “when in Rome” I thought, and I kissed one of the students on the cheek, which was met with more screams — and gave me a little boost.
I knew the set of hills was approaching at mile 16, meaning an up-and-down course for the next 5 miles. The hills themselves aren’t that steep; but by that stage of the marathon, my legs were getting tired and heavy, and I was feeling weighed down by all the wet layers. At mile 18, I was on the lookout for a sea of red supporters from the Prospect Park Track Club (AKA PPTC, our sister club in Brooklyn). I’d run with PPTC in New York just the week before, and I knew they were in Boston to support some of their club runners. I was absolutely thrilled when the first thing I saw was a “Go Jo!” sign and I knew it was them. So there was a lot of screaming and high fiving, which gave me a huge, much-needed boost (such legends, those PPTC guys!) knowing there was just over 10 km to go. And before I knew it, I was on Heartbreak Hill and, while it’s not a patch on our one in Sydney, it’s still pretty tough — especially by mile 21. But as a I reached the top, I saw a huge sign that read “Heartbreak is over!” And it was largely downhill from there.
The final straight
The last 7 kilometres of a marathon have typically always been the most enjoyable for me. Not so for this race. I was tired, I was cold, I was drenched. And I just wanted to get out of those wet clothes! But with the constant chants of “You got this!” from the supporters, I kept on running. Thank God for that crowd! I saw the CITGO sign at mile 24 and knew I was almost there. I unzipped my running jacket at mile 25 so I could display my number and KR singlet, hoping the cameras would capture that last stretch. And then I reached Boylston Street and the crowd were going wild. I felt like a rock star. It was incredible! I threw my hands up in the air and cheered along with them as I crossed the line. I did it! I COMPLETED THE BOSTON MARATHON!
The high of completing the marathon quickly turned to focusing on not getting hypothermia. I read later that over 2,500 runners had suffered from the medical emergency — including a number of the elites. After crossing the line, we received our medals and silver blankets and we all huddled together as we queued for our gear bags. My teeth chattered incessantly. Once I had my gear, I headed for the women’s changing rooms and got into my dry clothes as quickly as possible (including my Boston runners jacket). I then found my friend Nancy (a welcome sight!) who noticed my lips were turning blue; she led me out of the rain to the train and we headed straight for a celebratory burger and cider in Harvard. As I took off my coat at the restaurant, the table next to us saw my medal and runners jacket and congratulated me. Love the Bostonians!
Slowest Boston since the 1970s
That was definitely the toughest race I’ve ever done. The temperature never got above 7 degrees celsius, the headwinds blew at up to 40 miles per hour, and the rain was torrential. Full credit to the amazing volunteers and supporters who braved such horrendous conditions to keep us runners going — I couldn’t have done it without them! I’m still on a high from the marathon and I feel so proud to have finished with a time of 3.28.58. It’s not quite the goal time but who cares! I’ll save my PB attempt for Blackmore’s in September! 😉