Instead I ran a 3:50 and honest to God considered dropping out. Of the Boston Marathon.
Lest you be wondering if the heat was really that big a deal, it was. Survivable, certainly, but not raceable.
But we'll get there (or you can skip ahead to the end if that's what you're interested in). First, some logistical things to mention, in case you are considering running the Boston Marathon. For the record, I am not. Ever again. And I know I said that last year, but this time I'm serious.
For the past several years, I've stayed out in Milford, MA, by the start. This is awesome on race morning, because you don't have to wake up early, and the hotels out there offer their own free shuttles to the start. This year I stayed at the Courtyard, which gave us marathoners a little welcome bag when we checked in, with water and an apple and a granola bar and some fun facts about the marathon. It was like going to a wedding, except I didn't get drunk or make out with someone who turned out to be related to me.
The only glitch with staying out there is that it really requires two cars: one to leave in Boston to get back after the race, and one to drive you out there on Sunday night. Or, one car and one very generous friend who will drive you back and forth to a hotel 40 minutes outside of the city. Caroline is generous, but I didn't want to push my luck, so I ended up driving to her apartment in Southie, leaving my car there on Sunday, having a pasta feast with her, hitching a ride with her to the hotel Sunday night, and then taking the T back to her place after the race to get my car. Writing all that out makes me realize it's not worth the logistical hassle just to get a few more hours sleep on race morning, but if that matters to you, know that it is a possibility.
The hotel also offered plenty of floor space in which I could lay out my bib person.
Despite having the opportunity to sleep in on Monday morning, I didn't really. But I did have a leisurely breakfast, drink some coffee, and watch the weather forecast with increasing alarm.
But I tried not to let it bother me, and instead took self portraits in the bathroom mirror:
And also photographed my breakfast on the balcony, with Lowe's in the background:
Because this is what one does with nervous race morning energy. Well, this and go to the bathroom 400 times.
Anyway, I eventually made my way to the Fairfield Inn across the street, which was taking me to Hopkinton since my own hotel shuttle was fully booked. The process was painless, and while I was worried about not leaving until 9am, the timing couldn't have been better. I arrived in Hopkinton, walked the three-quarters of a mile to the Athlete Village (stopping to chat with Eissa on the way, until a cop suggested we get out of the way as "it's kind of busy out here"), got on line for bag drop, deposited my gear, walked three-quarters of a mile back to the start corrals while beginning to sweat heavily, and entered the Wave 2, Corral 2 start about 2 minutes before the gun went off. I hardly had any time to think about what I was getting myself into before I crossed the mat. The only drawback was that I had no time to do any pre-race MadLibs.
As I said, I was secretly expecting that I'd go out there and run a PR and then humble-brag about it, but pretty much from the start, I realized that was foolish and unlikely. I couldn't believe how hot it was through the first mile, and there was no shade and no breeze. While I ultimately decided not to wear my 3:20 pace bracelet, I still thought maybe a Boston PR was in the cards, and aimed to keep my splits between 7:45 and 8:00 (8:00/mile being a 3:30 marathon).
I was pleasantly surprised that the first five miles or so weren't nearly as bad as I remembered. Last year, I came away saying "so many rolling hills!" but this year, I thought "oh, this isn't so bad!" I ran my first mile faster than I did last year. Instead of thinking "no! Claire it is 30 degrees hotter this year than it was last year!" I thought "well I'm off to a good start!"
Miles 1-5: 7:57, 7:49, 8:08, 7:50, 8:04.
I passed the five mile marker a hair under 40 minutes, but even by then, was suffering. I stopped to pee at mile 6 and was comforted that I had consumed enough liquids for that to be necessary, but I was also no longer sweating, which was a serious concern. I had 20 long, hot miles to go. I had been taking water and Gatorade at every opportunity, but was hot and thirsty again almost immediately after I swallowed (that's what she said). Though not hungry, I took at Gu at 8.5 and hoped it would keep my legs moving at a reasonable pace. I decided to break the race up mentally into 2 ten milers and a 10k. My goal became "get to mile 10 and reassess."
Thankfully, I knew I had family friends in Natick, just before the 10 mile mark, so knowing I'd be rewarded with a visit with them propelled me forward. Seeing them lifted my spirits a ton, so much so that when they called my parents after I left them, they reported I looked great. I did not feel great. I felt hot.
To clarify, that's hot in the temperature sense, not the physical appearance sense. I felt like a praying mantis in the physical appearance sense, as pictured above.
I asked Mike and Andy, seasoned marathoners themselves, if they had any words of wisdom. "SLOW DOWN!" They weren't the only ones who offered that advice; all along the course, digital road signs cautioned us "HOT! SLOW PACE! HYDRATE!"
Miles 6-10: 8:45 (with the pee break), 8:08, 8:10, 8:16, 8:50 (reunion with the Crowes).
