Finishing Boston

Why the 2018 Boston Marathon will go down as the "worst wet T-shirt contest ever."

 

Approximately two hours and 38 minutes after the start, I was thrilled to see Desiree Linden coming down Boylston Street, and was only a few feet away when she became the first American woman to win the race in 33 years. I watched a race official taking Des’ trophy out of its plastic rain bag as Joan Benoit Samuelson strolled past, exuding fitness at 60, on her way to congratulate the winners. It was amazing, like being in the dugout during the World Series.

And then Molly Huddle crossed the finish line.

One of the four American women favored to win, Huddle finished in 16th place, eyes huge and unfocused, stumbling. That’s when it dawned on me: If this was what the pros looked like, it was going to be horrible for the regular people. The elites waited on heated buses before the start, while the regular runners huddled in the river of mud and rain that was the pre-race Athletes’ Village. You cannot stay dry on a rainy run, and this rain was frigid, hitting them sideways and creating huge puddles on the course. I myself was wearing a rain poncho, ski pants and five layers of clothing—and I was still soaked to the skin.

Spectators along the course handed out gloves instead of the usual orange slices. Churches opened impromptu warming shelters. Signs said: “Worst Wet T-Shirt Contest Ever.”

The medical tent, pristine and empty at the start of the race, was quickly packed with shivering runners swaddled in blankets and staring at the ceiling in misery, the air filled with the din of their shaking cots.

“It was the march of the hobos,” said McLean resident Winson Cumberland, 47, who finished in 3:36. “People ran the whole race in garbage bags and then ripped them off for the finish line photos as they turned onto Boylston.”

The Boston Globe later reported that 2,500 of the nearly 30,000 runners required medical care, and 81 went to the hospital for hypothermia and frostbite. A week later, rumor had it that 10 were still hospitalized.

At the finish, people crossed in shower caps. They cried. They threw up—which the rain luckily washed away.

Julia Taylor of Arlington was smart enough to have booked a hotel two blocks from the finish, so she kept running until she was safe and dry in her room. Joe Martinez of Miami also was able to run straight through the finish and back to his hotel—that is, after a mid-race stop in a medical tent because his hands had frozen into fists.

Arlington resident Jennifer Requist, 45, had qualified to run the race for the first time and was realizing a longtime dream. Upon receiving her medal, she kissed it, gave it the finger and said, “I waited 15 years for you and you give me THIS day???”

I’ve heard people say the Boston Marathon Nor’easter year in 2007 was worse. It was not. I was there. Anyone who doubts me on this can spend four hours in 38-degree water and report back.

It takes a special kind of person to train and qualify for the Boston Marathon. You have to meet a standard, based on your age and gender, that gets tighter every year, just to have the privilege of competing. There is no quit in these people. Some 95 percent of the runners who toed up at this year’s starting line finished the race. In other marathons, 80 percent is a normal finish rate, even in good weather.

After a long day of helping where I could, the last runners finished about six hours after the start. We congratulated them and directed them toward medical help, medals and blankets, warning them not to stand still.

I heard the volunteer next to me say, as he gestured people along: “Food, warmth, your families—everything good in the world this way!”

 

Arlingtonian Caroline Merena has run 33 marathons and is a running coach at ArCTIC (Arlington’s Coaching – Training and Injury Center) in Courthouse. When she’s not on the trails in Arlington or running around D.C. you can find her at Potomac River Running in Ballston.

 


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