I was at the starting line of Boston Marathon, the most prestigious marathon in the world! And, here I was looking like trash… literally. I was garbed in a cheap plastic poncho with a silver mylar blanket wrapped around my waist as a skirt. I was freezing to death. My entire body was shivering uncontrollably. I held the hood of my poncho down to my forehead to keep the rain from hitting my face. By this time, the rain, as predicted, had begun to pour. Despite the terrible weather conditions, I was still on top of the world trying to soak in (no pun intended) every single minute of this magical experience.
THE HISTORY OF BOSTON MARATHON
Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon. With the inaugural Boston Marathon held in 1897, Boston Marathon 2015 was the 119th event. It is held on Patriot’s day, a Monday, and a holiday for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Boston Marathon is unlike other marathons because it employs a strict qualifying standard to enter the race. Simply put, to get into Boston Marathon you should pre-qualify in another marathon by reaching a specific time based on your age and gender. It is this requirement that makes for an interesting crop of runners each year. Participants of Boston Marathon are the cream of the crop. For most of them, they can run a sub-4 (or even a sub-3!) marathon in their sleep.
After the bombing in Boston Marathon 2013, where lives were lost and plenty others changed forever, the marathon held even more meaning for the city. Instead of cowering in fear or crying in self-pity, the city united and stood as one. Now, these two words: “Boston Strong” can be found all over the city especially during marathon weekend.
THE LAST WAVE
For this 119th Boston Marathon, there were over 30,000 runners from 87 countries worldwide. Being in Wave 4 Corral 7 meant I was in the last wave of the 2nd to the last corral to start the race. Like many major marathons all over the world, Boston Marathon releases its runners in waves, four to be exact. These waves are then divided into 8 corrals per wave to further segregate the runners and prevent over crowding. Waves and corrals are determined by the runners’ qualifying times. Needless to say, being in the last wave and nearly the last corral meant that many of us in my group were not the fastest of runners. In fact, many of us were non-qualifying runners who were either sponsored runners like me or charity runners. According to Boston Marathon, over 3,000 runners of all participants fell under this category.
As I stood in my corral surrounded by runners who were chatting away about all the fun they were going to have without pressuring themselves about their time, I was, truth be told, quite relieved and thrilled. While I knew I was going to give my best effort at this race, I also accepted the fact that given the race conditions along with the hilly course, a PR would be highly unlikely. Even before the race started, I let go of all my expectations for the race and told myself that I was simply going to enjoy it.
Our corral was released and we all walked down Grove Street passing the quaint houses of Hopkinton. Ahead of us were rows upon rows of runners in their raincoats completely covering the wet and slippery roads. It was a bit of a walk and I was eager to see the starting line ahead, but to no avail. All I spotted were dozens of portalets, the last chance for runners to relieve themselves before the gun start, and I took this opportunity.
After a few more meters, we hit a small slope towards our right. This was Main Street, the famous starting line of this most historic marathon. It was an unassuming starting line, not even as grand as Berlin nor Chicago Marathon, but somehow the history and prestige of Boston Marathon was palpable in the air. They say that this race is like no other race in the world and, while I was only about to run it, I almost knew it as fact.
At this point, the rain was pouring down over us. I was alone and I was freezing and soaking wet, yet I felt completely blessed to be able to even stand at this starting line. It was the same feeling that swept over me as I stood at the foot of the Verrazano bridge awaiting the start of New York City Marathon 2010, my first World Marathon Major. And, here I was, five World Marathon Majors after, ready to conquer the last one and to finally accomplish my dream of running all World Marathon Majors. How could one complain about the rain at this point? Or even potential blisters, the bitter cold, or strong headwind? I was just lucky to have made it this far.
The announcer called our corral. We gradually walked towards the starting line and began running. I clicked start on my Garmin. This was the beginning of my Boston Marathon.
DOWN, DOWN WE GO
The first few kilometers felt like a gentle free fall through Hopkinton. The roads were rolling but mostly downhill. Weeeee! Still, one had to proceed with caution. Aside from the fact that we were just warming up, the roads were wet and, at certain slopes, quite steep. I thoroughly enjoyed the first 5k of the race. Families, even children, braved the rain and came out of their homes to cheer us on. I focused on the road and my surroundings and almost got hypnotized by the swishing sound of my raincoat.
By about 5k, I felt like my legs had warmed up and I found a good steady rhythm. I was optimistic about this race. I wasn’t in full race mode and I wasn’t even planning to PR, but I did want to finish strong.
COLD AND CRANKY
We hit Framingham at 10k. Up to this point, I had been running well, but shortly after 10k, my optimism had flown out the window along with my smile. My socks were soaked. My darn fleece jacket, gloves, and cap were soaked in rainwater and, instead of keeping me warm, they made me feel even colder. It felt even worse when the chilly winds would hit us and, believe me, this happened quite often. Worst of all, my legs felt like blocks of ice.
There were several moments when, as I felt the rain pour down over me, the cold wind blew against my face, and I struggled to put one foot in front of the other, I almost thought this was a cruel joke being played on me. I had never ever been through worse conditions in any race, much less a full marathon. And here I was running the world’s best marathon feeling like crap. I worried how I would even reach 21k with legs as heavy as these.
