The forecast called for a high of 88 degrees, but temps on the course on Marathon Monday exceeded that by (depending which report you prefer) one to six degrees. The BAA made the very unexpected decision to allow any runners opting not to start to defer their entry to 2013. Inexperienced marathoners were encouraged, bluntly, not to toe the line.
I should explain – the trouble with such heat during a marathon is not necessarily the heat itself. After all, all across the country and the world, runners conquer marathons and ultramarathons in 90+ degrees regularly. Rather, the alarm raised stemmed from a lack of preparedness – it takes time for a winterized runner’s body to adjust to performing in the heat. For most hot weather marathoners, the majority of training has taken place over the summer; in the case of the unseasonable climes on April 16 very few of us, after training primarily in 25-45 degrees, could be physiologically prepared for the mid-80′s.
Amid the hubbub and horror as the forecast continued to rise, I did briefly consider the BAA’s deferral offer. In my case, not wanting to commit to a third straight winter of running rather than skiing (not that I missed out on much this year, hmph), I decided that I might as well start and see how things progressed. I do, after all, have experience dropping out of marathons; having finished Boston last year, I had less to prove to myself than a first time marathoner. It was with the option of dropping out a distinct possibility in my mind that I geared up and headed to Hopkinton.
I’ve been asked over and over since April 16 how it was – my standard response is, an adventure. It was hot, there was a lot of uncertainty and also it was hot. People seem more shocked that I finished this year than they did last April when it was my first marathon.
If I’m more honest though, at the risk of sounding delusional or pompous, it wasn’t that bad. I had prepared myself for the absolute worst, and I went in with the right gear, the right fuel, knowledge of how my body responded to heat during last summer’s training cycle and a plan. I walked a lot, shamelessly. I drank plenty, ate more than I usually might, took ice everywhere it was offered and kept it in my sports bra and under a sweatband against my wrist. I ate salt – straight from fast food packets – at every water stop, and carried a sponge to dunk in water cups and cool myself. I reapplied (almost enough) sunscreen. I smiled a bunch, but high-fived less. When I saw Coach Rick at 15, Danielle at 17 and my mother at 22, I was a little unnerved by how good I felt. (They probably were too.)
The very worst of it, truthfully, was that my feet were too darn hot. After six and a half hours pounding well-baked pavement, they ached, and I wanted to be off of them. Due to my slower pace, however, I never got the screaming quad and hip fatigue that plagued my finish last year. My ankle was rock solid, my blisters limited to two. We went for frites and beer at Publick House post-race (a tradition I’m rather fond of now), and I handled stairs on Tuesday without a second thought.
So, what’s the moral of the story here? I suppose it boils down to a reminder to know your body, listen to it and to accept failure as a possibility. For me, the marathon was never something to cross off my bucket list – despite the mood swings in training, I enjoy being a marathoner, and I want to be able to do this for a long time. Dropping out on April 16 if I felt my body failing in the heat would not have meant I was incapable of the distance, just as leaving the course at Mile 17 in September with a crunchy ankle didn’t mean that my training had failed. In my mind, it’s a balance – had I finished in September, I would likely have been in for a much longer recovery or permanent damage, both of which would have prevented me from doing something I love. The same would have been true if I pushed too hard in the heat.
That said, I truly feel for the runners who made the difficult decision to defer, or to drop out during the race. I’ve said it before, but it’s relevant: running a marathon is hard. Stopping – quitting – or making the choice not to start after months of training is even harder.