When I got to the 10 mile mark I decided to further reduce my goal, and aim for a 3:40. I wish I could say that, each time I reduced the pressure on myself, I was able to enjoy myself, but I was not. True, I slapped so many high fives in Wellesley that my arm was tired when we finally passed all the crowds, and I had a huge smile on my face that entire mile, it was also the only shaded mile on the course. I began finding things to look forward to, to break the race into even smaller increments. Susan at mile 14 was my next goal, and I stopped with her for a hug. And lingered longer than I should have, which was probably a good indicator that the end was near for me.
Miles 11-15: 8:13, 8:19, 8:32 (Wellesley girls), 8:20 (hi Susan!), 8:39 (anddddd, scene)
My next goal was to get to mile 16 and the start of the Newton hills. From there, it really became more of a death march than anything else (déjà vu - this was the beginning of the end for me last year too). I kept my head down and kept climbing, running through every misting station and hose I could find and counting not the hills, as I did last year, but the miles until 21, when I knew they'd be over. I put one foot in front of the other and focused on avoiding a trip to the medical tent. Gatorade was almost impossible for me to keep down at this point, so I tried to drink whatever I could get down. Like beer.
At mile 20, I found Alett and the Hash House Harriers. I weaved across the street for a high five, grabbed a beer, and pounded it down to raucous cheers. Time for Heartbreak Hill.
Miles 16-20: 8:39, 8:58, 9:28 (kill yourself), 9:13, 9:37 (cheers! But still, kill yourself).
So here's a fun fact: since last year, Heartbreak Hill has been repaved. It's that brand new, very very black asphalt now. It was basically like running up a frying pan. Also, lots of spectators were out with hoses and water and oranges and ice pops, which was amazing - thank you. Still others were offering sponges, which feel so good to wipe down with or stash under your hat. But spectators - please don't offer us sponges with the dish scrubbing pad on one side. Exfoliation took a back seat to other race day priorities. Like not passing out.
So did the Newton Hills beat me again this year? Can you read those splits posted above? Absolutely. But strangely, they didn't seem as markedly bad as last year. Perhaps because the whole race was so hard, whereas last year, they were a dark mark on an otherwise enjoyable course. Either way, I ran through them all, and I'll take what I can get.
When I got to the top of Heartbreak, I knew I was almost done. 5 more miles. And yet, I really didn't know if I had 5 miles in me. The hardest part was over, yes, but was it even worth it to keep going? My splits were on the wrong side of 9:00 - and I was inching towards paces a full minute per mile slower than my long runs. Plus I still wasn't sweating and was growing increasingly concerned about my coordination. If only all these BC boys would stop yelling at me, I could think about what I need to do to be safe and done running...
Also, BC boys, "you look so fucking sexy right now!" is an astounding cheer. Spot on. Kudos to you, and thank you. But smoking cigars while you're cheering earns you demerits, especially when there is no breeze to get your cigar smoke out of my already restricted breathing space.
So there I was, choking on cigar smoke 5 miles from the finish line, shuffling along at a pace I haven't seen in literally years, considering dropping out of the Boston Marathon. "Your friends are at 24. Go to 24."
If I'd had any liquid in my body, I would have cried when I finally made it to Erica, Abbe, and Maura. They are quite literally the only reason I kept running and didn't drop out and once I got to them, I knew I could finish. I used probably more energy than I should have to give leaping high fives and hugs all around, and then tried to use that last bit of joy to propel me to Boylston Street.
Miles 21-26.2: 9:46 (Heartbreak, indeed), 9:25, 9:27, 9:36 (friends!), 9:26, 9:15, and a 8:05 pace for the last bit.
Am I disappointed? Well yes, because this was my A race - the one I spent 16 weeks training for, and then one I'd targeted as my PR attempt, and to feel like that was all wasted is disappointing. This was my slowest marathon in more than 2 years. But I also know I couldn't have safely run any faster. I was spitting up liquids by mile 18, and I even made a few pit stops for hugs. With all I drank, I didn't go to the bathroom until almost 3 hours after I finished the race.
Lots of people have asked "why is everyone freaking out over 86 degrees?" I run through the summer in the concrete jungle of New York, and I too thought we were perhaps making too big a spectacle out of this. It's not that hot. The thing is, by the time July rolls around and I'm running in 90 degree days, I've had all of June to get acclimated to it. As I mentioned last week, I haven't run in 80+ degree weather in 4 months, and even then, it was for 30 minutes at a time. And even in the heat of July, when I am adjusted to the heat, I don't run for nearly 4 hours at a time. Lastly, while I keep running all summer long, I'm not racing, and there's a big difference between running to finish and racing for time. There's a reason all of the World Marathon Majors are held in the fall or spring - hot weather doesn't make for fast marathons. But it's difficult to be in a race atmosphere and not let hubris lead to poor decisions and dangerous outcomes. I don't know why people talk up near death experiences; I didn't even get that close and the only miraculous visions I had involved hot Gatorade coming out of my own mouth and landing on the pavement in front of me.
So, now what? As I said on Sunday, there are many more marathons in my future, and I'll get my 3:20 someday. Until then, I'll be cooling off with a beer.
Here's to the next great adventure!