Words are powerful. Yet they cannot even begin to describe this weekend. If you know anything about me, you know that my year is basically a countdown until the next Boston Marathon. My first experience with the event was during my freshman year at Boston College. I rolled out of bed in the morning and took the short trip from Newton Campus to Heartbreak Hill. There I cheered on runners as they passed. As each passed, I couldn’t help but think “That should be me”. It was both inspiring, and torture that it wasn’t me… yet! Already, the Boston Marathon had captured my heart and spirit. I had no idea just how much it would come to mean in the years to come. Call it Marathon Monday, Patriots Day, or the third Monday of April. Regardless of the words you choose, there is NOTHING like this. If you’ve participated by running, volunteering or cheering you know this. If you haven’t, you don’t know what you are missing! Come join the fun next year!
This day took on even more meaning just five years ago; the day long celebration cut short as two explosions shook Boyleston Street. As I stood there at that finish line, I swore I would not miss this race for anything. My psyche was shattered, but my body was spared. I swore I would always run for those who suffered even more than I that day. I’m a man of my word. After the psychological whirlwind that followed, I emerged stronger than ever and even more committed to Boston.
As this year has passed, my excitement grew. This was the five year anniversary of one of Boston’s darkest hours, and no doubt one of the most defining moments of my life. It was also the 122nd anniversary of the first Boston Marathon – a tradition like no other. Five years ago, we faced that momentary darkness and shattered it with boundless light. We will always continue to honor the memory of those we lost, and lend a helping hand to those who continue to suffer. We have, and always will, continued to celebrate the tradition that is THE Boston Marathon. We are Boston Strong, and always will be.
As soon as mid March arrived, I basically started stalking the weather. I’m not your typical runner. I’m not looking for the perfect PR weather here – I’m looking for the perfect weather to bring out the crowds. They are what makes this event so incredible. At first it looked decent. Early forecasts predicted moderate weather. Just cool enough to be good for running, and just warm enough to support strong crowds. Unfortunately that didn’t hold. As the day drew closer, the forecast got more and more dismal. When I went for a nice shakeout run around Jamaica Pond on Sunday, I got snowed on, and that was nothing compared to the storm that was just about to blow in. Yes, I grew up in the northeast and I’ve seen snow even later than this. But I’m a Floridian now… I’m no longer used to the cold.
This year, I was going to run with Boston Strong painted on my chest… I guess the weather decided to test just how ‘strong’ I was.
Sunday night, as is always the case, I couldn’t get to sleep early. No matter how prepared I think I am for the big day, I still can’t sleep the night before. The energy from the expo and marathon weekend has already taken hold. It’s time! Eventually I did get a little shut eye. I had set multiple alarms to make sure I was ready to go, but they were unnecessary. This is BOSTON! I was definitely ready! I woke two minutes before my first alarm and was ready for the best day of the year! I caught the bus to Back Bay, hopped on the commuter rail and was off to Hopkinton.
Now that I’d stepped outside, a little bit of dread kicked in. The weather was horrendous. I’d been telling myself it would be no worse than 2015 (which was quite a challenge itself), but this was something else. The thermostat was barely above freezing, the rain was coming down and was only forecast to get worse. And the winds were strong and basically would be blowing in our faces the whole race. Ouch. It didn’t matter, this was Boston. I had work to do.
Hopped off the train in Southborough, caught the bus to Hopkinton State Park, cleared security and took the next bus to the start area in Hopkinton. I still had a few hours before I’d be on my way. Normally the town center is like one giant block party, but the weather put a serious damper on that. By Boston standards it was a ghost town. By normal race standards there was still a solid crowd. I found my buddy Kevin at his Supahfans Streetwear booth and hung out with him for a bit. Hiding out under his tent with the cold rain pouring down and winds howling… yes, I questioned myself. Should I really do this?
Three scenarios played through my head: 1) I could back down and take the train back downtown 2) I could cover up and make the difficult journey just like all of the other runners or 3) I could be me – donning the paint and celebrating 26.2 miles of Boston’s spirit. I seriously entertained the first option, questioning whether my body could handle it. I knew my mind could. The second possibility was short lived. This wasn’t a race for me, certainly not in these conditions. Covering the distance meant nothing: Celebrating Boston meant everything. If I was gonna do it, it would be my way.
