Jess Runs Boston 2018 – Race Report

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Jess Runs Boston 2018 – Race Report

Rain, clouds, and cooler temperatures… finally! 

After frequent weather checks the week before the Boston Marathon, I was happy to discover that the forecast included clouds, rain, and cooler temperatures. Back when I ran my first Boston in 2015, rain also was involved. I had a great race, and I improved my marathon personal best by a little over five minutes.

To me, rain didn’t seem like a bad thing. For the next two Boston Marathons, I dealt with sunny skies and warmer temperatures, with one year reaching nearly 70 degrees. In 2017, the heat left me dehydrated and I suffered a relentless hamstring cramp at mile 23. I had to stop to stretch, and I clocked my slowest Boston time, despite being prepared with a focused and individualized training program. Marathon running in the heat has been tough for me in the past, so the 2018 forecast was welcomed news, or so I thought.

Having lived in the northeast for the first 24 years of my life, I know how unpredictable springtime weather can be. With several marathons under my belt and having run three Boston marathons already, I was well prepared with nutrition (no more cramps, please), proper attire (multiple outfits, “throwaway” warm-ups), and backup plans (two pairs of shoes). The cold weather, gentle snow flurries, and dreary skies the day before the race, made my desert blood cry for some sun. But I knew that it was much more ideal to run in cooler conditions. You can always put on more layers to keep warm, right?

Trying new things on race day

For my shakeout run the day before the race, I decided to try out my “retired” trail runners. Originally, my trail shoes were only going to be used in Athlete’s Village (the waiting area before lining up to run). My plan was to wear them as I waited for a few hours in the large, wet, and muddy field before the start of the race. Before having to line up in my corral, I was going switch into my racers and donate the older pair. However, once I saw the chance of rain would be 100% for the whole day, I began to rethink my original plan.

After getting alerts from the Boston Athletic Association, reading blogs, and picking up tips from other runners regarding how to stay warm and how to keep your body and feet dry, I decided that running in my old trail shoes may be the best option. Even though I hadn’t run in my old trail shoes for over a year, they had waterproof properties (made with Gore-Tex ) and have proven to keep my feet pretty dry during creek crossings on trail runs. Running in shoes that I didn’t train with was risky, but I thought that the pros outweighed the cons. After testing out their comfort level the day before the race, I made my mind.

Layers, layers, layers

On the morning of the race, I felt well prepared for the elements. I dressed in multiple layers. I chose to wear my long spandex pants, two tight-fitting shirts, arm warmers, polyester gloves, and a skull cap. Over it all, to keep myself warm, I had on sweat pants and two oversized fleece tops compliments of my local Goodwill. I also put on a disposable rain poncho and had instant hand warmers stashed away, ready for the long wait outdoors at Athlete’s Village. Despite the rain pouring on my husband and I as we left my aunt’s house bright and early en-route to the train (the subway system known as the “T”), I was feeling positive for the day. My training was over and I was ready to run fast, but I just needed to stay warm!


Pre-race obligatory picture.

Plastic bags inside and over shoes

Athlete’s Village greeted me with near-freezing temperatures, sloppy and wet fields, wind, and very little coverage from the rain. The large tents set up for runners were absolutely packed. I had to slither my way through the crowds to get to the water and food stations. After waiting outside of the tent for nearly a half an hour to use the porta-potty, I needed to seek shelter and organize my gels in my belt.

With all the runners avoiding getting wet and using various strategies to keep their feet dry (duct tape on shoes and plastic bags placed either inside of or over shoes), some spots became available. I was able to find an open area on the soaked ground by one of the food tables. My Gore-Tex shoes were keeping me dry and I didn’t have to stand elbow-to-elbow with other people (score!). At this point, I opened my hand warmers and tucked them in my palms between my two glove layers to keep in place until I had to shed all my extra layers at the start.

My goal: Get on pace! 

It was time for me to line up. I made sure to get to the very front of my corral. Earlier in the year, I missed the deadline for upgrading my qualifying time. This meant I couldn’t start with other runners with comparable marathon paces. Due to this mistake, I started with runners who had goal times approximately 20 minutes slower than what I was trying to accomplish.

My goal: get on pace! I knew that the first three miles were going to be challenging to find open space to break free. I also knew that I had to stay on the outside of the crowd in order to avoid weaving around people. Once the gun went off, I kept on my layers as long as possible. I began to shed layer by layer as I jogged to the start.

For the first three miles, I stuck with my plan of staying on the right side of the road. With my waterproof shoes, I wasn’t afraid to splash through puddles. In fact, puddles helped me get ahead of many people in the beginning. Most runners were avoiding the mini ponds created by potholes and uneven terrain. The crowd would suddenly take a massive shift to one side.

I was feeling good with my plan until I boldly splashed through a puddle and tweaked my left Achilles tendon in the first (the first!) mile. Fortunately, it wasn’t anything major and I didn’t notice it so much after a few miles. Thankfully, at around mile four, I was able to see more road and fewer people, helping me choose smarter routes.

