Mile 22 - Cold, Sick, and Barely Moving
It was a perfect storm of bad circumstances in the final week leading up to the Boston Marathon for me. About two weeks ago I was ready. Training was going incredibly well, I had a good taper going, and I was eager to see what I could do on the course. Three of my final long runs were all on the course itself including my 22-mile peak run. On that run, I was not only able to run even splits over the entire 22 miles, but I was able to push smoothly up all of the Newton Hills, and finish with an effortless 7:45 min/mile pace. I was definitely trained to run a 3:10 which was my pocket goal for the run. Yes I wanted to enjoy the race and not stare at my watch, but deep down I knew I was capable of re-qualifying. The fact that I ran an effortless 22-mile training run at 7:45 pace, with zero muscle soreness speaks to that. My goal pace for the race was ~7:15 min/mile.
But in the final week leading up to the race, the bad news starting coming in. First, there was the weather. Early forecasts were predicting a very cold, windy, rainy day. What's more, is that the wind would be a strong headwind from the East with gusts up to 40 mph possible. I would be starting in WAVE 1 in Corral 7, but decided to slink back to Corral 8. I had read all the race tips and reports about running Boston conservatively at the start, and with the headwind, figured it just best to hang in the back of the wave.
At the start of my last taper week, I flew out to Colorado for an Arctic Conference in Boulder. The conference went well, but on Thursday night in the Hotel I noticed I had a cough that wouldn't go away. I get sick very rarely, and I could tell by the faint wheezing, that this wasn't going to be good. My only hope was that my body would knock it out quickly.
I got home Friday and noticed my throat was also now getting sore. The cough was worse to the point of causing significant pain in my chest. There was also the lovely phlegm, but I'll leave those details out. Still, I headed over to the Expo Friday night to get my bib number, hoping to "will away" any sickness. I smiled, laughed, and pretended not to notice the coughing or sore throat.
Getting my Number
Trying to get excited
After the Expo
I decided that I would do as little as possible on Saturday and Sunday in hopes that it would improve with the help of whatever over-the-counter meds I could pump myself full of. While the DayQuil and Mucinex helped, by Sunday evening I had actually gotten worse. On top of all of this, I had also developed a canker sore in my mouth too (which are incredibly rare for me), so had a hard time eating and drinking. Like I said, a perfect storm.
I slept terribly Sunday night, coughing most of the night, hoping to clear whatever fluid/phlegm I could, but by morning I was not well. I did a quick temperature/fever check and and it was elevated. In addition, my resting heart rate (normally in the 40's), was almost 80. My body was not happy...and I was about to push it through 26 miles of absolute shit/cold conditions.
I kept thinking about William Henry Harrison, the 9th president. He gave a very long inauguration speech in cold/rainy conditions, and then died 31 days later from pneumonia. Was this going to be me if I ran in this crap? Surely running in near freezing and hypothermic conditions can't be good, even for a 100% healthy person. Shoot...the winning time for the women this year was almost 20 minutes slower than usual. In the end, I decided to still give it a go and see. Being a "local" I knew I had options to bail if it came to it.
C had agreed to meet me on the course at miles 6.5, 17, 22, and the finish....and I was so glad she did. Had I not seen her at 22, I would almost assuredly have dropped (more on that in a bit). Seeing her on the course was honestly one of the only positive things to come of this race...which is genuinely quite sad. I had so many people tell me "enjoy the course, you earned it! It's an incredible experience just being out there!". But for me, that couldn't be farther from the truth.
In all honesty...it was just a really miserable day. I was wheezing for most of the race, and it was incredibly hard to breathe or swallow. Add to that the canker sore, and I had a very hard time eating any of my race food/gummies. In addition, I had filled a hand-held with Tailwind, something I had only tried once before, and it turns out it does NOT agree with my stomach AT ALL. I have never gotten so gassy from a sports drink before. Every time I sipped on that bottle, within 60 seconds I was overcome with a horrific gas belly. Needless to say, I dumped it out rather quickly once I made the correlation. I took some drugs but they didn't really help either. The spectators were notably sparse this year as well; I don’t blame them it was absolutely miserable. 40 mph gusts right from the east with continual cold rain all race. Overall it was just really tough to enjoy any of it, but I did come away with a few good memories for sure. Coming down Hereford and Boylston was surreal.