Well, when you are looking for it, life has a way of giving you exactly what you need. Between the temporary shelter from Supahfan Kevin, a good vibe from my new Italian friend Franzi, and words of wisdom from my coach Bryan Huberty: I got the push I needed. I would be true to myself. I would be true to the city I always call home, and I would honor the memory of those we lost. I would never forgive myself if I didn’t give it everything I had. Today I would prove just how Boston Strong I am. Go ahead and rain on this parade… the show will go on!
I stripped down to my skimpy red Fairfield Prep shorts. I’ve literally been running in those since high school, breaking them out once a year on Marathon Monday. It was brutally cold, and I was still sheltered under a tent. How crazy am I?! I took out the paint. First the gold. As I painted the cross on my face, I transformed. The doubt was cast out and replaced with pure confidence and fire. I would do this and I would do it my way. My love of Boston would stifle the cold; my inner fire would keep me warm. For Sean. For Krystle. For Lingzhi. For Martin. FOR BOSTON. This was our day. Nothing would take that away!
I took out the red paint, and filled in the remaining flesh on my face. My soul would be a furnace today, through the body it powers it would generate all the warmth I needed. I had waited all year for this. A quick spray of the water sealant, and the game face was on. It was time.
I caked the red as thick as I could over the rest of my body. I’d planned in advance: I had more red paint than I usually use. I piled it on. It was the only physical shield I’d have between myself and the elements. But the body is strong, and the heart and soul even more so.
The twist dispenser on my blue Mehron cream blend makeup malfunctioned: Boston Strong wouldn’t be pretty. But it would be! I dipped a finger in the paint and slowly painted “BOSTON STRONG” on my chest. With the broken paint stick and awful weather, I had to skip the same message on my back. It wasn’t the best paint job I’ve ever had, but it didn’t need to be. It got the point across.
25,000 runners poured across the start line. The elites were well over halfway home. I didn’t know it yet, but many of them had already dropped out. My run had yet to begin. But I was ready. Now, there was no doubt in my mind: Boston here I come! I patiently waited my turn, cheering on the runners as they passed. “See you in Boston!” I hear a few runners comment that they’ve seen me before. “You got this!” I yell back. I hear a “GO BC”, look over and see Doug Flutie. Go EAGLES! Fist bump and he’s off! Now it’s my turn.
At about 11:30am, dressed in tiny red shorts, Roo sport, two pairs of soaked through socks, my Brooks shoes, doubled up gloves, BC winter hat and a lot of body paint… I was off. For good measure, I’d wrapped my new friend Franzi’s jacket around my waist. At this point I knew I wouldn’t need it, but it was a psychological lifeline. It gave me an out (even though I knew I’d be fine), and thus was the last boost I needed. I’d done the hardest part. I’d started the race. Next stop: Boston
As soon as I started running, I felt better. The cold wasn’t a problem (ironically except for my hands and feet which were actually covered). The rain, and wind almost melted away. Yes… the weather sucked. But the energy that defines this event consumed me. I fed off that energy: absorbed it, magnified it, and blasted it back out into my surroundings! “YEAH BOSTON!!!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. Today was going to be a good day! I live for this!
For the first few miles, I weaved around the masses of runners, sloshing through the piles of drenched, discarded clothes. With the weather as difficult as it was today, the crowd was weak (by Boston standards). Yes I have high standards. Very high! There were still tons of spectators out there cheering us on. Sheltered under tents and umbrellas, bundled up in heavy winter clothes… still they braved the storm to cheer on. This is Boston!
The zipper on the jacket I’d wrapped around my waste was bouncing against my thigh. The cold metal against cold flesh stung with every step. I pulled off to the side, and tried to roll it up better as I ran. Oh no! My Roo was missing! Packed with a handful of gels to power me through the race, my Roo classic had slipped off in the push out the gate. My newer Roo still held tight. I wasn’t so worried about the lost Roo – it had served me well for about five years and I need to upgrade to the larger one soon anyway. Those gels would have come in handy on those middle miles though.
