2018 Boston Marathon Race Report
“Just imagine that you’re sunning on a beach with a drink in your hand,” I said to one of my Team With A Vision Teammates as we waited in the Hopkinton Vision Center for the start of the 2018 Boston Marathon. The weather was certainly less than ideal, temperatures were in the low 40s, it was steadily raining and the wind was gusting up to 25 mph. In short, the kind of weather I told myself I enjoyed racing in.
My first ever road race was held in very similar conditions. It was a 15k (9.3 miles) 53 degrees and drizzling in Orlando, Fla. To that point in my running endeavors I’d never been able to run for more than a couple of miles at a time without a significant walk break. But in the chilly rain I rand the entire 15k at a very consistent pace from start to finish. Today in Boston was only 10 degrees colder and the rain was a bit heavier, with some stronger winds. No big deal. I’ve been known to say something along the lines of “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing and/or attitude.” So I did my best to judge what I should where and keep an upbeat positive mindset. In situations such s these I often fall back on a technique I learned from Erik Weihenmayer. The technique is called “positive pessimisms.” They make little to no sense and make you sound a little crazy, but they’re entertaining and take your mind off the situation and make you realize things could be worse. So for this race I kept repeating to myself “It sure is cold, but at least it’s windy and raining.”
This was my second Boston Marathon in a row and my fifth stand alone marathon overall. It didn’t matter the weather, I was going to grind it out to the finish.
A couple of years earlier, before I actually qualified for Boston, I met Chris Lancaster—a fellow athlete—who told me about Team With A Vision. This was a team comprised of blind/visually impaired runners, their guides and runners who support the blind and visually impaired community. Chris told me about the awesome accommodations TWAV provided throughout Marathon weekend and said that when I qualified I should join up with the team. So I did and this was my second year running with TWAV.
I arrived into Boston late Friday night (or was it early Saturday morning) with my guide Pete Fowler, my sister Kelsey and her boyfriend Brenden and his good friend Peter. Pete and I made it to our hotel thanks to the amazing Cynthia who’d volunteered to pick us up and drive us to our hotel in the middle of the night (talk about VIP treatment).
After a few hours of sleep, Pete and I had some breakfast and then immediately headed out for a 4-5 mile run. Pete have never been to Boston and me being totally blind and not knowing where I’m going we just picked a direction to run and started running. After a mile or so we got tired of hitting so many stoplights and flipped around. All in all I remembered how frustrating it could be to run in a city and it made me miss the quiet roads and trails of the Roaring Fork Valley. But it’s always cool to explore an area you’re unfamiliar with and experience the energy and pulse of a city.
Saturday night, Pete and I attended the 25th anniversary dinner for Team With A Vision where we heard all about the founding of the team, the work that the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) does for the community and how TWAV plays a roll in that. We also heard from numerous athletes and guides who’d run Boston numerous times and who had tremendous impacts on the visually impaired community. I loved seeing people I knew and admired being honored. People like my Team Sea to See/Race Across America teammate Caroline Gaynor—who has guided more Ironman triathlons than anyone and who has given her time to growing the awareness of the needs for guides in running and cycling for the visually impaired community. Also, Richard Hunter who was the one who talked me into running the California International Marathon where I originally qualified for Boston back in 2016 and who continues to grow the field of blind and visually impaired runners and guides at CIM and across the entire running community.
Unfortunately, my sleep Saturday night was restless but Pete and I still headed out for a slightly chillier three mile run than the day before. Physically I felt good and the weather forecast for the next day wasn’t concerning to me. After a TWAV brunch where MABVI honored many of it’s volunteers, a quick logistics meeting with TWAV to discuss how race morning would go and then a quick cup of coffee with our friend Kristen who was a Boston Marathon Volunteer Captain/Lead, Pete and I made it back to the hotel to rest up for a bit before we headed to meet Kelsey, Brenden, Peter and my Auntie Sheryl (who was in town for business) for a bite to eat at a small Italian restaurant called Grassano’s—BTW it was a perfectly delicious choice for the night before a marathon. Then back to the hotel for the traditional fitful pre-race sleep.
Race morning dawned wet and chilly. We caught the bus with several other TWAV-mates and made it to the Hopkinton Vision Center where we stayed warm and dry for the next several hours. As I stated before, being a member of Team With a Vision is truly a VIP experience especially on race morning with less than ideal weather conditions. Pete and I took advantage of the abundance of food and loaded up then found a place to just sit down and relax. Despite the wet, windy and chilly conditions outside there was still a palpable excitement among our fellow TWAV-mates. This is still the Boston Marathon after all.
Around 9 o’clock, Kelsey popped into the Vision Center to hang out with us for a bit before her race start. Then the announcements of wave start times began rolling in. First wave people started rolling out, the second wave and finally it was time for Pete and me to make our way to the start line.
Pete and I followed a couple of people who looked like they knew where they were going and found ourselves in a sea of people shivering as we waited for the start gun. Many people were wearing trash bags as modified rain jackets. Pete had opted to throw on a trash bag to attempt to stay warm and dry while I opted for triathlon shorts, compression socks, a long sleeved T-shirt, my Team With a Vision race singlet, sunglasses and a Bubba Burger trucker hat. Some people thought I was crazy for not dressing more warmly but I thought I was dressed perfectly.
Finally the gun went off and we started picking our way through the crowd to the actual start line. When we finally crossed the timing mat we started jogging.