Getting to the start was actually one of the easier parts of the race. C drove me to the designated drop-off near Hopkington, and I made it over to the Athletes Village rather early by way of a short shuttle bus. Then I sat there for over 2 hours clothed in multiple layers, a poncho, and a mylar blanket, still shivering my brains out. It was also incredibly over-crowded as no one wanted to stand outside in the rain. When they finally called wave 1 to start the walk, it was long slow slog up to the starting corrals. I was corral 7, but started at at the very back with the corral 8 runners. I felt terrible, but still thought I'd try to run race-pace for as long as I could. Shoot, I trained hard to be there, and earned my qualify spot, the least I could do is run for what I trained for, even if only for a mile or two.
Loading the shuttle bus near Hopkington
Waiting for a porta-potty at athletes village in the gusting wind
I crossed the line 5 minutes after the gun.
For the first 6 miles I felt ok and was actually able to run below my 7:15 min/mile pace but I could feel my lungs tightening up, and I could feel the illness winning. I saw C at mile 6.5 and that was truthfully the last time I felt anything remotely close to decent. For the next 20 miles, I was slowly squeezed by the vice of sickness. Each mile became progressively slower regardless of hills or weather. It was actually quite remarkable in that regard. My body was just slowly shutting down and this can easily be seen in my splits. I was telling a friend, this wasn't like a typical bonk...where you run great for 18 miles and then hit a wall and have a failure over the last 6-8. This was a slow illness-induced shut-down. My Strava Track reflects this:
Here is what a typical "Bonk" looks life for me. This was at the 2016 Revel Rockies Marathon. I started too fast, and undertrained...and at mile 19 crashed hard...relegated to a lot of walking...
At Boston, I never walked, not even in the late miles, but all of my miles got progressively slower after mile 6. I just slowly shut down as my illness and the cold temps won. FYI, the dips in the track were either bathroom breaks, or times when I stopped to change/adjust clothing.
I could feel this happening too. The cold rain was driving my core temp way too low. Combined with my inability to properly breathe or eat....and with the temporary gut issues with the Tailwind, it was a true struggle from mile 6 on. Upon reviewing my heart-rate data, my average heart-rate was almost 10 bpm higher than at a normal marathon effort. I definitely was not running at a higher effort, so this was most certainly due to the cold temps and illness.
I slogged my way through the outer towns of Framingham and Natick all while my paced slowed. All of the places that I was excited to see from my training runs on the course, now just felt like desperate check marks along the way. When I made the turn in Natick towards Wellesley, I started having the major issues with my hand-held/Tailwind. I had to slow many times to let my stomach settle, but did still manage to run through the train of high-fives at Wellesley College through the Scream Tunnel. It was one of the few times I smiled. Wellesley took longer than I was hoping, but eventually I made it to the Newton sign and I knew I was back on home turf. C would be waiting for me at the Firehouse turn off (mile 17ish), and I was desperate to see her. I knew that from where she'd be standing, it was only about 1 mile to our apartment. I was cold, miserable, and feeling absolutely awful, and I told myself as I began the climb up from I95 that I was going drop when I got to her. I figured we could just walk home from there. I had had enough.
On the way up the climb, I made a very long stop in a port-a-potty. My fingers were so cold, I couldn't get my gloves on, so lost about another 3 minutes. I didn't care. When I came out the rains had quieted a bit and I felt a little better. When I did come up on C just a 1/2 mile later, I stopped right on the course and gave her a big hug. I tried to talk but could get enough air out to speak loudly. I told her I was running really slowly and was "not well". For whatever reason, I didn't tell her I was quitting. She walked with me along the sidewalk for a short bit and then I continued on. She said she'd meet me at mile 22 just past Boston College. That thought made me smile. In addition, I knew some friends would be cheering on Heartbreak Hill, so I decided to keep going...even if miserably slow.
Along the course at Mile 17
The section through the Newton Hills was actually not terrible. I felt like I was home and on familiar ground. I had run this stretch from the Firehouse to BC so many times in training that I knew where every turn and roller was. It was a bit strange to be running it on the main road rather than the carriage road though. The hills went by just fine, and I never stopped to walk. Overall, my legs actually felt very underused...and more than capable of running faster...but my lungs and heart weren't allowing it. I saw my friends half-way up Heartbreak and it made me smile. As I crested, I noticed Meb Keflezighi run past me. I figured he had either started late, or was also having a really bad day. Once on the decent past Boston College, I was officially on new ground, I had never been on the course past BC. It was also right at this point that I noticed I was shivering uncontrollably. I was running with both of my hands tucked up into my chest trying to stay warm. I was starting to show classic symptoms of hypothermia. The cold/rain was getting to me and I started looking for a medical tent. C had said she'd be waiting at mile 22 outside the CVS, but if the Green Line was late, or she couldn't get there in time, I knew I was going to have to, at the very least, warm up in medical. This was all assuming she actually had my warm Gore-Tex rain coat. I just hoped she did.
