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Boston Marathon 2018 ~ Helen Loxton

Waking up to rain hammering on my hotel window was not how I’d envisioned my 2018 Boston Marathon attempt. After a month of being unable to run at all due to an Achilles injury I was already mentally unprepared for the 26 mile slog and anxious the Achilles would fire up again and leave me in the middle of the Boston boondocks.

I had run for the first time since the injury in the international 5k event with my daughter two days before and decided my calves were too sore and tight to attempt the main man. My thoughts instead were to at least attempt the start and pull put if things felt unstable. We were bused 26.2 miles out of the city in yellow and black school buses to the race start in Hopkinton. The day already began to feel like a scene from surreal US horror movie. The rain was incessant with freezing wind and everyone wrapped up in bin liners and waterproof sheets. I had a lucky break and sat next to Denise from California who ran Boston 5 times before so knew the drill. She had had a rainy Boston before but never as extreme as this.

Arriving in Hopkinton honestly felt like a joke and more of the same horror movie. We were soaked to the skin the minute we left the bus and the mud at the start was like a Glastonbury festival disaster zone. The crowd had backed up due to bus delays and we just stood with rain pouring off our faces trying to get through to the mile long walk to the start feeling like the world’s worst joke had been played on us. We finally broke out of the start pen to walk through the town, a picture book of a place had the sun been shining…but that day it was Stepford wives gone all wrong…

My wave was ready but I had a 10 min start delay trying to trudge through the mire of soaking garments, plastic bags and discarded gloves that people had long given up on using for any protection from the downpour and bitter cold. Starting to walk trot towards the start was just a relief to get some warmth from the movement. I’d long realised that my plan to abandon ship if injured would be relatively impossible with every town between here and Boston closed for the race. I realised the only way to get dry and warm was to run to Boston as quickly as possible! I made a mental calculation that if I could run as far as possible before I had to walk I’d reduce my chances of hypothermia.

I wished Denise good luck and we parted ways but her story (she ran in 2017 just 2 months after a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery from breast cancer), stayed with me and made me feel immensely humble.

As the euphoria of starting wore off and miles two and three unfolded I marvelled at the resilience of all those around me. Why was I out in this ridiculous place with the rain lashing my face, miles from anyone who cared or who I love when I could be cosy and dry with a large cappuccino?! Why weren’t all the locals around me turning around and saying ‘I quit’ and giving it a go another time. The answer of course is that marathon runners are a bloody-minded bunch and if they’ve got a place in the world’s only ‘qualifying time to participate’ marathon, they are damn well going to finish-rain or shine! Tempting as it was throughout, I wasn’t going to be the first or only one to throw in the towel and call it a day. The sore calves were the least of my worries as survival had kicked in and warm and dry were the only goals. So many thoughts and scenarios go through your head during a marathon. In some, the crowds around you and not knocking in to other runners interrupt your thoughts. In this race I had to go into my zone a lot more. I couldn’t look around me to take in the views and love the crowd because if I looked up the rain bounced into my eyes.

So…in no particular order…I thought about my amazing friend Kerry who just won…yes won a race 10 times longer and harder than this one running in a cyclone across Fiji. My brain could not compute how she kept going at this point! I thought about my daughter at home willing me to do the race and I thought about my other daughter and my friend waiting in Boston, checking the race app to see if I was still alive and moving forward! I thought of my son and the huge challenge he has ahead of him starting a specialist school. They all make me want to be a better person and a Mum they can be proud of. I thought about Sunshine (with a capital ‘S’) and promised myself a trip to the Maldives if I got to the end of the race. I thought about the hot coffee I would soak up at the end in Boston…notice the theme…warm warm warm.

As the miles ticked on and the Achilles held out I promised myself I’d try to get to 20 miles so I could walk the last 6 in the cut off time before the course is closed for the day.  I vaguely realised the towns were slowly becoming larger and more and more cosmopolitan. For once all I longed for was suburbia to signal that I was coming towards the city and the ordeal by drenching would be over.

I had been reassured that despite my month off running I would still have the muscle memory to get around. I hadn’t believed the physio at all, but as the miles swept into their late teens I hoped she had a point.  Mile 20 was a psychological turning point. I figured I only had to run a 10k after that and it would all be over I had been warned of a long killer hill at around mile 21 called Heartbreak Hill. As my Achilles has pulled towards the end of a long run in a hill I was dreading the same thing happening. However Boston is an undulating course and there were several hills so I wasn’t sure if I’d done it already. The crowds let me know that I hadn’t! I shuffled up the Heartbreaker thankful for living in Bath where a hill is never far away. I only really noticed the city creep up on me at about mile 23 and by then I was determined that I would not walk.

My glutes were already seizing and I knew I’d stiffen up too much if I didn’t keep the pace. I found it impossible to take on liquid at the many water/Gatorade stations along the way as I was so wet and still running with a plastic bag around my neck that had long since served any purpose. Putting more liquid in the equation just felt wrong as I felt I was absorbing it by osmosis already. I started to feel a tightness around my neck and realised it wasn’t that I was having breathing issues, but the hood of my throwaway plastic kagoul had filled up with water behind my head and was dragging it down and slowly strangling me! That was pretty soon discarded- I’d kind of forgotten it was there as it had long since served any purpose.

The crowds then really began to thicken and I was super grateful for their resilience and Bostonian generosity in standing in the freezing downpour all day. At least I was moving!

I then recognised the Fenway Park stadium where we had watched baseball in the snow the day before. Then the 5k route I’d done on the Saturday and slowly it dawned on me the end was really near! A further sea of plastic throwaways waited for me as I rounded into Boylston Street and the final half a mile that leads to the infamous site of the bomb 5 years ago just before the finish line. I felt a wave of anger that anyone could destroy so needlessly and take lives that had just stretched themselves to the limit. As the line came nearer I just kept saying…one foot in front of the other, my mantra for the day. As I crossed the line that almost unconscious realisation came over me that I was now allowed to walk…so I did…and then I felt like crying…so I did. Relief, cold and sadness at the bomb overcame me alongside the utter joy of finishing.

Then the treat… as I stumbled along, smiling, crying and collecting water/medal/goodie bag… I heard my name and my fabulous daughter and her friend Miranda and my lovely friend Anne were all standing waiting behind the barrier… I had never been more pleased to see anyone… and they had bought a change of dry clothes… ANGELS. Apparently I had blue lips from the cold but after an hour in a hot bath I was fully recovered …and ready for Boston cream pie!


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