I reminded myself that it was all a matter of mind over matter. I put one foot in front of the other and just hoped to survive the race.
At around 15k, we passed Lake Cochituate. It was such a beautiful site that it gave me a brief mental respite from all the pain, before proceeding to the town of Natick. It also helped that this area was flat! I noticed though that my pace was slowing down and I needed to remove my soaked jacket to reduce my weight.
At 19k, I stopped at the side of the road. I removed my raincoat, pulled out my jacket and threw it alongside other clothing left by runners, then put my raincoat back on. I also changed my wet socks into completely dry ones. I lost a lot of minutes here (because my hands were frozen and I could barely move them!), but that feeling of wearing dry socks again was pure heaven and I would’ve done this all over again had I brought more pairs! LOL
Shortly after, I felt like I entered a scream tunnel as ear-piercing screams of hundreds of college girls filled the street for close to a full kilometer. No doubt I was passing the famous Wellesley College!
THE HILLS ARE ALIVE!
Passing the half way mark was a relief! But, at the same time, I prepared myself for the hills ahead. I did my homework for this marathon and I read that the real race began at 25k when the hills hit you hard and tested your body and mind. Mentally I prepared myself for more pain. Physically though I wasn’t sure if I could take more because my legs were numb.
At 25k, we entered Newton and were welcomed with a major climb. I was so exhausted that, for all climbs, I used a 30-30 interval (30 second run-30 second walk). This worked for the most part, but it was also a double-edged sword because when the winds blew (and they sure blew hard!), I felt even colder while walking.
The next 10k was a blur. All I remember was my constant muttering to myself: Huwaat? Another hill?! followed by one word that I kept on saying over and over: Strong. Strong. Strong.
I did recall the warmth of the spectators around us throughout the race. While most would cheer for us to run well, there were more than a handful of friendly spectators that stood out because they would shout with all sincerity: “Thank you for joining our race!” Wow. You could feel how proud they were of their marathon and their city.
Next thing I knew I was climbing up a steep winding hill and I had no doubt in my mind that it was the famous Heartbreak Hill. I remembered the story of Joan Benoit Samuelson in Boston Marathon. It was said that she asked a spectator: “Where is Heartbreak Hill?” And the stranger replied: “You just ran it!” Trudging up this hill, I thought: Only someone like Joan can miss this! I felt it in every bone in my body!
We’ve all heard horror stories about Heartbreak Hill. Truth is, it’s not such a steep nor long hill. It’s about an 800m climb similar to University Ave. in BGC except that it’s winding. What makes it difficult is that it hits you shortly before 35k when you are just exhausted. Combine that with headwind and you’re in for one of the wildest marathons of your life.
The course then took us through rolling hills… again. At this point, I start to dread the descents even more than the climbs. The downhills were a major pain in the quads. I tried to change my stride finding a way to reduce the pain.
SO CLOSE YET SO FAR
We entered Boston at around 40k. The crowds’ cheers helped to bolster us towards the finish.
I thought of Dick Beardsley and imagined that his pain must’ve been 10x worse than mine as he competed against Alberto Salazar in 1982. I had the pleasure of running with Dick when he visited Manila a couple of months ago and he recounted the last few hundred meters towards the finish line as he came in second to Alberto with a time of 2:08. Wow, I couldn’t believe I was running where he ran!
I recall making a right unto Hereford and pumping my elbows hard to climb despite the pain. I glanced at my watch and realized I was close to hitting 5 hours. I had only ran 1 marathon above 5 hours and this was when I was injured, so I tried with all my might to beat the clock.
I ran past Newbury Street then entered Boylston Street, the road of the finish line. I ran and ran and ran even if I couldn’t feel my legs anymore. The cheers of all the spectators around enveloped me and pushed me to go faster. I heard the announcer call out my name: Jaymie Pizarro from the Philippines! I crossed the finish line at 5:01: 45.
Darn it. If only I had not peed twice. If only I didn’t stop to remove the jacket and change socks. If only I skipped one station. If only I pushed harder. If only. If only. If only.
But, after a few minutes of sulking, I raised my head and stood proudly. Every marathon is a feat and every finisher is a winner. I believe that with all my heart and every muscle in my body. And, I hope that you, dear readers, will always remember that. After so many marathons, I’ve come to learn that you all you can do is give your best during training and racing. All other things—especially bad weather—are beyond your control.
OF UNICORNS AND DREAMS
With my head hidden underneath the thick mylar poncho as I shivered uncontrollably under the rain and against the strong wind, I walked alone on Boylston Street accepting my food pack and having that precious unicorn medal placed around my neck. I ran and finished Boston Marathon! It was the most hellish run, but it was also the best one ever! More than that, I also became the first Filipino to complete all six World Marathon Majors. I looked like I was about to die from hypothermia, but this runner was on top of the world!
Previous: Boston Marathon: Pre-Race (Part 4)
Thank you to Gatorade for sponsoring my Boston Marathon adventure. Thank you as well to my other sponsors: Unilab Active Health, Fitness First, Specialized, Peak Form Manila, Otterbox, and Oakley.