The average temperature for Boston in the middle of April is a cool comfortable 47 degrees–just about perfect for slogging through a marathon.  This year, unfortunately, things turned out to be a bit warmer.

In the days leading up to the marathon I checked the weather report every few hours, finding it hard to believe that temperatures would actually be in the high 80’s.  The event organizers were freaking out.  There was talk that the race might even be cancelled.  From a liability standpoint they must have been worried about having 25,000 goal-obsessed fitness freaks running themselves to death.

The day before the race an email was sent out guaranteeing entry to anyone who wanted to defer until next year.  A few hundred runners took them up on the offer, but most of us had trained hard all winter for this race and flown long distances just to be here.  We weren’t going to miss out on this opportunity.

The flight from Portland to Boston was weird.  Walking down the aisle I saw passenger after passenger with that hollowed cheek look that all competitive runners seem to have.  It felt like a chartered flight to an anorexia rehab center.  Everyone drank water and got up frequently to stretch and use the bathroom.  I recognized a few runners from local races, including Morgan, the manager of the Foot Traffic running store.  The airline probably should have given us a kickback with all the gas they saved flying these super skinny runners cross country.

Yoshimi and I stayed in private room at the Berkeley Hostel, a bargain at $80/night.  We didn’t realize it when we booked the room, but this hostel is just a few hundred yards from the finish line.  This would definitely come in handy later.  The place was filled with groups of runners from all over the world:  Spain, China, Brazil, Japan, Italy.  I had breakfast the first morning with a guy from Denmark who told me he trained for Boston’s notorious hills by running up and down Denmark’s highest mountain…all 561 feet of it.

The whole city of Boston felt like a big running convention.  Every year Adidas, one of the sponsors of the marathon, designs commemorative clothing they sell at the Expo.  This year’s gear was bright orange and black.  You couldn’t go anywhere in town without seeing runners proudly showing off their Boston Marathon schwag.  At the Expo, I saw Dean Karnazes, the Ultramarathon Man.  This is a guy who used to do all-night training runs and have pizzas delivered to him mid-workout.  Like many famous people (Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stallone, the Mona Lisa), Dean was much smaller in person than you would imagine him to be.

The night before the marathon we went out for a typical Boston seafood extravaganza.  We started out with bowls clam chowder, followed by yummy lobster-stuffed ravioli, and then a whole 2 lb. lobster for the main course.  The waiter even gave us bibs so wouldn’t make a mess of ourselves.  We washed it all down with a couple a pints of Sam Adams (the beer, not the mayor of Portland).  Just as we were finishing up, a giant 7 lb. lobster was wheeled out to the table next ours.  It made our 2 pounder look like a little crawfish.

The logistics of organizing something like the Boston Marathon is enough to boggle the mind.  There are thousands of runners, volunteers, spectators, sponsors, media, security, medical personal, transportation, hydration, nutrition.  Just think of all the porta potties you need–it’s crazy.

School buses took us from Boston to the start of the race in Hopkinton.  The runners arrived in waves and some of us had to wait more than 3 hours for the 10am start time.  At Hopkinton High School they set up what is called the Athlete’s Village, where there was coffee, bagels, bananas, Gatorade and pre-race massages.  Shade, however, was in short supply and even at 7am the sun was already beating down on us.  The experienced Boston runners brought camping mats and caught a couple extra hours of sleep.  All in all, it felt like a giant runner’s Woodstock.

The Boston Marathon is a point-to-point course that travels east through the towns of Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton and Brookline before arriving in Boston.  Because the roads through these historic towns are so narrow, the marathon must organize it’s 25,000 participants into three waves, each starting 20 minutes apart.  I was in the first wave, not too far from those Kenyan and Ethiopian speedsters.  While waiting for the start, I met a guy from New Orleans–a fellow alumni of my alma mater, Tulane University.  He said the heat reminded him of a steamy summer morning in Louisiana.

The first five miles of the course are mostly downhill, which normally wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that it’s easy to go out too fast and trash the quads.  I managed to keep my pace under control, helped no doubt by the oppressive sun.  The heat was a bummer, but there wasn’t anything you could do about it, so I resigned myself to running slow and smart.  In a way it was kind of a relief not to have any time pressure and to be able to just savor the whole experience.

And what an experience it was.  Every inch of the course was lined with cheering spectators.  To help us combat the heat, they broke out the garden hoses and the super soaker squirt guns.  Little kids handed out those push up freezer pops.  It had probably been 30 years since I had a popsicle and I totally forgot how that icy-cold sugary-sweetness really hits the spot on a hot day.  My favorites were the blueberry flavored ones.  Remember how they turned your tongue that freaky blue color?

I ran a few miles with a guy from Portland, a member of our local Red Lizards running club.  We tried to keep the conversation going to help the miles pass by, but it was just too hot to concentrate.  Later I passed Dick Hoyt and his son, Rick.  Even though Rick is confined to a wheelchair, together they have completed hundreds of races, including the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.  These guys are local legends and this year was their 30th Boston Marathon.

At the halfway point we passed Wellesley College.  The girls were out in full force, cheering us on and offering kisses for support.  I had to stop when I saw a sign that said, “Kiss me I’m from Oregon!”  It’s not every day you get a chance to kiss a college girl at my age.

After Wellesley I really started to struggle.  At every water stop I would grab two cups, one to drink and the other to pour over my head.  But still I couldn’t keep cool.  Even when a little breeze would kick up, it would be hot, like a wave of heat escaping from an open oven.  Every few miles I’d pass a couple of soldiers walking the course in full Desert Storm gear.  It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself after seeing these guys trudging along.

At around mile 20 in Newton is the start of the famous Heartbreak Hill.  It’s not a huge hill by Oregon standards, but it’s long and steady and comes at a point when you’re just starting to hit the wall.  I was surprised to see so many competitive runners reduced to walking.  Upon reaching the top I caught a second wind.  I put my head down, started pumping my arms and passing other runners.  Only five miles left to go.

The rest of the race was a bit of a blur.  I remember passing Boston College, seeing the giant Citgo sign and then the John Hancock Tower.  In the last mile I passed a guy dressed up like Minnie Mouse.  It doesn’t matter how bad I feel, I’m not going to let myself get beat by a cartoon character.  I crossed the finish line in 3:32:55 in 3,446th place.  It was the slowest, the hardest and the most enjoyable marathon I’ve run.

The temperatures maxed out at 89 degrees that day and over 2000 runners needed medical attention.  It’s a miracle no one died.  The winning time of 2:12:40 was almost ten minutes slower than last year (that’s a distance of more than two miles for those guys).  Geoffrey Mutai, who ran the fastest marathon ever last year, dropped out of this year’s race at mile 18.  So, basically I beat the world’s fastest marathon runner.  Don’t let it get you down, Geoffrey.  Keep training hard and maybe you can beat me next time.

The following day Boston looked like the zombie apocalypse with thousands of battered and abused runners limping around town.  Yoshimi and I went to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.  This year is Fenway’s 100th anniversary and even though the Sox got crushed 18-3, it was awesome to see the Green Monster up close and personal.

The Boston Marathon is on almost every serious runner’s life list.  I went into this race with some pretty high expectations, yet still the overall experience blew me away.  The history, the crowd support, the organization, the prestige all combine to make each and every runner feel like a superstar.  Even though my legs are still a bit sore, I’ve already started dreaming about my next Boston Marathon.

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