Race day came and once again it was a long wait at the Vision Center before our 11:15 start. I am once again guiding for Rachel Weeks, a visually impaired runner from South Carolina. We are lucky the VI athletes and guides have the Center as a place to congregate before the race. It is a safe and dry place right off the starting gate, allowing us to rest and relax. Rachel and I both got in a good nap and listened to music to chill. I did some mingling with other athletes. So many great stories and people! I did however try to keep my focus and make sure I was stretched, fed, and hydrated for the run.
As 11:00 approached we headed out to the start line. The start of the race wasn’t bad at all and we were really excited to be once again at the start line of the Boston Marathon. (This was familiar territory since last year I was able to guide Rachel for the first 12 miles, before handing her off to her sister Becca.) We got into the start and took off with the thousands of other runners. The start of any race is a bit nerve racking and exciting all at the same time. The key is to stay calm, don’t take things out too fast, and just get into a good groove. The key in a rainy race is to steer clear of road lines, and flying trash bags. I have been in this situation before and the results were not so positive.
The first few miles were chilly, but I was able to just laugh and joke we were not running a marathon, but were participants in the “world’s largest wet t-shirt contest.” I think it was around mile 6, after grabbing salt tabs for us that I noticed my hands were absolutely frozen. I was able to get a hand warmer from a medical stop around mile 10, and for the next few miles I regained some feeling in my hands. A highlight of my race came slightly after mile 10. Here I saw my friend Celeste Kanpurwala, who despite the rain and cold, braved conditions and had signs ready to greet me and Rachel. Seeing her, and getting a quick picture, was the boost I needed on such a cold and nasty day. I only wish we could have seen her at every mile!
As the race continued, the rain and wind only got worse. As the later miles passed, we both went into survival mode. Hands and feet were frozen, but we just kept the legs moving forward. At one climb there seemed no more point to running hills, so we would walk hills and run flats and downhill’s. I was afraid we wouldn’t see a Gu station, so I made sure to save all of my nutrition for Rachel. At the pace we were going, I thought water and Gatorade would be enough for me to finish, but worried she might need a little more. Luckily, though, we did find a station at mile 18, because by mile 22, I was in need of more energy myself.
The crowds were sparse, and mostly consisting of people waiting on friends or relatives (plus the occasional inebriated college student). However, the people were very enthusiastic, and I heard lots of “Go Sparty,” and a few “Go Green” cheers. I had to explain to Rachel true Spartans say “Go Green” and we reply “Go White.” If you say “Go Green” and they don’t reply, they are not true MSU grads. Silly story, but any story was good when it takes your mind off the pain.
We also got a lot of laughs about being married. “The couple that runs together, stays together.” “When you finish you can finally cut the cord.” “Now there is a power couple.” This gave us lots of laughs, and often times after we passed and they read “Blind Runner” on her back, we could hear them say how stupid they felt for their comments. So at least we were giving some education while out in the cold.
Another thing we decided to do to pass the miles was dedicate them to people. The first six miles were dedicated to a friend and guide of Rachel. The second six went to Becca. Miles 12-18 went to my mom, and miles 18-24 went to mama Nickens. Mile 25 was my F-U mile, and mile 26 was Rachel’s F-U mile. We called them this because by this point we had to tell each mile to stick it and it could not conquer us. The last 385 yards were dedicated to the amazing city of Boston. While the course is a monster, and the conditions made it near impossible, this is still the Boston Marathon, and when turning onto Boylston Street, even I got a tear in my eye. Well, it was probably rain, but it felt like tears. The struggle was coming to an end, and as tacky as it sounds, I had to stop and kiss the finish line. Because this was my first and LAST time to run the Boston Marathon.
As we crossed the finish line we were given two options. The first was to walk about a quarter mile to where the medals were presented and then continue off to home. The other choice was to take an immediate turn into the medical tent. This was an absolute no brainer. Medical tent it was. Both Rachel and I were suffering from hypothermia and needed to get somewhere warm and dry. We spent about 45 minutes in the tent with many other runners, trying to dry under heat lamps and being well taken care of by the race medical volunteers. Three days later, I still had numbness and tingling in my thumbs. This may not have been the best decision of our lives to continue, but as long as there is no lasting effect, we feel a little like rock stars for kicking the course’s butt, and finishing in an official time of 5 hours 52 minutes. I guess over six hours and you’re not an “official” finisher.
I really feel like we both found a level of strength and determination we had never had to reach before. They say you don’t know what you are capable of until you challenge yourself, and if this experience was any indication, I believe both Rachel and I are capable of virtually ANYTHING. It’s always humbling as an athlete to reach that point of quit, and then to somehow push yourself beyond. We were also inspired by seeing the other amazing athletes out there on course experiencing the same things we were. Everyone had their own reasons for doing the race, and no matter whom they were, people were pushing and pushing to cross that yellow and blue finish line. There really isn’t anything like finishing a marathon, and to finish the Boston Marathon is that much more special.
It was also nice to have my coach Diane Berberian here running in the BAA Medley for support, as well as knowing Katie Francis was somewhere in the madness. I also felt all the love and support from my many Boston relatives, and all my family and friends who called, texted, and messaged on Facebook. I looked forward to some rest, and by some I mean four days, until the next race, where I would be running the Toledo Marathon with Celeste. This life truly is a blessing and we get out of it what we put in. So I’ll continue to put in as much as I can, and enjoy all the amazing people I meet and the stories we write together.