....it'll be fun they said!
This was never going to be an easy one was it!? A little rewind to qualifying or as the case may be the confusion over my qualifying, this race was never going to be plain sailing! Originally I was told I hadn't qualified despite posting a 3hr20 at Manchester earlier in the year, to be then told, I had, turns out even for the most slick of operations, there can sometimes be a gremlin in the system.
It was no secret that once the admin vortex had been sorted I was looking forward to this marathon probably more than I have any other. There's something special about Boston. First off you have to qualify for it and people talk about qualifying for Boston like it's the stuff of legend. You can't run Boston as a first marathon, it's also recognised as probably the toughest of the World Marathon Majors. For a city marathon it's pretty hilly, over 2000ft in elevation (according to my Garmin, not sure if that's right or not) gain and it's the oldest of the Majors, the 2018 edition being the 122nd running of this event.....in short it's iconic!
Couple that the race fell on the weekend of what would have been Lloydy's 39th birthday, which gave me added incentive. Lloydy is still very much at the forefront of my thoughts when I take on events, it helps me keep positive and it helps me maintain a healthy perspective. Running gives me the release I need to deal with life's stresses and I know in my own way I'm still grieving, which might seem a daft thing to say after nearly 7 years, but I think that's been and continues to be a slow process for me. Luckily, I have an incredible wife and boy that give me what I need to cope as best I can, running and challenging myself takes care of the rest.
Training for Boston had been hard, it had been a tough winter and one despite the lure of Boston, I'd found hard to fully motivate myself through. I wanted to run well in Boston, but I knew that I probably wasn't going to be at the same level I had been this time last year. Last year I was preparing for The 100 Peaks Challenge, whereas this year had been about getting the knee fixed and strong after my nasty injury in August. However with a 50 miler in the bag already this year and a few comfortable 20's I wasn't too concerned. We'd go to Boston and we'd have a ball, Family Rushen were on international Marathon Memory Mission No.3, Boston was going to be all about enjoying 'The Major' experience.
That was until we arrived!
We arrived late evening Saturday, it was pretty chilly with the wind biting from the harbour and although we'd seen (and heeded) the warnings about the weather to come we hoped we might get lucky. Sunday morning the wind was stronger still and biting more, the plan was to get to the expo, get my Bib No., then meet up with my friend Jenny who was also running (and her family) and familiarise ourselves with the finish, meeting points, bag drop off and bus pick up for loading to the athletes village and the start at Hopkinton. It was cold, very cold! There was even snow in the air. Again, we received another weather warning from BAA warning us that the weather would be less than ideal for race day and we should plan accordingly.
I decided at this point to ditch the idea of running in a vest and was thankful that I'd put a base layer and tech tee in my kit just in case. The last thing I would wanted to have done would have been wear my 'finishers tee' before I'd even finished! For me that's a big NO, and would have rather stood tall against the elements in my vest, shivering my t*ts off than contemplate that. Thankfully (and I think Mrs Rushen was thankful too), I'd put my (honking) 2015 London Marathon Jacket in the kit to dispose of at the start village, I planned on having four layers on to begin with and had put another pair of socks in my start area bag just in case. The warning had suggested taking an old pair of trainers for the start area as it was likely to be very wet and extremely muddy!
Luckily unbeknown to Jenny and I, fate would lend a hand in that regard. I woke up at 0545 with Charlie signing the theme tune from 'Transformers' in his sleep, the alarm was going off at 0615 anyway, so I turned the alarm off and laid there for a little while, listening to him, not even contemplating what was to come. I had done my prep the night before, breakfast (my standard 2 tins of ambrosia) ready in a tub, start area bag sorted, finish area bag packed, race nutrition ready, and race kit and start area layers were all neatly and methodically laid out ready to put on.
