BOSTON MARATHON 2018 running or swimming…

During training for Boston I had spoken to various friends who had done the race, so I felt well prepared for the course and possible weather conditions. I had taken running kit for a variety of scenarios, but I had certainly not expected to be wearing nearly all of it. The day before the race was very cold (minus 5 degrees) with some snow flurries, and we received an email warning us of constant rain, low temperatures and a strong wind on race day. The advice was to wear several layers plus waterproofs.

Sure enough, race day started with a strong easterly wind and heavy rain and I dressed in layers, with extra kit on top. But there was no real possibility of keeping dry-the rain was torrential. I took the yellow school bus from Boston common out to the start at Hopkinton, 26miles south west of Boston. On the bus I chatted to Kim from New Jersey, who kindly gave me a spare rain poncho. Under normal circumstances I would not have dreamed of running in one of these long baggy items, but nearly everyone was wearing one and I took it gratefully.

The Athletes Village was on the playing fields at Hopkinton High School, and it was a muddy quagmire. People were huddling inside the tent, trying to keep warm and finish their race preparation. My start was at 11:15am, and I was there about an hour before. I had my usual breakfast of muesli at 7:00am then a marmalade sandwich on the bus, and a banana about 30 minutes before the start. I took off some of my extra layers of clothing, waded through the mud to the loos and did a walk/jog to the start surrounded by shivering people. I had somehow missed my starting group and ended up setting off with the charity runners, which was probably to my advantage as it wasn’t crowded, and there was plenty of space to run. My five layers of clothing were already sodden, as were my feet and 2 glove layers, so I was hoping that running would warm me up a bit. I had nipped in the baggy rain poncho with my race belt, and I thought I might discard some layers later in the race. As I went over the line I started my Polar GPS watch, and noticed that it was not showing the display that I wanted, which was my current and average pace per kilometre. I tried to change it, but found this impossible with double wet gloves, so I decided to stop and sort it out. I stopped and took off the gloves but found the watch was in lock mode and I couldn’t release it. (Note: I have NEVER had this problem before!) So I decided to stop wasting time and to use the information that I DID have on the screen, which was the current time and the time I had been running. I thought I would run to how I was feeling (bearing in mind that the first 10k are mainly downhill) and check my time every kilometre for the first 5k, then every 5k after that.

I felt much happier once I had started: it was good to be running and I warmed up a bit. At 5k and 10k I felt fine and was happy with my pace. Running into the wind was tiring, and the rain was relentless. All the mud was washed off my shoes very quickly! I had a gel after 45 minutes, and drank small amounts of water regularly, but dehydration was unlikely to be a problem.

Coming into Natick (just after 15k) I realised that I might as well take off my glasses, as I would probably see just as well without them even though I am very short sighted. The double wet gloves meant that I couldn’t unzip my race belt, so I stopped and asked a spectator to do it for me and to put the glasses in the pocket. I was amazed at just how many people had turned out despite the appalling weather, and I was really hoping that Karen had just found a coffee shop somewhere and wasn’t on the course. I found 15-20k tough and was surprised at how tired I felt, though I had another gel at 90 minutes. Looking at my split times later, I had slowed down on this section in comparison to the first 15k. Coming to the halfway point at 2hours 5 minutes, I knew that I couldn’t finish under 4 hours, but I wasn’t too disappointed as I had realised it was unlikely right from the start. But I was still aiming for a negative split. I tried to increase my pace, though I found this difficult as my legs were starting to cramp up, particularly on the uphill sections. The hills start around 28k, starting with the Newton Hills and culminating in the so-called “Heartbreak Hill” around 33k. I never did work out just how many hills there were. I just went up them when they appeared and then came down the other side (usually along with a small river) once I reached the top. I made the most of the downhills to pick up speed, as my calves, quads and feet were really cramping going uphill. At times I had cramp in my toes, and then it was so difficult to run that I walked for short periods.

I had another gel at 2 ½ hours, but after that I felt really sick at the thought of another, so I just had small amounts of Gatorade at each mile marker. I also took some electrolyte tablets, though I didn’t know for sure if the cramps were due to electrolyte imbalance, the cold, or something else. 35-40k is a bit of a blur, and by then I really didn’t care about my time: I was just thinking “one foot in front of the other and get to the finish”. My 5k split times got slower and the hope of a negative split was also dropped. My hat, like the rest of my kit, was soaking, and the wind nearly blew it off on numerous occasions. I knew that I couldn’t afford to lose it, so I had to run much of the time holding it on my head. As for all my wet kit and gloves-I knew that I would be very much colder without them, so I kept everything on: even the rain poncho. I managed to pick up the pace between 35-40k, and at 40k I knew that I would make it to the finish, although my toes were cramping quite badly. Coming along Boylston Street to the finish the wind nearly took my hat, so I pulled it off and held it until after I had finished, when a lovely volunteer offered to wring it out for me!

Finishing felt like a bit of an anti-climax: although it was a relief, I was pretty anxious about cooling down rapidly, and also about finding somewhere out of the rain and wind to get changed. By the time that I found Karen I was very chilly, but she had found somewhere: the foyer of an office building or hotel, which had opened up to allow runners to change. When all my wet layers were in a plastic bag Karen pointed out how heavy they were and that I had been carrying all that extra weight. She then took me off to a café nearby for hot tea, and I started to feel a bit more human. I really felt that I should have had another medal for Karen: she had tried to see me on the course, but had been unable to get near, and she was as wet as I was. Truly a star supporter!
I was a little disappointed with my time of 4:32:06-my slowest marathon and far from a negative split. I felt a bit better when I heard the description of the race from some of the elite athletes- “brutal” ”daunting” and “rough”. I certainly felt it was all of those, and was very pleased to realise that I was 20th out of 112 finishers in my age group, and first GB woman in my age group. 

As with any race it was a learning experience. I felt that I got the initial pacing right, despite the problems with my watch, and I have definitely learned to check the watch before the start. Hydration was fine, but I am not so sure about nutrition: I probably should have forced down another gel, and maybe two, but I really felt nauseated at the prospect. 

I am still uncertain about the cause of the leg cramps. I had calf cramping from 20 miles onwards in my first marathon in 2012, but not since- at the time I put it down to electrolyte imbalance, though this may not have been the cause. A possible (probable?) factor may have been too much walking in Boston in the 3 days prior to the race. If I do another marathon I will sit with my feet up the day before!

Thanks so much, Diana, for the training programme and all your encouragement. Despite having had a foot injury early on in training, then getting a sinus and ear infection with a month to go, I arrived at the start line feeling well prepared and ready to race. I have no doubt that following your programme made a huge difference to my physical and mental preparation.

122ND BOSTON MARATHON-16TH April 2018 – By Sue Kingston