Boston begins with a fairly steep downhill and unfortunately, this year in addition to it being slippery with rain water, people also thought this was an ideal place to start tossing trash bags off of their persons. So Pete’s first road marathon guiding experience was made doubly stressful with people running slowly, throwing trash bags onto the ground and people stopping without notice in the middle of the course. Pete’s a pretty calm and levelheaded guy though and didn’t let it show that this was stressful. We just made the best of it and wove our way through the press of people.
After about four miles the crowd started to spread out and make use of the entire road and Pete and I were able to dart ahead of some slower people and find our pace. We still had to contend with discarded trash bags along the entirety of the race course but we avoided any major mishaps. Pete and I can probably both admit to coming into this race a little under prepared. I’d only seriously started training about six weeks before and Pete had been dealing with a couple of nagging injuries. But on race day we both performed.
I felt incredibly calm and comfortable with our pace. We were ticking off sub 8 min 30 sec miles with ease and we both felt we could push harder. But, not wanting to blow up too early we held back. Around mile 8.5 we both had to stop and use the port-a-potties but then quickly jumped back on course and resumed our steady pace.
I did my best not to notice the weather. Yes, it was chilly and the rain, although not heavy, was coming down at a steady drizzle. The wind would occasionally gust a bit making me shiver, but on the whole it could’ve been worse. The one thing about running in the rain that I find the most annoying is running through puddles and there were lots on this course. Fortunately, my Hoka One One Kona Claytons are pretty good at draining and my shoes didn’t get excruciatingly heavy over the course of the day. I also, strangely didn’t feel any hot spots develop during the course of the day. Yes, I’d lubricated my feet, but even when I lubricate my feet I still tend to get one or two blisters. Not today though.
We passed the halfway mark and the famous Welsley scream tunnel. The one thing about this year’s Boston was that the weather did drive more people inside so there were fewer spectators than the year before. Nevertheless the citizens of Boston and the surrounding towns still turned out in droves to cheer on and support the thousands of runners. And it’s rougher weather days like this when the runners need the crowd support. I know I fed off the energy of the crowd as we passed through each successive town en route to Boston.
We stopped off at another port-a-potty around mile 15 and then took a quick stop around mile 17 to refill our handheld water bottles. Then the hills started getting a bit steeper and a little more rolling. We ran up one hill and down the next. We cruised up each hill not really knowing which one was heartbreak and not really caring. Our pace had definitely slowed considerably but we were still running at a consistent pace. After mile 22, the miles just seemed to keep getting longer. I felt like I always did at this point in a marathon “Can we just get this over with!” And “Why do I say I enjoy this?” We passed mile 24 and then 25.
We made one of the last turns on the course and suddenly it was trash bag central. We’d had to contend with people throwing off their trash bag warmers/jackets the entire race, but this was just insanity! It seemed as though everywhere I put my foot down I was slipping on a trash bag. People wanted their finish line photos to have their bib number so they were tossing their trash bags off before they reached the final stretch. It certainly made it hazardous for us blind and visually impaired runners. I thanked my lucky stars that I knew how to keep my feet under me. Running on slick trails and icy roads payed off.
Pete and I charged down Boyleston Street and crossed the finish line with an overall time of 3 hours 55 minutes and 14 seconds beating my previous best marathon time by more than 23 minutes. It was definitely exciting and exhilarating to finally break the 4 hour barrier and on limited training.
As soon as we crossed the finish line though we immediately felt the cold and wet. While I hadn’t minded the rain and cold while I was running, I minded it now. Pete and I did our best to hurry to find our drop bags with our cell phones and hotel room keys and then we made our way to the hotel room of Alan Greening and his wife Muriel not far from the finish line. The Greenings had graciously offered us the use of their shower when we’d met up with them for drinks on Friday and we gladly took them up on the offer. (Alan is slated to guide me at Ironman Arizona later this year and is a Braveheart Coach under my coach Lesley Patersen.) After showering and warming up in the Greenings hotel room, Pete and I made our way down the block to pick up Skye from the Team With a Vision finish line base of operations before making our way back to our hotel a good 15-20 minute Uber ride away. (Note to self, next time I run Boston I’m so totally staying downtown right at the finish line, it’s worth the higher cost.)
After a couple hours chilling at the hotel we made our way back downtown to celebrate with our TWAV-mates with pizza and beer. The previous year, Trinity and I’d bar hopped just about all night long because we were so jazzed about running the Boston Marathon. This year, Pete and I each had a few beers, some pizza and just wanted to sleep. So we headed back to the hotel and crashed hard.
All in all, an enormously successful second Boston Marathon. I could not have done it though without the help of so many people. Thanks first and foremost to Pete Fowler for being a tremendous guide and training partner. Hope your first road marathon guiding experience didn’t scare you off from guiding me in future races LOL. Can’t wait to get back our on the trails with you soon buddy. Second, a huge thanks to my coach, Lesley Paterson, for getting me into shape in such a short time in order to run my best marathon yet. I may complain about the brutal work outs you assign, but they obviously are paying off. Thanks to Team With a Vision for always treating us like VIPs. Thanks to the Greenings for letting Pete and me warm up in your hotel room immediately after the race. Can’t wait to do some training and racing with you later this year Alan. Congratulations to my sister Kelsey for completing your first Boston Marathon. It’s always so much better getting to race the same course with you. Hopefully one day I’ll be fast enough to keep up with you 🙂
Finally, thank you to everyone who makes the Boston Marathon the best stand alone marathon in the world. The volunteers, race organizers and spectators are second to none. Thank you and I hope to be back soon!
Now… I guess it’s on to the next adventure, or as my friend Jay Wuchner texted me after I finished Boston “It’s time to RAAM!