18 Apr If Ever a Race Deserved a Race Report, it was This One
Diana Lane Jensen, a member of Metro Housing|Boston’s 2018 Boston Marathon team, offers an emotional and sometimes hilarious account of her experiences throughout Marathon Weekend.
Friday, April 13 – 3 days before race day
Race day forecast = high of 55 degrees, rain, some wind.
“Mommy, go get a medal,” says my 9 year-old son, Owen. “Heck, yeah, sweetie,” I say, misty-eyed, and give him a kiss on the top of the head. My suitcase is packed, and I’m heading out the door to fly to Boston for the marathon. It’s my second attempt: Last year’s race ended for me at mile 21 with heat exhaustion and a broken heart. I’ve had my sights set on the finish line ever since. As far as I’m concerned, this year’s forecast sounds way better than last year.
On the plane from San Francisco, I’m surrounded by other marathoners. We trade notes about the weather. They all hated last year’s heat, too, and there’s even another runner who dropped out – he and I exchange a comic fist bump to celebrate our shared disappointment. One woman is very worried that she’ll get cold, but I reassure her. “It’s not going to be that cold,” I say.
Saturday, April 14 – 2 days before race day
Race day forecast = high of 50 degrees, rain, some wind.
My dad and I head down to the Seaport World Trade Center for the runners’ expo. The place is a-buzz with runners picking up their bibs and shelling out for last minute Boston Marathon-themed items. We meet up with the other runners for Metro Housing|Boston and the fundraising team, where everyone exchanges nervous updates about the forecast for rain. Jesse, our coach, offers last minute tips. Mary Jo, our fundraising and general race-day support from Metro Housing, gives everyone big black garbage bags on which she has taped Metro Housing team logos. We all laugh and stuff them in our backpacks. Dana shares the incredible news that she has a friend who lives right near Hopkinton Town Common, and that we are welcome to stay dry there before the start – Hallelujah!
The “pavement incident.”
I get home from the expo and get ready to go out for my last, easy, 3-mile run. The plan is to run over Heartbreak Hill and finish at Cleveland Circle, where my dad will pick me up. This run is carefully planned to replace the memory of pulling out of last year’s race at mile 21 with heat exhaustion with a memory of relaxed confidence. After five minutes, I trip over absolutely NOTHING and go flying. I hit my chin hard on the landing. When I put my hand up to my face to assess the damage, it is quickly covered in blood. I’m dripping on the sidewalk while I call Dad to come get me. At home, Mom and Dad help clean me up; I’m woozy with adrenaline. We decide that I should be seen by a doctor, so Dad and I head out to Newton-Wellesley Hospital. Finally, a lovely doctor with a wicked strong Boston accent cleans me up, puts 10 stitches in my chin, and leaves me with strict instructions to run the crap out of the Boston Marathon on Monday. When I tell him I’m worried that the stitches will get wet in the impending storm he tells me, “Go ahead and get ‘em wet. You don’t even need to wear the Band-aid if you don’t want to!”
I hardly sleep at all that night.
Sunday, April 15 – 1 day before the race.
Race day forecast: 40 degrees at start time, nearly 100% chance of rain all day, 15-25 mph headwind
I spend the entire day checking the weather report in hopes that it will somehow take a turn for the better. It doesn’t. High temperature that day is in the mid-30s, and there are some snow flurries in the afternoon.
I make more preparations:
- I go to Marathon Sports with my best friend from college. She helps me choose an ear warmer to wear under my hat. The staff there laughs with me about the stitches. We chat with other runners there and at the diner nearby who are all equally terrified about the weather.
- My Dad and I lay out a series of “care packages” that we can stash with my various friends/family members who will be along the route. Each one has some combination of dry items: hat, long sleeve shirt, socks, and gloves. We pack up a complete set of dry clothes, underwear, shoes, and a wool hat for my parents to bring to the finish line. Mom and Dad make a note to make hot ginger tea with honey to offer me at mile 22.
- I write my fluid and fueling plans, mile by mile, on my arm in Sharpie. It filled the entire inside of my forearm, like some ridiculous prison tattoo.
Somehow, I sleep.
Monday, April 16 – Race Day
I wake up at 7am, and I can hear the wind howling already. Dad gives me a ride to the runner drop-off area in Hopkinton. It is pouring the whole way there, and the wind is already impressive. When we get close to Hopkinton we notice that there is still a little snow on the ground in the surrounding woods. I tell him, “I’m never moving back to New England.”
The warm house
I bundle up in my throw-away sweatshirt, gloves, and poncho. Still cold, I throw on the garbage bag. From the Athlete’s Village, I walk the three-quarters of a mile to Hopkinton Town Common and find Dana’s friend’s house. The house is warm, and full of anxious marathoners making last minute preparations. I never even caught the names of the people who live there, but they are absolute saints. When I think of all the people who must have been shivering in the Athlete’s Village, I am sure that that house was the first of many things that made a difference in my race. We all slathered our feet in Vaseline. And then added a little more. Then I even put some on my legs and on my face to protect from the cold rain and wind. I’ve never worn so much Vaseline. We agreed that there was no way out of this situation other than deciding that the whole thing was hilarious.
The start line
The five Team Metro Housing runners head out together to the start line. In the 15 minutes it takes us to get to the corrals, the rain only worsens. A river of water soaked our shoes before we even cross the start line. We laugh our way across the start line, and collectively decide that maybe we wouldn’t take off our garbage bags once we got started, after all.
