I survived the 2012 Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon as seen from my hotel, near mile 25 (photo by Brenda Lokey)

After working so hard for months, it was disappointing to not only miss my time goal, but not even get a Boston qualifier. With near 90-degree heat and not a cloud in the sky, though, my race strategy quickly shifted from finishing under 3:30 to finishing, period. I never thought I’d be happy with a 3:54 marathon, but on Monday I was. In the end, I think being well prepared for the race helped me deal with the heat better than I would have otherwise. Almost everyone I know who ran Boston this year, and even the race winners, finished quite a bit slower than usual.

I can’t thank the towns and people of Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and Boston enough for all their support along the course. If you’ve ever run Boston, you know the crowds there are the best. Even in the cold rain of 2007, they lined the streets, screaming their heads off for the runners, from the race leaders to the back of the pack. This year they did everything possible to help runners survive the heat, from spraying them with garden hoses to offering coolers full of ice cubes. I never experienced the joy of running through an open fire hydrant on a hot day as a kid, but I made up for that on Monday.

As race day approached, and the seemingly impossible forecast only got hotter, it was difficult not to panic. The Boston Athletic Association sent out increasingly dire warnings about the heat, even offering deferment to runners who opted to sit the race out. (Few took this option – only about 400 out of 22,000.) Artie sent me a message telling me to stay cool and hydrated, and that helped calm me. There was nothing I could do about the heat, and everyone was going to face the same conditions on race day.

Right from the start, though, I knew I would need to adjust my pace. I couldn’t find a shady spot to sit in Athlete’s Village while waiting for the start, and even if I had the walk to the starting corrals was hot and sunny. When the gun went off, I was already sweating.

Looking like a lobstah with my sunburn

While the heat kept me from running hard and had me running to every water stop, misting tent, and inch of shade on the course, I never hit a wall. When I got to the Newton hills, I felt strong, I just couldn’t speed up. My feet, swollen from the heat and wet from all the water I had dumped on my head, were throbbing with every step. And despite applying sport sunscreen to all exposed skin, and reapplying at the halfway point, I could tell I was burning. All I could think about was getting to my family at mile 25 and then to the finish line. Usually after you pass Heartbreak Hill and head down into Boston, the temperature drops, but if there was any cooling effect on Monday I didn’t feel it.

The up side of running a marathon 25 minutes slower than planned is that your legs feel pretty good the next day. I was able to go for a slow run along the Charles River with my mom on Tuesday morning, and now that I’m home and recovering, I’m already starting to think about my next goals.