"You can't always get what you want, but you find sometimes, you get what you need." - Sir Michael Phillip Jagger
In 2011 the weather for the Boston Marathon was pretty much perfect and a gentleman from Kenya made an utter mockery of the Boston Marathon course record and ran the fastest marathon ever. EVER.
Upon hearing the time, Pheidippides himself was reported to have said "Shutthefrontdoor". The Marathon Gods, though, were none too happy and conspired with Mother Nature to dish out some pain in 2012. After some planning they decided to create a once-in-a-decade weather event that took temperatures from 60's on Sunday to 90's on Monday and back to 60's on Tuesday.
In other words, it was not going to be "Boy this is toasty" hot, but rather "Holy (bleeping)(bleeping)(bleeping) this is really (bleeping)(bleeping) hot."
I've run 25 marathons since 2006 and aside from three Bostons and one NYC, the most memorable was Chicago 2007 when they stopped the race midway through because of the heat (86 and humid at the start)and, well, a shortage of ambulances. No lie, they ran out of ambulances. I was trying to qualify for Boston at that race, but with a 4:20 finish I fell a little short. The story, however, is epic and I'd be happy to tell it to you sometime if you give me cookies...
Moving along...After spending a few hours in the Hopkinton Multinational Runner Refugee Camp we went to our corral where we found that, yep, it was hot. When they announced it was 81 degrees at the start the collective sigh was pretty funny.
I was fortunate to be in the same corral as my running BFF John. We decided that we'd run step for step with each other and try to keep a 3:30 pace (stop laughing)for the race. We thought that was a reasonable prediction (No, really, stop laughing)given our fitness.
Gun went off and we started ticking off 7:55 miles and felt pretty good (Seriously, stop laughing), but it was hot and getting hotter. We grabbed two cups of water at each water stop and I was popping salt tabs like tic-tacs.
At mile 9 there was an oasis-like sigh to behold: Someone handing out Rocket Pops. Real live, full blown, honest to goodness Rocket Pops. John and I each had one and since John ran with his phone, we got a photo. Brain freeze never felt so good.
NOTE: If anyone from TriColumbia or Ironman reads this report, I'm telling you that an on-course Rocket Pop is the single best thing ever. Hand them out and have the race photo vendor set up right there. You'll make a mint on people buying those photos. I'll only take a 10% cut for the idea so have your people call my people to work out the deets...
Anywho, so we kept plowing along, hit Wellesley to (activities redacted)with the ladies, and hit the half way point in 1:45:04. Perfect pace even with the Rocket Pop stop...
Only 13.1 miles to go, we're home free!....No so fast there Sparky...See, here's the kicker about Boston, the second half of the race is 13.1 of the toughest miles you'll ever run. It's not because of the four Newton Hills, but rather all the downhill running. See, you've got this muscle in your leg called Vastus Medialis and after about 16 miles of downhills it will hate you.
After the first Newton hill, we started slowing (I was not unhappy about this) and decided to finish as best we could. I know, what took us so long to realize this, right?
It was on the first Newton hill that we started seeing more and more spectators handing out ice water soaked paper towels, glasses of water, orange slices, beer, and my favorite cooling implement, chunks of ice to shove into your...Um, nevermind.
The remaining Newton hills were packed with even more people handing things to runners. We go to the top of Heartbreak Hill and knew that 5.2 miles were left...but they were all downhill. If Vastus Medialis could've written a song at that point it would have been really angry and bitter, or a lot like Adele's last album...
Midway down the backside of Heartbreak Hill a guy was handing out ice cold liter bottles of water and had at least eight pallets of water on his lawn. I ran to get two and said "Thanks, did BAA give you this?" His reply? "Nah, I just figured you folks might need it."
"...I just figured you folks might need it."
I've run a lot of races in a lot of cities and have never, ever heard anything like that. It's amazing to me that someone dipped into their pocket to spend hundreds of dollars (a pallet of water ain't cheap) because they wanted to help people they didn't know.
The spectators knew it was going to be bad and out of the kindness of their heart and wanting nothing in return (In NYC they'd charge you for the water), they handed out these survival supplies with cheer and encouragement. I am convinced these actions, these displays of sheer generosity, saved lives.
If you need further proof of how tough the back nine of the course was this year, I came upon Dean Karnazes walking at Mile 22. Google him to see how remarkable this was. No no, go ahead I'll wait.
My friend was suffering pretty badly after Cleveland Circle and at Mile 24.5 told me to go ahead. I took off getting through Kenmore Square buoyed by the crowd cheering for my well timed "Yankees stink!" I took the right on Hereford, the left on Boylston and ran the last 1/2 mile to the finish savoring every step. I crossed the line knowing I'd not be back next year and simply turned around and said thank you to the course and the crowd. I think the guy with the bottles of water heard me.
After the finish line, I made my way back to my gear bus, got my bag, sat on the ground, leaned against the bus tire and had a good cry. Yep, I'm OK saying that. I haven't cried like that since I realized the catcher in "Field of Dreams" was Roy's dad and they had a catch...If you haven't seen the movie, sorry I ruined the ending.
During the 234 minutes of the race I didn't realize how hard the race had been. Yes I saw people suffering and yes it affected me, but that combined with hundreds of people in various states of distress after the finish was tough. It was unnerving and I am convinced this was the hardest thing I've ever done.
My friend John showed up about 20 mins later and we hugged it out. Manly hugs though, no crying. After a shower at a friends hotel we headed to the airport. We were on a flight with a bunch of marathoners and, apparently, the only ones to mooch a shower...
In the end, some said Boston was the best of times, some said it was the worst of time, but for me it was the time spent on course that counted. I am a better person for running Boston in 2012, but not for sporting reasons. In these jaded days, my faith in humanity, in genuine human kindness was restored and for that no time could matter.
Yes the race hurt and wasn't a lot of fun, but I learned a lot and as Aeschylus said "There is an advantage in wisdom won from pain."