Thursday, 4 October 2018

Boston Marathon & London Marathon 2018

The Big Reveal

Walking up Arthur's Seat in September 2017, I told Scott I had something to tell him. After initially freaking out and throwing himself off the hill, I calmed him down to share the news that I had entered the Boston Marathon for the following April. I was not guaranteed an entry but we would need to book a holiday if I was accepted. Having studied in Rhode Island during the winter, Scott was keen to return during the summer. Shoulder season is not summer, thereby ruining his holiday plans.

Female qualification times are much more lenient than the men's qualification times. Despite this, as I have spent the last four years injured and unmotivated AND the Boston qualification times are reducing each year, I figured there were few years left whereby I would be able to gain the qualification without too much stress. So on that Saturday in September when I looked up the times I was pleased to find that I had qualified while running as the Roadrunner cartoon in London. Luggage restrictions meant that a costume was not logistically possible for Boston unfortunately.

A combination of hamstring troubles and lazyitis meant that there was no training for Boston. Some people commented that they didn't see the point of running the iconic race if I was not going to do it properly. My argument was that I didn't see the point in running the race if I was so focused on a personal best that I didn't enjoy the atmosphere. I know it can be hard for runners to hear this BUT running a personal best does not make the world a better place, reduce poverty or save the whales. As it turns out, running a personal worst doesn't either. Hmmm, bothersome...

Boston Incoming

April 2018 on the East Coast of the USA was Baltic. We strolled around New York in parkas, accidently ice skated and woke bears in New Hampshire, dodged sharks in Cape Cod and found ourselves in Boston. Fortunately we were staying with friends who made it easy getting to registration, despite some stress regarding the late arrival of my runner's passport in Scotland. I like to tear through these running conventions like it's a qualification in itself and I pride how quickly I can get through. This is particularly important in Boston where parking will cost you your dinner money for the rest of the week.

Throughout the week, the organisers had been emailing through weather warnings. Wind, rain and hail were forecast. It was recommended that we brought spare shoes to the start line so we could discard them when covered in mud. Well, I was on a two week holiday and sharing a check in bag with Scott. I only had the one pair. No, there were no extra warm layers to discard. No, I don't think the charities are going to want all our trampled, ripped and mouldy lycra or ponchos. They would rather that we did not buy that extra pair of running shoes and donated them some winter boots or hard cash instead! So I borrowed a friend's XL jacket that he was going to give away anyway assuming that I wouldn't want to run the whole marathon in a jacket. Obviously, my whole wardrobe plans were thrown out.

Before I went outside into the weather
The actual running outfit

Fortunately, friends gave me a lift ta car park near the start where I was then to take a bus to the start. There was a bit of traffic at the end of the hours drive before getting into the car park but otherwise ok.  There was a small security set up where all the runners go briefly checked by the metal detector and then we climbed onboard the bus. Given that I was in the second colour band, I checked whether I should just walk to the start. I was told that the bus was quicker. Now, I am not sure if there was a problem with our particular bus but I am pretty sure that we went halfway back to Boston. Advice; it would have been half the time if I walked. By the time we arrived at the Athletes Village (disguised as a muddy filed), my band waves had gone (not a major deal).

I had thought I would just jog the mile to the start. So wrong. You could not move for people. I would like to think that everyone was cramming to the start line because they were cold rather than because they felt the need to be on the start when their colours were specifically being told NOT to make their way to the start line. The ground was chaos; discarded running shoes and clothing devoured by mud. Runners constantly tripping and getting a free massage in the mud when other runners stood on them. Eventually I made it to the start line just in time for the colour band that was supposed to be behind me went off. I needed to use the ladies facilities again but just wanted away from the chaos so started jogging. My attempt at a starting photo was unsuccessful due to the sky being water logged.

Boston Strong

A sea of poncho ghosts waded down the hill. For a race that has more difficult qualification criteria than most, we looked hilarious. Thousands of students in a dress up run during orientation week? Escapees from a local institution? Activists petitioning against fashion? Attitudes were fabulous though. My bladder was also fabulous once I used the facilities a few miles in. Then it was time to get some serious drinking in. I cannot accurately recall how I acquired my first beer but I think some supporters were drinking cans and I politely asked for one from their cool bin. It was mid-morning by then, they had probably been out quite a while watching the professionals slide past and yet no one had joined them in a session. So then I jog along with my giant can of bud and sip away happily.

There were two flaws in my plan; the rain causing a slippery can surface and the cold causing me to have to constantly swap hands so I could tuck the other one inside the jacket. Gloves were deemed unnecessary, although that was clearly an error. When the winning female crosses the line wearing a rain jacket and gloves in a day time road marathon, it means the weather is pure dreich. Supporters were handing out dry socks. I thought about grabbing some for my hands.