When I made the turn at mile 22, I was at the lowest point of the entire race. I was barely able to talk and was violently shivering. Thankfully, C did make it to the CVS, and she did have my coat. I grabbed it from her, told her that I would be extremely slow over the last 4 miles and that I just wanted to be warm. I was so cold.
Running down Beacon Street was a blur. I was barely shuffling, and by this point in the race, the lead pack of Wave 2 had caught up to me. For most of the race it was actually quite sparse for me as I was at the very back of Wave 1....but as the Wave 2 folks caught up to me, it meant my last 3 miles would be very crowded. I looked up at one point and saw the Citgo sign a ways off, but don't remember much else. I kept trying to stay to the left but kept bumping people and having to constantly say "sorry" as much faster folks kept trying to run past me. I felt terrible that I had become an "obstacle".
At the lowest point for me...just before getting rain coat.
When I finally did make it to the Citgo sign, I looked over at Boston University and smiled. I was almost there. It was surreal going under the little overpass just before Hereford...all shielded from spectators. Once on the other side though, I finally got a taste for true Boston Marathon crowds. The crowds of people lining Hereford and Boylston were ridiculous. For that short 3/4 of mile my shortness of breath seemed to ease up, and a small smile crept its way back to my face. I hadn't realized just how far the finish line was down Boylston, so it was nice to run along for a 1/2 mile of packed spectators...even if I was just one of hundreds of runners on the final homestretch.
When I crossed the finish, I did my best to raise my hands in a "celebratory" way...but none of it truly felt celebratory. All I wanted to do was cough up my lungs and curl into a ball in a warm bathtub. Unfortunately, at the finish, you have to keep walking. I moved on, got my medal, forced a smile for a picture, and then hobbled my way down the road to the designated spot that C and I were meeting. We got there at the same time, and I sneaked into a hotel lobby to warm up for a while. Eventually, we walked to the Green Line T and after a 45 minute train ride, made it back home. My fever had gotten worse, and my chest was screaming, but it was over. I had survived. It was incredibly stupid for me to run in those conditions while sick. I'm a dumb ass and will likely be paying for it for days. As I write this I'm already using a sick day from work. Hopefully I don't end up like President Harrison. My final time was 3:44:40...over 30 minutes slower than I was hoping, and over 30 minutes slower than what I was trained for.
This was definitely a rough one.
Soaking wet, cold, but done.
Time to think ahead...
Today (Tuesday) I have zero pain or soreness in my legs. I could absolutely go run a 15 miler today if I were otherwise healthy. This does make me feel better about my training as I definitely know I could have run faster. It was really as if I just ran a slow long run yesterday. In the end, the entire experience is still one I'm glad I was able to have, even if rather miserable.
In some ways, qualifying for Boston was more exhilarating than running it...with Boston almost seeming more like a "victory lap". I'm not sure if I'll ever qualify again to run, so I am content that I came away with a medal and a finish, even if much slower than I hoped.
My finish time was still 10 minutes faster than my first Marathon ten years ago back in may of 2008! It is somehow a refreshing and somewhat satisfying thought to think that it was 10 years ago that I began my renewed life as a runner by training for my first Marathon (The Pocono Marathon). Ten years later, and many many miles later, I've capped that decade of running off with a finish at what is probably the most premier road marathon in the World. I've been incredibly fortunate to have had the 10 years that I have had, so I will happily take this finish and celebrate it regardless.
Thank you to all the volunteers and spectators who braved the awful conditions to be out there so all of us idiotic runners could make our way from Hopkington to Boston. Thanks to all of my friends and family who supported me, trained with me, and tracked me along the way. And most of all, thank you C for....well you already know.
10 years ago, it all started with my first marathon
With all that, I'm amazed at your finish time and the fact that you kept running. Bummer the experience wasn't better, hope you get to go back someday.
You might also like "Don't Run Boston", 50K or 50 mi of trail nav. One of my favorite races.
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