Surrounded by champions, I raced into Ashland, My first two miles had been unsurprisingly slower than goal pace. There’s a lot of traffic in that stretch. As the roads opened up a bit, I picked up the pace. I was right where I wanted to be. I zigzagged across the course, careful not to trip up any of the other runners. Wherever the crowd was – I was… high fiving everyone possible, yelling as I ran by “MAKE SOME NOIIIIIIIIISE!!!” Yes the crowds were weak by Boston standards, but still the course rocked a dull roar. As I passed, I made sure to amp up the decibel level. This was THE Boston Marathon after all!
Ashland center… the crowd was a little denser here. More work for me: More hands to high five, more spectators to fire up. But this is what I live for! My fastest mile of the day… I felt great, the crowds energy pulsing through my veins. I kept a solid pace into Framingham. Again, my feet flying through the center of town. More crowd… more energy… This is what I live for!
I couldn’t help but notice all the barriers lining the streets. Had the weather been half decent, all of those barriers would have been several deep with spectators cheering us on. Now, despite the weather, there was still a solid showing. My friends: you are among the real champions of the day! We ran because this is our Holy Grail. We had trained for months, even years to be here. Nothing could take that from us. What was in it for you? You cheered for us because you knew this was our Holy Grail. You cheered for us because your love of Boston and THE Marathon was far more potent than any inclement weather. You, my friends, make this the best day anywhere on Earth.
Powered by those cheers, I continued into Natick. My hands and feet were numb. Both pairs of socks had long been soaked through, and between the continuing rainfall and splashing through the puddles on the course… drying wasn’t going to happen. I tried fueling with a gel. Despite doubled up gloves, my hands were worthless. I dropped the first trying to open it. I struggled with the second. Eventually I succeeded in tearing the top open, but even then my fingers were too numb to squeeze out the gel. My teeth would have to suffice. It was awkward, but it worked… sort of. My legs started to go tingly – Not cold. I knew this pain too well. My back has been acting up a lot these past few weeks. These injuries just won’t go away, but as the eternal optimist in me remembered, I’ve done some of my best running since I was hit when I lost feeling in my legs. That… and this was Boston. That alone would get me through this. I had to be smart though. I slowed down a little bit just to make sure.
As I neared Wellesley, nature called. I was plenty hydrated today. In 2014 I’d learned my lesson about proper pre-race sustenance. A very painful lesson. I didn’t care about my time, so stopping in to one of the port-a-potties was no big deal…on a normal day. Today I feared that if i stopped I wouldn’t be able to start again. It was way too cold and miserable out. While my core and legs were like a furnace while running, if I stopped, the cold would set in. I held it as long as I could, but in the end natures call could not be ignored. I ducked into the john and the moment I stopped the cold set in. I felt my legs cramp up immediately and knew things were going to be a lot harder from here on out.
It didn’t matter at that moment. I was approaching the infamous Scream Tunnel. Did I mention how much I love the Wellesley girls? Even today you could hear them screaming from quite a distance away. The tunnel wasn’t as long as it usually is, but the girls that were there made more than their fair share of noise! On the approach, I collected myself. I could feel the energy building. “WELLESLEY WE LOVE YOU!!!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. The response was proportionate. They screamed louder. Zooming by arms flailing, shouting for more noise. The girls lined up, screaming and yelling. Plenty of high fives. Just as many “Kiss me” signs. This is definitely one of the best parts of the course. Can’t we just run 26 one mile loops around Wellesley? Damn, I could probably handle 100 of those loops!
That energy kept me going for another mile or so, before I eased back into a slightly slower pace again. The crowds were pretty thin on the outskirts of Wellesley today, but there were still pockets of spectators and still thousands of runners trudging along. . We fought the elements together. The hills approached. Somewhere out here I missed the 1K Run Club. I had sort of been looking for them, but really all that was on my mind was getting to that finish. This weather was bad; I wanted to get dressed! I saw the MR8 tent off on my left. I was on the wrong side, and couldn’t cross over in time. But still, it was a boost, just like every one of those MR8, Stepping Strong, Limb-It-Less and other related singlets I saw on the course: For Sean. For Krystle. For Lingzhi. For Martin. This is why I cannot be stopped. I continued on despite the challenges! With less than 10 miles to go the cold was really getting to my extremities. Interestingly enough, my core was still fine: I was a furnace. I struggled with my fuel. Those gels are really difficult to manage when your fingers are numb.