Initially I was surprised at what I thought was very little police presence. There were plenty of marshals but no one that resembled police... As I was holding up my beer can to these marshals to say thanks for being out here, I realized that they were either angling their eyes down to avoid me or having a chuckle. Hmm... perhaps it's not quite legal to drink in public here... These were the police. Unlikely-to-run-for-more-than-a donut-type police but I guess that's why they probably have guns instead. I only saw a few with actual donuts. Likely very soggy.  

Bikini-clad girls are screaming from the sidelines in a wee village. I don't think the weather got above a real feel of zero degrees Celsius for the entire race so a massive well done to those girls. I hope that their mermaid themed cups were filled with something strong beyond their years. After taking my time with my first can, I'm now on the look out for another beverage. What better way to emerge oneself in American culture than drinking beer from a red party cup?! I feel that it is all going rather swimmingly as I move forward sipping beer politely from my red cup. Hydration station? No, I'm all good here with my beer thanks!

Supporters are handing out chocolate bars, orange slices and sweets (which I'm avoiding in case they are those crazy cinnamon flavoured ones). I tuck them up my massive jacket sleeves for later. Other runners say that there are much less supporters out than usual given the extreme weather but I think that the supporters are great. I'm freezing, I cannot imagine how cold they are. Due to being saturation, I am chaffing in places that I was not expecting. My full length tights have long zips going up the side of my lower leg; now bleeding. The waistband and ankle bands are creating permanent scars. I can only imagine the state of my braids!

I'm eagerly awaiting Heartbreak Hill. While I am not feeling particularly comfortable, it just sounds like it will be an exciting place. I get my loyal red cup topped up with beer near the start of the climb and then wave to my fans as I shuffle up. It's not massive but the atmosphere is. Cheers to you all. I think my beer is well watered down now with the rain and hail drops.

Until recently, everyone wanting to run the Boston Marathon had to qualify thereby making it a little special. The fastest get in, so someone like myself met the qualification criteria but was not necessarily confident about getting in because there are many faster runners. Now you can run for charities but there are no ballot places. As a child, I'd always wanted to run the Boston Marathon without knowing too much about the politics or difficulty (or the fact that apparently many runners CHEAT to get qualification times??!!) but now I am here as a fully-fledged adult running! So the whole running experience is amazing, even if I am having trouble with my hamstring seizing in the cold... I'll just keep slowing down so that I don't cause a tear...

And then there's less than six miles to go. Less than 10km. The weather has prevented photo opportunities because my phone cannot respond to touch with the constant wetness. I'm sure my waterproof mascara is holding up nicely. The supporter's signs are fabulous. I've finished my red party cup and am looking out for a finishing beverage. I spot a sign which says BEER. It says other things too but I have not read them yet. 

'You're offering beer?' I ask
'Can do, are you an Eagles fan?' they respond (they're offering a Philadelphian beer, I've just been to Philly!)
'I don't know, I'm from New Zealand!' (that's me again)  
'You can have a beer then!' (that's them again)
(as I am leaving) 'I can't believe she's actually going to drink a beer!'

And that is how I got my fourth and final beer of the run. Police continue to avoid looking in my direction, supporters continue to cheer and I get a little slower. What a wonderful event! I know that we are near the end as ghosts are shedding their ponchos and turning into runners. The road has become a little hazardous with clothing to be discarded for the finishing photo. I was too cold to remove the XL jacket so I am running to the line with it. Unfortunately, I will be returning the jacket with a broken zip. I'm no sure how it broke but I do know I spent half the race zipping it back down when it began flapping in the wind. Although, maybe it was Boston's way of saying that I'm a superhero.

In the finishing straight I cannot see Scott as there are people everywhere. I've run a personal worst but I do receive the best foil blanket/hoodie I've ever seen. A huge thank you to the marshals who stood at the finish line in the cold handing us those foil hoodies. A huge thank you to everyone who was out on the course marshaling, protecting or supporting. The weather was extremely MEMORABLE. But hey, I'd rather it memorable than boring. A huge thank you to Scott for braving the extremes to find me very quickly at the finish and get me on public transport as soon as possible. And a huge thank you to Kim and Daz for having us to stay and feeding us!

Apologies to wee Miss I who watched the race on television and burst into tears when I was not the overall winner. She wanted me to win and I feel I may have let her down. I will let the organisers know and they might be able to change the result.

