This trip was all about the weather and it plagued us the entire time

It took me a dozen years to get to Boston the first time. Then it took another 12 years to get back for my second. I ran my first marathon in Chicago in 1978. After that, I continued running marathons, but I limited them to one per year. I would run, cut back to maintenance mileage for several months, then build up mileage and run again. With each marathon, I always tried to improve my time enough to attain the dream of all marathoners: Boston Qualification. But the goal was elusive…

Five years passed, then five more, and I was still trying. Along the way, I filled up an impressive dance card of marathons: Toronto, Marine Corps, New York City, Montreal, Portland, Dallas, San Francisco, Baltimore, Richmond. However, none yielded a BQ time.

Finally, 12 years after my initial marathon, I came really close, running a 3:26:20 on a smoking hot and humid Labor Day weekend in Mississippi. This was 80 seconds over my BQ time, and therefore not enough to get me in. So a couple of months later, I tried again in the Richmond, Virginia, marathon. I was on target until I reached a hill at the 20 mile mark called “General Lee’s Revenge.” By the time I reached the summit, it was over. I finished in 3:34, well off the necessary BQ pace.

My quiver was empty, so my only hope lay in that near miss 3:26 I had earned in the heat of Labor Day weekend. I carefully assembled my ammo, including clippings verifying the weather for that hot marathon (high of 99o, 90% humidity), and submitted my case to BAA, then hoped for the best. Thanksgiving and Christmas passed, and no word came back on my request. Letters went unanswered. Finally, in mid February of 1991, I called BAA. A friendly guy said “Let me check for you.” Soon he was back on the line and informed me I was “on the list,” and he would send documentation immediately. All of a sudden I was Boston Bound!! I had to kick my training into high gear but was prepared when the third Monday in April arrived.

My first Boston Marathon was fantastic. My 3:29:15 time made me eligible to run again in 1992, but, instead, I chose to continue annual treks with my running buddies to new and different big city marathons.

Another decade passed, and while my marathon destinations continued to be impressive (Berlin, Twin Cities, Erie, Keene, Indianapolis, Nashville, London, and Athens, site of the original marathon), my times drifted north and away from my required BQ time. But when I set my mind, I was still able to train hard and produce a good marathon. And then Boston age requirements started to drop as more birthdays rolled around. With the encouragement of my son, in 2002 I was once again BQ’ed and able to run my second Boston in ‘03.

Perhaps it was because I was now older, but after that marathon I was totally captured by the power and spirit of The Boston Marathon. I determined I was going to run as many “Bostons” as I could. So my “streak” began. The annual pilgrimage to Boston would become the highlight of the year for my wife and me, as well as for our friends, John (Big Foot) and Debbie Akin.

After my 2003 Boston, I began training harder and running more marathons per year. By late 2006, I had pushed my times down around 3:35, only ten minutes above my PR of 3:25. At age 66, after 30 years of running, and after completing 37 marathons, I was making more impact in marathons than ever before: winning age group awards (other than Boston, of course) and being pleased with my times.

We arrived in Boston for the 2007 marathon with good weather. We had dinner with Boston friends on Friday evening, and then on Saturday they provided a rare opportunity, taking us to see a Red Sox baseball game at Fenway Park. What a treat!!

However, over the weekend, the upcoming race had a literal cloud hanging over it, and that’s not an overstatement! The near certainty of a massive spring Nor’easter, a storm of major proportions, dominated the forecast. The impact of a nor’easter is similar to what we in Mississippi would expect from a hurricane, but with cold, rather than warm conditions. The storm harbored several elements, all of which were threatening for Boston Marathon runners. Cold, freezing rain and snow, hurricane force winds blowing right in the face of the runners and then flood conditions, all caused serious discussion at BAA about cancelling the race. Conditions were labeled as “the worst weather in the 110 year history of Boston.” Needless to say, all chatter from the runners….as well as from the national media….was on the weather for the race. We could watch the progress of the storm, and we pinned our hopes on the possibility it would clear the area just as the race was starting. Pre-race dinner was an adventure just attempting to cross Boylston Street. We were staying in our normal hotel, the Sheraton, and during the night I could feel the building swaying in the wind. Everyone, including me, was concerned about what to wear, and again like me, most would chose to wear too many clothes.

Calm before the storm: In the lobby with Leland Chrisman and John (Big Foot) Aikin

When our group met in the lobby of the hotel to make our way to Boston Common to the buses, I stepped out the revolving door of the hotel and recall thinking, “Well, this isn’t so bad.” I made my way around the corner of the hotel looking for a cab. Just as soon as I rounded the corner, the blast hit me. My cap went flying off my head and, before I could chase it down, it had tumbled all the way across Dalton Street, up to the door of the adjacent hotel. After that, I was a “believer.”