We turned right at the firehouse. I had to stop and use the facilities again. Again, I instantly froze. Yet…I’m almost home! These hills are notorious for crushing marathoners dreams, but it doesn’t phase me at all. I know that at the top is home. With the help of the thickening crowds, the towers on the Heights drive me forward. I reach Centre Street. It was here I first watched marathoners run by back in 2000. I had no idea then how much this race would shape my life.
More and more of a BC crowd propels me ever upward. The hills have nothing on me. Tap my shoes together three times, or more accurately run three crazy miles… there’s no place like home! Another brief restroom break. Better to get it over with before BC, so the crowds can get me moving again. It’s after 2pm now. The crowds are relatively sparse. I remind myself that these small crowds I’m disappointed with are exponentially larger and louder than most races can even dream of. Many of these kids have been braving this weather for even longer than I have. The crew that was there was rousing. That energy would keep me going for a while.
Onward into Boston, I reach the BU crowds. Now with only 5K left to go the cold is starting to get to me. The rain is coming down, the winds are fierce, and its still way too cold. I still struggle with my gels. The cold has moved past my hands and feet. My upper arm feels like its going to freeze and fall off. My core is starting to shudder with the wind gusts. Less than 5K to go!!! The faster I run, the faster I can get dressed! I’ve got boundless energy left, I’m just too cold at this point. The crowds keep me going. I was so spent I’d almost been knocked out by a couple of excessively powerful high fives. I’m almost there! Mile 25… just over one to go! One last restroom stop: instant deep freeze. I summon my inner strength. It still said Boston Strong on my chest. I still needed to be Boston Strong! I trudge forward. This isn’t the pace I expected to be running, yet I was fired up! These certainly weren’t the conditions I expected to be running in – half naked no less! I’m too cold to scream at the crowd… but they are certainly screaming at me. That energy keeps me moving. I flail my arms as much as I can, but they are starting to get real cold too.
Finally! Right on Hereford! The road is littered with ponchos and trash bag raincoats. Thousands of triumphant runners have shed that layer down the home stretch. Nothing would stop them from their photo finish! Despite the most brutal of conditions, we’d conquered the course, hills and all! I’m still hugging the edges, as close to the crowd energy as possible. I had to be careful not to trip over all that plastic. If I went down here, it would be tough to get back up. The finish line was just ahead.
Left on Boylston! This is it! I give it everything my frozen body can muster, and pick up the pace just a tiny bit. I yell to the crowd. They roar back! At two specific spots, I glance left with a nod of remembrance to my fallen friends. This was for you! Arms flailing, I race down that final stretch and across that famed finish line once again! BOSTON!!! I’m home!
As soon as I slow to a walk, the cold grips me. My teeth start to chatter, the warmth rushes out of my body. It had done its job, now I needed to find heat. I wrapped up in a space blanket and rushed through the chute. Normally I’d linger here for quite some time. A quick thank you to many of the volunteers as I passed. I was so rushed I never even got to say hi to many of my friends I can count on finding there every year. Right now, all that mattered was heat. I’d literally just run a marathon half naked despite a windchill of about 25. I ducked into the warming room they had opened up for runners. The medical volunteers here were super busy. Shivering runners curled up in a ball all over the place, being tended to by an army of white jackets. Wow, I felt for them today! They had their work cut out for them. A major shout out, and thank you to all of the volunteers that braved this weather. The show must go on, and only because of them – it did!
It had been an incredible day despite the challenges. My mission accomplished, as soon as I was warmed up it was time for the annoying part: cleaning up. It wasn’t until 10 that night that my day was finally over. My body had warmed back up, but my brain still can’t handle the type of exertion this required. I’m going to be sidelined for like a week after this. Totally worth it.
Besides, plenty of time to recover: 361 days until the 2019 Boston Marathon. Get those BQ’s in! Hope to see you all there