I got myself ready and said my goodbyes to my family and made my way to the lobby to meet Jenny. It was only then the scale of what the weather was doing hit me. Looking out in to the street from the foyer the rain appeared to be coming down in sheets, hitting the deck and and then blown sideways, it looked a lot of fun and I'm sure Jen and I just looked at each other and giggled! To be fair, this was exactly what it's felt like all winter in the UK! We got ourselves up to the Plaza level to pick up the bus that would be taking us to the finish area so I could drop my bag off. Jen had the sensible idea and left her finish bag with her family. It was pretty evident as we were standing in the doorway to the exit of the Plaza Level that I was significantly under-dressed. It was Poncho Central and I was wearing my honking 2015 London Marathon jacket as sole weather protection, hell I'd even forgotten the plastic bags for wrapping around my trainers. Jen had been given a Poncho by her husband that had never found a use in 18 years, it would today, but to my amusement, with her blue hood poking through the face hole, she looked like a tangoed smurf!
Finish area bag dropped off we made our way to Charles Street through Boston Common to get on the buses that would take us to Hopkinton. Again it was plainly evident we had underestimated the attire required for the day, boiler suits being the order of the day! It's at this point where fate lent it's hand.....we boarded a bus that was looking for 6 additional willing runners. We huddled on and sat at the front of the bus excited that we were on our way to the Athletes Village, or so we thought.....
....we boarded the bus at 0730 and 0845 there appeared to be a nervous and anxious air filling through the bus, and after a little while a couple of 'Boston Vets' indicated to the driver that we were indeed lost and according to the Sat Nav we were nowhere near where we should have been. His reply was that he had no idea where he was going and that if the guys would give him directions he would 'try' to get us there! At 0900 we came to a stop, behind a couple of other buses and had no where to go and no other option other than to get off the bus and walk to the Athletes Village. It turns out that we had to walk from the 1 Mile Marker of the Marathon Course back up the route, but at least for the main part, as I alluded to, fate lent a hand, and despite the fact we were nowhere near where we should have been, we'd stayed warmer and drier for longer than we probably would have, plus we got to see some of the wheelchair athletes giving it the beans down the course!
So what's the basic premise of the Marathon? A vast majority of courses we'll take on will have a start and finish point in relatively close proximity. Boston however, the buses literally drive you out of Boston City and drop you 26.2 miles out in the middle of nowhere, then you literally have to run back! "Guys we're gonna drop you here, you have to make your own way back, ok!" I actually quite like that to be honest, it fits with my mentality when I'm doing my long runs in training, it ensures I stick to plan and as such strengthens the mentality. Marathon Monday the mentality needed to be strong. Jen and I arrived at the start line and after a brief chat with a steward decided that we'd be best staying there and waiting for our waves than attempt to get to the Athletes Village. We huddled into an information tent and kept warm as best we could, snow laid on the ground around the perimeter of all the tents at the start area. We amused ourselves for a while, mainly at each other's expense, after I managed to expose Jen to the world by opening a cubicle door on her, and me by going through my pre-race generous application of Vas to my never regions, in front of her. Desperate times call for desperate measures and I hasten to say I fear we no longer hold any secrets from each other!
The first wave went off promptly at 1000 and I was advised that as soon as the wave had gone through to start walking to my corral. I was in Wave 2 Corral 4 and in hindsight now I wished I'd dropped down my wave into Jens and ran with her, she's 'lungs on legs' as her husband Rick refers to her and it was only a matter of minutes that had separated us in the first place. We said our good lucks and I headed off, to walk down the hill, to only walk back up it again to the corral pens. The start area was I guess because of the weather quite subdued, there was excitement, but I think most were doing all they could to keep warm, me however I was very excited. Most were wrapped in ponchos and far more many layers than I, to be honest at that point I wasn't overly cold, and with a few minutes before the off, stripped down to race kit, disposing off (finally) my honking 2015 London Jacket and a pair of tracksuit bottoms I'd had since about 1990!
Once the gun went off, the level of excitement grew and the abject misery turned to sunshine despite the grey. In addition to the rain, unwanted kit was raining down from everywhere as many quickly relinquished layers as they settled in to their stride. One thing I'd never really thought about was how hilly the course was, despite how much I'd studied it. In the early stages especially you seem to spend most of your time rolling up and down hills, which is obviously quite novel for a world major course, or a city marathon in general. I quickly settled into a comfortable pace and found myself running relatively effortlessly, the miles appeared to roll by as we made our way through Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham and Natick.