With horrific weather conditions, things were moving slowly and by the time we completed the trip to Hopkinton and arrived at Athletes’ Village, runners were scattered on islands of dry land. At the center of a natural bowl, the football field housed a gigantic tent, providing protection from the wind and some warmth. Located on the crown of the field, the tent was dry. However to reach it required crossing over a half foot of standing water. I wore my old shoes in, cold and wet. The rain was subsiding and conditions were improving for us late starters. After getting inside, I devised a sure fire method of keeping my race shoes dry: I put each of my feet in black garbage bags! I held them up to my waist with my hands, and, with my bag on my back, I headed to the start line. I waded through standing water, feet dry, warm and comfortable. A brilliant idea until I attempted to make my way up the slope of the ‘bowl’ to exit the football field. The slick garbage bags that protected my dry shoes soon had me slipping, tumbling down the hill into the mud and standing water. I dusted off my pride, took off the garbage bags, carefully climbed the hill, and was glad to feel wet, but firm, pavement under my feet.

I was depending on music, the precious songs that had run 500 miles with me in training, to take my mind off the remaining rain showers and strong wind that faced us. But no such luck. I was still fiddling with my music, trying to get my MP3 out, up and on (which I failed to do), when the gentle surge toward the start line began. I ran sans musical encouragement for the first time in many marathons…

Other than the strong wind in our face, race conditions weren’t too bad. I started shedding clothes soon after leaving Hopkinton: toboggan and gloves were the first to go. The cold wind had one unexpected advantage: things dried out rapidly. At the midway point I glanced down at my clothes and noticed my solid black outfit had turned a light tan: the mud from the tumble had dried on me, and every muddy splash was visible. I laughed aloud, and continued into the wind, heading for Boylston Street.

By the time I got to water stops along the route, perhaps 10,000 runners had already passed by, with the vast majority taking one cup….or even two, sipping as best they could, and then discarding the cups on the pavement. The fierce wind, whirling but always strong, was blowing thousands of cups around, creating an unbelievably loud, haunting sound. The effect was like no sound I’ve heard before or since. The melancholy sound, amplified thousands of times, remains vivid in my memory today…

Thinking back sixteen years prior to my first Boston in ’91, I couldn’t help notice a number of changes, most brought about by the number of runners. In ’91, with about 9,000 runners, we started at the same time….well, not exactly. The same gun sounded for all 9,000 of us, but we didn’t cross the start line together. It took several minutes before I passed the start mark on the road. Of course there was no electronic timing then, it was “gun time” for us all. The chip changed all that, of course…certainly one of the greatest technological improvements for large races, for sure. Two years ago, in 2005, earlier start times were instituted to allow the runners to take advantage of the cooler temperatures, and to clear the streets earlier. With the vast increase in numbers, Boston began wave starts in 2006, helping make the roads less congested.

Crowd support has grown terrifically since ’91. Patriot’s Day is a holiday in Massachusetts, the first holiday of spring, and not only schools, but almost everyone takes off for “Marathon Day.” Hundreds of thousands come out and support the runners. It’s rare to find a spot in the 26 miles not lined with festive crowds, and I mean festive! Wellesley is wild with college girls screaming, and it’s practically deafening. It has been said this is one of the greatest moments in sport. Boston College students, in p-a-r-t-y mode, push the restraining ropes practically to the center of the road, as we pass. This is much magnified since ’91.

Muddy legs and ready to get out of the wind!

Another phenomenon of Boston is that you are likely to run with the same people the entire race. With the qualification standards, and the strict enforcement of the starting corrals, the people you see as you nervously wait in your starting corral, just might be the same people crossing the Boylston Street finish line with you.

I ran the ING Georgia Marathon only three weeks before this Boston and didn’t know how that was going to affect me. However, it caused little or no problem that I could determine. Perhaps, my journey through the Newton Hills would have been faster without the Georgia experience…

I was running well, less than a minute over 8 minute pace at 10 miles, and 2:30 over 8 minute pace at 15. Newton begins the character-building hills, and they took a toll on me. I had imbedded in my mind that Heartbreak Hill was earlier, and when it arrived after mile 21 and lasted for what seemed miles, I was suffering. The wind and cold increased, as always, as we neared Boston, but I pushed on. I crossed the line at 3:42:26, and considering the conditions, was pleased. Although I was two and a half minutes slower than I had been in 2006 (my fastest Boston time since the turn of the century!), I improved my placement by over 60 slots.

This trip was all about the weather and it plagued us the entire time. Thankfully, the Expo was at Hynes Hall, which helped tremendously! It was a wonderful trip, despite the additional day of layover we had due to the continued bad weather.

The 2007 race was Boston #6 for me and fifth in my streak which has grown to eleven after 2013. My Boston Marathons have been some of the most rewarding experiences of my long life and I cherish the wonderful memories, and the friends gained. I have come to realize that the reward doesn’t come from the medal you receive at the end, nor from the act of crossing the finish line… but rather from the trials, tests, effort, sweat and pain of the journey required to arrive at the start line.

Kenneth Williams
Corinth, Mississippi
April 16, 2007
Age – 65
Bib # 13214