It started as more of a heavy mist than a rain. But there was no mistaking the wind. It came in gusts, battering at our resolve before we had even begun. Each gust came without warning, or rhyme or reason, which made the situation somehow more unpredictable, more grim, like no matter what we did, there was no escaping it. We walked — or trudged — the .75 miles to the start, this misbegotten horde of rejects who seemed for better or worse (mostly worse) to be on the outs with society. Trash bags snapped around us, Mylar sheets pulled snug, mismatched sweat suits and tech vests starting to absorb the rain. Even the best among us were likely asking the eternal question, “How the hell did I get here?” And what’s more, “Why am I here?” I bit down on the edge of my poncho hood with the desperate hope it would stay in place and keep my head dry even though I would be saturated in minutes. The wind whisked the last remnants of our conversations away, our last words perhaps?
I stepped between the barrier and into my corral. The clock read 9:55, and I decided to wait three more minutes to strip down. The announcer (executioner?) did his best to buoy our spirits. I watched the seconds tick down to the unavoidable. I peeled off my poncho, vest, sweatshirt, and long sleeve. The cold started in on me immediately, and I began to shiver and thought, This isn’t good. But then crack! The gun.
The night before, my friend and I went to our favorite philosopher, Jonathan Beverly, for his insight and perspective: “You have to respect a distance that can reduce you to survival four out of five times, despite the best laid plans and preparation.” Addendum: the distance and Mother Nature.
We chatted with our coach and modified our race plans as one might do with a forecast for 25mph headwinds. In short, I knew (as I had likely known for days) that my 2:35 would have to wait. We resolved to find an effort that made sense but ultimately agreed to run the race by feel. I channeled my inner Stan Beecham and vowed to get the best out of the day.
I’d like to tell you that despite all odds the day came together, that there was a singular moment where I pulled myself together, righted the ship, and, you know, dug deep. But I can’t. Because sometimes you put in the work and it’s just not the right day for it. But like the badass woman who persevered on Monday said, you have to keep showing up.
With that in mind, I can sum the race up fairly quickly.
After my initial reaction just before the gun, I started in on myself. You haven’t started running yet. Relax and get into the race. And I did. For my first seven miles, the rain remained a light mist, the wind hardly noticeable. So, I settled into sub-2:40 rhythm for as long as I could and felt the miles floating by, the pace and effort coming easily.
At seven, the first downpour came and transported me back to my New England college days, when the cold rain seemed denser somehow and could penetrate down to your core and chill your spirit. My singlet clung to me and did nothing to abate the wind that blew right through me as if I was a ghost. I reigned back on the pace to keep from fighting the wind and burning any extra energy, and pulled the bill of my hat down to shield my face. The Wellesley girls managed to get a smile out of me, but only just. I didn’t look at my watch again until half where I came through in 1:21.
From 13.1-22, I entered into a constant battle of med tent and mile marker. The downpour would come and the wind would stand me up. My teeth chattered and my thoughts fogged. For large stretches, my view of the course was the narrow sliver of road that appeared under my hat brim. The road turned to river. I splashed through puddles, now unavoidable, and managed to spray more water up my calves and into my socks.
And just as the med tent would come into view, the rains and wind would slacken and I could continue. I’m not sure why or what was pulling me on. The rains mingled with a few tears because I felt downright miserable and even a little sorry for myself. I remember ditching my gloves at 15 because they were soaked and seemed to be trapping the cold. I made a fist and wrung water out of them. And at 15.1 I regretted it as the wind ate at my now raw, red, and exposed fingers. What could I do but continue putting one soggy foot in front of the other. I soldiered on.
Heartbreak (the hill), came and went. Hardly the formidable or momentous moment it usually becomes. At 22, I realized I had just four miles to go, and what was another four at this rate? Hey, you might actually finish this thing. The crowds thickened and spurred me on. Quintessential Boston. Even in the worst of conditions, the crowds still came. They carried me past the Citgo sign and eventually onto Boylston. That finish line never looked so sweet. It was the end of another chapter, another Boston, and also a reason to finally say for sure, it’s ok to stop.
I crossed in 2:53:59. Empty. I immediately began to shiver and wouldn’t stop for another hour despite dry clothing. But after a very long, hot shower, after the cold had left me, and the texts and emails and calls had been answered, I returned to Beverly for one more passage:
“I’ve learned that even when the marathon wins–perhaps especially when it does–we discover truths about ourselves. When all goals are abandoned, when it didn’t matter if I walked, crawled, or curled up in the ditch, I found a core that I still cared. I found myself still pushing through the fog toward the finish as fast as my compromised body will allow.”
And in that I can find solace and peace with this race. It was one to be endured. One where I continued to push my compromised body as far as it would allow. One that deepened the shared camaraderie we already share as runners. One where we had to pry ourselves open to see what was deep inside us and how much our bodies and minds could withstand. As with Bostons past, it would seem quite a lot.
And what of this race in particular? Just another waypoint along the journey. Another layer of callus and of opportunity to be put toward the next one.
Until then, the number in my head is still 2:35.