Whilst the miles seemed to come and go with ease, the weather, showed no sign of easing and continued to batter us unrelentingly. Torrential rain, begot even greater torrents, the wind was a constant wall and at times (apparently) hit 40mph and of course it was in our faces the whole way back. Coupled with the wind chill, the temperature dropped to -1, and it was very obvious from about halfway, getting warm wasn't going to happen. Luckily the reception at halfway from Wellesley warmed us, you could hear the College girls from about a mile away, the noise from the 'Scream Tunnel' was a wall as strong as the wind was and for a brief time there was sunshine in the air (metaphorically anyway), those girls are the stuff of legend.
A safe distance away from the 'Kissing Booths', I stopped to sort my nutrition out, pop a couple of salt tabs and get some tailwind in my belt bottles to get me through to 18. The plan was to try and make sure I wasn't lagging for the hills of Newtown. Up to that point I was running comfortably and was still feeling that way until around 16 miles, it was then I began to really feel the cold, it was tearing through me to the core and I could feel any heat I was generating disappearing very quickly. The trouble with being a marathon runner that weighs 80kg and is built like a barn door, very soon the constant battering from the wind and cold is going to take it's toll. The legs began to get heavier and colder and from then on I resigned myself to stop worrying about chasing down the sub 3:25 target but winning the battle instead. I settled into a steady slower rhythm and just concentrated on getting out the other side of the 4 hills of Newtown and getting to that famous finish line.
The first three hills were tackled without even noticing they were coming and I must admit both Jen and I (chatting after) felt completely underwhelmed by Heartbreak Hill. I think we expected something that would break us, but the reality was it felt like the start of the end of the marathon and the finish line was in sight!
Continuing to win the battle, I powered on and it didn't feel that long until the 'Citgo' sign came in to view, looming large over Boston, signifying we had just a mile to go. It was an amazing feeling seeing that knowing the end was so close, it was now just 'right on Hereford St. left on Boylston St.'.
I crossed the line in 3hrs 37mins and 23 secs. Not the time I was hoping for, but in the cold light of a very cold day, and given that the conditions were the worst experienced on race day in 40 years, I would have taken that at the start of the marathon.
Actually getting through the crowd to pick up my bag at the finish was tougher than the marathon itself, the weather had created chaos, and in the chaos, there were so many of us waiting at least 15 minutes before our bags were found. In haste I guess to find other bags, missing bags had ended up in the wrong boxes and I know in those 15 minutes I was getting hyperthermic. Luckily once I'd got through the crowd, my teeth chattering uncontrollably, Caz dragged me in to a nearby building, forced a cup of hot water in to my hand and I stripped where I stood. Making sure that as soon as I was clothed in dry kit, my medal went back around my neck, weirdly I hadn't even noticed or remembered it had been placed over my head when I finished. But warm and now glowing from the heat and the knowledge that I just completed the Boston Marathon, I began to enjoy the moment fully.
It wasn't long before Jen arrived back too, she'd put in a phenomenal run finishing in 3hrs 42mins and once both families were back together we made our way back to the hotel to celebrate.
Boston is the third of the World Marathon Majors for me, with 3 Londons (4:01/3:41/3:23) and Berlin (3:46) already in the bag in recent times, and I think it's widely accepted now that with Chicago to come in October, the Six Star Journey has to continue with Tokyo and New York, hopefully in the not too distant future! Boston is a very special marathon, if you get a chance to run it you must. Thank you once again people of Boston, your support was inspiring, and the only sunshine we needed on that day, despite the cold, you warmed our hearts and as such Boston will now always have a special place in mine.
Thank you also to Jen, Rick and family, not only for your fantastic company, but for looking after my family whilst I was fulfilling part of this dream, I hope we get to do a few more!
And of course, thank you to my gorgeous wife and awesome little man for always being by my side, you're the best cheer squad a man could wish for, DLYR.
Lloydy, "right on Hereford St." BLLB. Always a little further.