Beaten by the blizzard

Cape Cod


Fortunately, there was no pipe band playing halfway through our return flight to Edinburgh. With the Boston Marathon being held on a Monday, we arrived back into Scotland on the Friday. I had an email from the London Marathon; they were expected a (UK) heatwave. It was going to break the record for the hottest race day had been. Well, this was tempting. To go from the worst weather for the Boston Marathon to the hottest for London... all within in the same week...

So I emailed my friend Nicole. She was willing to put me up and even offered a Saturday night out on the cocktails. I booked a flight for about 6am on the Saturday morning and spent the rest on Friday sleeping. It wasn't really a good IDEA but I feel it makes for a great STORY. On Sunday morning, it still didn't feel like a great idea but I donned my new Boston cap, sunscreen and smile.

There was chaos with the trains and we missed the bag drop off. I realize that it must be difficult to organize an event for so many people but I do wish these big events would do a better job of organizing the starts; it's kind of their job. We put our bags in the bag of a truck that may or may not be official. The helpers couldn't have been any LESS helpful and I end up running with my phone in my crop top and fashion sunglasses.

I just enter a pen near the back with an igloo, three dinosaurs, the Milky Bar kid and a couple of lassies in their seventies who qualified with Good for Age times. Epic ladies!! I start slow and get slower. This is a tactic to ensure that I get the best sun tan possible; albeit with t-shirt and short lines.

The Queen started the marathon although she did not actually run herself. Unlike in the Faroe Islands where the mayor started the race and went on to run the half marathon herself.

I understand that it was a hot day, even for the spectators. I understand that the price of a pint in London is undesirable. But even still, Londoners were very stingy with their beers. Did no one think; it's a warm day out, I wonder if I should sell my three inch squared apartment and load up the ice box with craft beer for all those runners who are thirsty? No one did. At the expo (which I raced through as quickly as I could but it's a health and safety nightmare with overcrowding) I asked the shite beer sponsor if they would be providing any beer en route. The humourless guy with an inability to grow even the remotest of beards replied that it would be irresponsible to provide beer during the race. And that, my dear readers, is why he works for that shite beer company. I did eventually get a can of a different shite beer and that was greatly appreciated. I was also offered wine once my beer can was empty but given that the girl was drinking it straight from the bottle, I decided it might not be the Riesling from my home town that I typically prefer. A big thank you to her though.

I was responsible; I drank water too!

Sometimes I saw other runners with Boston Marathon attire and we had a wee chat. None of us were really feeling the running aspect of the day but were enjoying the novelty of the double. They had perhaps prepared for the double, whereas I had not. If there was a runner sitting down, I went for a chat to make sure they were ok. If there was a runner sitting down in the shade of a tunnel, I sat down with them! There were runners collapsing but always plenty of us to help out. I knew I would make it to the finish and did not care how long it took. Other people were struggling, why have them stop?

Throughout the run I managed to keep communication with my cousin who was supporting on the course with her husband and children. Conveniently placed opposite the Vaseline folk from St John's Ambulance (remember all that chaffing from Boston?) it was a good focus to get to and then stop for a chat. Thanks for the support Jessica!

And I was probably walking! I do enjoy a good marathon sign.

Big Ben may have passed me. A tree may have passed me. I did beat the Emoji poo though.

And then I finished. My second personal worst in a week. Nicole and I were held up in the exit due to the changing of the guards. Fortunately, Nicole and I did not meet at the J sign as originally planned as that was out the exit and would have been a nightmare. Apparently, that was put in the race notes or something. Well, some of us only flew back into the country and decided to run on Friday...

On the start line I had heard rumours that the day was not going to be as hot as expected and therefore not break the record. I was disappointed by this. It would have made my story much less cool. Fortunately, the sun shone brightly and it was recorded as the hottest race day the London Marathon has had! Phew. From Baltic to blazing in six days.

Sadly, there were a number of people on social media who attempted to deflate the achievements of the runners by saying that it was not that hot and people run in much hotter conditions all over the world. Of course they do. Even on a hot day, Britain is not that hot. I have run further in hotter conditions. But it is hard to run a marathon in mid-twenties when you have just had a very cold winter and no acclimitisation. If people had expected it to be that hot, people would have ensured they trained in multiple layers, inside gyms or something to help their bodies prepare. But it was unexpected until the week of the race so cut runners some slack. It was snowing when I flew out of Boston! Also, just don't be assholes. You've achieved something greater? Good for you. You need to tear people down because you are insecure about your own achievements?  Speak to a professional who can help you with that. 

Well done to the runners who stumbled, sprinted or fell across the line.
The following week I went ice skating and canoeing. Marathon running was so last week.

Boston and London finishers attire

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Boston Marathon & London Marathon 2018

The Big Reveal W alking up Arthur's Seat in September 2017, I told Scott I had something to tell him. After initially freaking out an...