1. For weeks leading up to the marathon, I had been checking the weather in Boston. It turned out to be a form of water torture; each day, the percentage chance of rain went up while the predicted wind increased in velocity and gradually shifted from the west to east northeast, the latter a direct headwind for a course that runs in the same direction. (Winds -- in contrast to currents and marathon routes -- are described from where they arise, not from where they are going.) It was going to be very cold. In the week before, I bought two wind jackets, foul weather gear, and slip-on galoshes. On Sunday, the day before the race, we (Stephen went with me) took the train to Boston. It was foggy and raw, but not yet raining. After getting off the train (so much better than flying), we went to the exposition hall to pick up my bib. In the cab, we were sure that we were lost, but the cab driver insisted that the GPS was taking us on the correct route. We remembered that driving in Boston was another form of torture. The exposition hall, like everything associated with the Boston Marathon, was perfectly organized and teeming with volunteers and lots of nerdy-looking/fast runners, many decked out in the official ($115) marathon jacket. Everyone, it seemed, was filled with giddy dread at the idea of running a marathon in this weather, but there was no backing out: qualifying for Boston takes a lot of work and somehow we would all figure it out. Being part of this group (but not having purchased the jacket), I -- as usual, when I associate with non-feline communities -- felt possessed by twin desires to distance myself and still belong. After picking up the bib, I looked at the latest forecast, hoping that the rain might have veered out to sea.
2. At least the forecast was consistent.
3. At the hotel room, where I strategized about what to wear, before the race and during, Stephen found one of the greatest pieces of artwork ever created: a cartoon a previous guest (or employee?) had drawn on the room-service card. Like all great art, it raised many questions and promised layers of meaning.
4. The next morning, the rain had started. I walked to the bus wearing five layers and the galoshes, which in contrast to what was promised seemed to soak up the water like a sponge and squeeze it into my shoes. Fortunately I was wearing an old pair and was carrying my racers. Busing 25,000+ runners to the start of the race was an impressive operation carried out with military precision. I sat next to a runner from Virginia who worked for the Department of Defense; he agreed with me that the Boston Athletic Association should probably manage all of the world's governments. As we approached Hopkinton, we looked through the foggy bus windows at the Massachusetts hillsides, which were covered in blooming forsythia and snow. The athlete's village -- a series of tents set up on a large field -- looked like a very cold version of Woodstock. To stay out of the sheets of rain and wind, runners huddled under the tents like penguins, which I discovered -- just standing still in a crowd of others doing the same -- actually does keep you warmer than if you were alone. A guy standing next to me looked over with terror. "I'm not sure I can make it," he said, and I told him I knew how he felt. What were we even doing here? By the same token, the utter pointlessness of the endeavor (in an existential sense) served to make it seem more valuable. (I didn't discuss the philosophy of running marathons at this juncture.) Approximately ninety minutes later, having changed into my dry shoes, I began the walk to the starting line. By the time I arrived -- I was in the second wave, second corral -- my shoes were soaked and I had shed most of my layers (although I ended up wearing two jackets). After so much waiting around, it felt good to start. Unlike the first wave, which was for the fastest runners, the second wave had a lot of older guys (and gals) like me. I thought of us as the "chill wave." Soon the gun went off and we crossed the starting line, a stream of runners completely filling the narrow highway through the town.
5. Weather conditions aside, I felt pretty good. On the last day of my serious training -- two weeks earlier -- I had slightly torn something in my hamstring, and had spent the subsequent two weeks bracing myself to run 26.2 miles in a lot of pain. What I learned during these weeks is that pain exists on a spectrum: no pain, obviously the best, is followed by what I consider a "presence" or "awareness" of pain, which is distracting but far from devastating. More problematic is when the pain shifts into "discomfort," which requires an almost constant battle to ignore it while focusing on more productive things like breathing and good form. Discomfort can sometimes shift into insurmountable pain, which prevents you from running, as it did a few weeks earlier. Fortunately, I had mostly healed during my "two-week taper," which meant that I was barely into "awareness," at least as far as my hamstring was concerned. More surprising to me -- although not surprising at all given that everyone who runs Boston talks about it -- was the awareness of "something" in my right quad, which is a function of running pretty fast over many miles on a decline. This pain was not an injury pain but a muscular stress, the kind of thing you just have to deal with as you move up the spectrum. As the miles passed, the pain increased -- and spread to my left leg -- but hovered on the manageable side of discomfort. I also began to crave the (up)hills.
6. I also stopped at Mile 12 to eat a "gel" and drink three cups of water, having learned the hard way that drinking out of a cup while running is impossible, and I've never been able to carry a bottle. The two minutes I lost by stopping I more than made up for by not "bonking," which is what happens when your body shuts down, usually around Mile 20, and you have to plod the last six miles. (Never do this if you can avoid it.) In this picture I'm already at Mile 22, which I know because I finally took off my glasses during the downpours on Beacon Street. It was here that I finally understood the expression "buckets of rain," because every five minutes or so, it felt like someone poured a bucket of water directly over my head.
7. The good news was that I didn't bonk and, even though my shoes were soaked, I didn't have any issues with blisters or chafing or those other horrible things that can happen with wet clothes. My two jackets didn't exactly keep me dry, but I wasn't freezing. There was a sense of camaraderie among the runners and the brave souls who came out to volunteer and watch; a downpour or gust of wind would be followed by a cheer. "At least the forecast was right," said a guy who passed me. In a way, we were rooting for the weather; it was making this race memorable. That said, I was looking forward to the finish line.
8. Where I finally arrived, three hours, eleven minutes, and thirty-two seconds after crossing the starting line. (A personal best.) Note that I was coherent (and vain) enough to take off my head warmer for my finish-line shot. An hour later, after shivering my way down Boylston Street in one of those silver heat jackets (not pictured), I was back at the hotel with a glass of chocolate milk (also not pictured). After decades of thinking about running the Boston Marathon -- and several more of resigning myself to never running it -- I was done, which felt good.
9. The next morning offered perfect weather for a marathon that was already over.
10. Stephen and I walked (very slowly in my case) through the freshly scrubbed city. All around us, runners wore their jackets and -- in some cases -- medals. I looked at them with longing and suspicion.
11. I admired some vintage manhole covers.
12. Beacon Hill seemed like a nice place to live, especially on one of these cobblestone streets.
13. I admired the window boxes while acknowledging some regret about using plants -- especially heather! -- in such a disposable manner. My skepticism for society, kept at bay during the marathon, was seeping back.
14. I found the first blog post, written in 1630. "For wee must consider that wee shall be a citty vpon a hill the eies of all people are vpon vs ... "
15. We followed the Freedom Trail past many monuments that maintain a tenuous connection to the present.
16. Here's Paul Reveve, who finished the first Boston Marathon on a horse.
17. I decided to stop being cynical and enjoy the idealism of the race I had finished. It felt good to partake in something with tens of thousands of other people and feel nothing but admiration for all involved. Running had become a much-needed source of optimism in my life.
18. Back home in the garden, everyone wanted to know how it went.
19. They too had withstood the wind, the cold, and the rain.
20. I showed everyone the medal and together we welcomed the sun.