Tiny knives trying to get me to surrender

For the majority of the race, I was feeling satisfied with my pace. I got into a groove after breaking free from the large mass of runners from the first few miles. My breathing was feeling good and I was running paces between 6:53 and 7:00 minutes per mile. I remember a lot of wind and occasions where the raindrops hit my face as if they were tiny knives trying to get me to surrender. The cheering crowds were far smaller than what I’ve ever seen in Boston. I didn’t hear the screaming tunnel of Wellesley girls until I could see them. Usually you can hear them a mile away!

Around the halfway point, I was in amazement by the spectators who had been cheering along the way. The weather seemed miserable for bystanders. At least I was staying warm through running— or so I thought – instead of standing still! After the half marathon point, my next focus was on seeing my family in the Newton hills, at around mile 20. At my first Boston, the hills were no challenge for me.

“I don’t blame them if they went to get some coffee.”

In the warmer temperatures of 2016 and 2017, I felt the effect of dehydration and tired legs on hills late in a marathon. This year, my legs were feeling stiff and powerless on the hills. Once I was around mile 20, I began to look for my family. At one point, I thought that I saw my husband, but it turned out to be someone else. After that, for some reason, I had myself convinced that my family had gone elsewhere to get warm, so I stopped looking for them altogether. I remember thinking, “I don’t blame them if they went to get some coffee.” I didn’t feel upset that they weren’t there. I just kept trucking on trying to figure out why my legs were feeling so pathetic when my breathing was feeling so good.

“You really need to integrate some leg strengthening workouts for your next training plan”, I thought after cresting the last major hill of the marathon. I was telling my legs to move. I pumped my arms faster but saw my pace get slower. 8:00 per miles?? Why?? I just couldn’t believe what was happening. At this point, my legs were really feeling like tight rubber bands, but it wasn’t a sensation I’ve felt before. Was I about to cramp? I took some anti-cramping concoction anyway and hoped that this would help me recover from the odd feeling; it didn’t.

Pleased yet humbled

I started to feel quite chilled during the last mile of the race. I was disappointed to feel so pathetic towards the end of the race like I had last year. It’s hard to feel this way for too long when you soak in the fact that you’re running the Boston Marathon! I was able to muster a pace slightly faster than an 8:00-mile as I took a right on Hereford and a left on Boylston.

The energy of the race always moves me. Seeing that big finish line always gives me goosebumps (extra goosebumps for this race!). I finished the race with my fastest Boston time of 3:11:22. Pleased yet humbled. Mother Nature was relentless on race day and I rolled with the elements, giving my best effort.

After crossing the finish line, my body felt like an icicle. I could hardly walk. I probably looked like a sad penguin as I shuffled my feet and waddled side to side. Walking felt agonizing and I felt so very cold. The frigid sea breeze whipped between the tall buildings. It taunted my soaked body as I slowly stepped to get a bottle of water… then my medal… then my warming blanket… and finally my gear check bag.

91.8 degrees

After getting my bag, I felt that I couldn’t walk much farther. I had to take a seat under one of the tents. A kind man helped seat me in a chair. That’s when I started to convulse uncontrollably. Another kind person then asked me if I was ok. I was not. She asked me if I wanted to get warmed up – yes, please! Two people then transferred me in a wheelchair and took me away to the tent of hypothermic runners.

The medical tent was a new experience for me. I’ve run ten marathons and numerous other races and have never required medical attention. The scene in the tent was chaotic yet somehow organized. Medical personnel were moving around everywhere and numerous cots were lined up with runners wrapped up like burritos. Once I was taken to my own cot, I again needed assistance to transfer. They took my vitals right away. Blood pressure: 102/58 mm Hg. Temperature: 91.8 degrees! No wonder I felt so awful!

Still a great race!

Someone then assisted me with removing my wet clothing. They promptly wrapped me up in blankets, which included a Bair Hugger (a forced-air warming blanket). Additionally, to help raise my body temperature more quickly, they fed me hot vegetable bouillon broth. After about 20 minutes, my temperature increased to 96 degrees and they released me. The medical attention that I received was superb and I am so grateful to all the volunteers!

Despite my delusional thoughts (my family actually was at mile 20 cheering for me loudly) and my circulatory system diverting blood to my vital organs, I had a great race! Greg with High-Altitude Training Institute organized my training plan very well. I was feeling strong for the majority of my race. I know that I have what it takes to chase that sub-three marathon! I’m looking forward to my next big marathon and more training with Greg. Crossing my fingers for a personal best at the Chicago Marathon in October.

About the Author

Jessica Clark

Since the age of 14 Jessica has been pounding the pavement, trails, track, meadows, and fields. She grew up in central Upstate New York and was part of her middle school’s first outdoor track team. She knew that running was for her after being on the school’s field hockey team and preferring the warm up and cool down laps over practice! Her school didn’t have a track to practice on, so they often improvised on the surrounding landscape of our small town, spurring her love for trail running. After high school, she became a collegiate athlete and was urged to join the cross country team to help condition her for the indoor and outdoor track seasons. As a middle-distance runner, she believed that running anything over three miles was very far, and kind of crazy. She trained very diligently the summer before her first cross country season, fearing incompetency, but hard training paid off; she excelled in cross country for the first season and then for three seasons thereafter. In her senior year, she qualified for and competed in the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships. Read more about Jess on our Sponsored Athlete page...

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