For the first seven miles, I run with a random woman who happens to have the same pace. She is wearing a shower cap under her running hat. I quickly realize that it is smarter to continue to wear the garbage bag, and I even tuck my arms inside to stay warmer. The ear warmer is perfect!!
Shockingly, the crowds are nearly the same size as last year’s race when there was beautiful weather. They are bundled up, playing music, and cheering us on like they are at a Patriots’ game. I’m not kidding – one family included two elementary school girls dancing around in bathing suits in the freezing rain.
Close to mile 7, I see my in-laws, Eric and Carol. I stop to change into a dry hat and long sleeve shirt, and then don the garbage bag again.
After another couple of miles and a quick pit stop, the rain seems to be relenting slightly. I am no longer cold, so I decide to ditch the garbage bag. I laugh with another runner about how this constitutes a personal record for running in a garbage bag.
Within 10 minutes, the sky opens up again and the wind is blowing like nobody’s business. Crowds are still undeterred! If anything, it feels like they are responding to nature’s challenge with the kind of dismissiveness that can only be mustered by New Englanders. “On Patriots’ Day, we watch the marathon, dammit, come hell or high water” they seem to be saying. This year, they get high water. One guy holds a sign that says “This is New England. Mother Nature hates us.”
At every mile marker, the Gatorade and water stations are manned by untold numbers of volunteers in matching red jackets, smiling as though they aren’t freezing their butts off. These people are saints. While I hear rumors later that some volunteers didn’t show up, or that some medical tents might have been short staffed, they appear to me like a veritable army of red and white jackets.
As we approach Wellesley College, you can hear the “scream tunnel” from at least a quarter mile away. I high-five practically ever girl there. I kiss one of them. It’s a mile of pure fun.
At mile 15, I see David and Jean Thomas, who have another dry shirt for me and a dry hat. We decide to just layer the long sleeve shirt over the wet one so I can get moving quickly. In retrospect, I think this was a good decision – the two layers kept me that much warmer. I ring out my gloves and put them back on.
Miles 16 – 22
The downhill out of Wellesley is punishing on the quads, followed by torrential rain and super high winds as we cross over Route 128. THERE ARE SPECTATORS STANDING IN THIS LOCATION!! I cannot for the life of me understand why any sane person would choose to stand here in this weather, other than to make the runners feel supported in the most amazing way. I’m yelling “thank you!” and blowing kisses to these people.
I run past Newton Wellesley Hospital, looking for the doctors who stitched me up. I don’t see them, but their faith in my ability to do this thing gives me a boost. My pace has slowed down a bit, and my legs are starting to feel the miles.
I turn the corner onto Commonwealth Ave, and the first hill looms. I am pretty sure I smile like the Cheshire cat the whole way to Boylston Street from here. My hill training pays off, and I charge each hill – holding a slightly faster pace even than I’d held in Wellesley. I see old Newton friends (Marc Grabowski, Becky Matloff) and give hugs and high fives. I wave to the Metro Housing cheer station and point to the top of the hill. My smiles get me even more love from the crowd, especially because many runners are falling apart, and starting to walk at this point. I say to one spectator on Heartbreak Hill, “I eat hills for breakfast” and she and her family cheer me on. The rain is unrelenting. Another runner wearing shorts and a tank top is somehow drinking a beer while he runs up the hill, and he riles the crowd. Runners are either miserable or elated. There is no in between.
I finally make it down the nasty back side of the hill and splash through enormous puddles as I turn the corner onto Beacon Street at Cleveland Circle. My parents have hot ginger tea with honey and a dry hat. I reassure them that I am doing great, that I will see them at the finish line.
Miles 23 – 26.2
Some crowds in Brookline seemed to have thinned out a bit, but there are still plenty of enthusiastic spectators. My phone goes on the fritz from the cold/rain and makes a series of outbound calls all on its own, freaking out my parents and husband, who are worried that I’m calling to say that I am pulling out. Since I’ve taken out my headphones, I don’t really know that it’s happening. My husband sees from live tracking that I’m still on the move, my parents stay on the T to get to the finish line and hope for the best. Little do they know I’m still smiling. I’ve got this.
A guy in front of me wears a shirt that says “33rd Boston Marathon, 25 in a row.” I pass a wheelchair entrant who is battling up a small incline. I hope he made it to the finish. Tom Nutt-Powell, another family friend, cheers me on at mile 23. The rain, the rain, the rain.
From mile 25 to the finish, it feels like wall-to-wall spectators, and they must be soaked! There is a river of mud as we follow the road through an underpass. I pick up the pace for the last half mile. Right on Hereford, left on Boylston indeed! The road is littered with discarded ponchos, I guess so people will get a decent finish line picture. I watch my step to avoid slipping or tripping on them. I finish strong with a huge smile. My final mile is the fastest split pace of the race.
As the volunteers give medals and warming blankets, I start to shiver. I realize how wet I am and the rain is still coming down. I fumble around with my phone, only to discover that it isn’t working. I make my way over to the family meet up location, but my parents aren’t there yet – it turns out that the T is delayed. By the time they arrive, I am so cold that I’m shaking all over. Nearby we find a warming station where volunteers shepherd me downstairs to a room full of people offering warm broth (yes!!) and massages (yes!!). They are so patient as I pull off some of the wet layers and they wrap me up in another blanket. I can’t stop shaking until I finally make my way into the ladies’ room to change into dry clothes. My parents and I make our way home on the T, filled with marathoners, volunteers, and family members all debriefing from this ridiculous day.
Owen, Mommy’s coming home with a medal.
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