Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 19, 2018

Marathon Monday Becomes A Test Of Resolve

First there was the cold. As buses carrying runners rolled from downtown Boston out to Hopkinton early Monday morning, the thermometer struggled to climb above freezing. By the time some 27,000 had assembled at the starting line for this year’s Boston Marathon, the temperature was 37 degrees, or about 15 degrees below normal for southern New England in mid-April. Cool is certainly preferable to hot when the plan for the day is to run more than 26 miles, but a cold that quickly numbs one’s extremities complicates an already daunting task.

Then there was the rain. There’s been precipitation in other years of course. As recently as three years ago there was some rain on Marathon Monday. But the operative word in that sentence is “some.” In 2015 the elite runners were approaching the finish line and much of the field was nearing the halfway point before the skies opened in any serious way. This year it rained all day, ranging from torrential to steady and back again as the race unfolded. Runners disembarked from the buses behind Hopkinton High School into a sea of mud, and that was before the hardest rain began.

Finally there was the wind. Not some gentle springtime breeze, but a nasty, consistent, 20 to 30 miles per hour blow, coming off the ocean and right into the faces of the runners making their way along the eastbound course. The strong headwind added resistance to every step the contestants took, while also making the already chill temperature feel even colder and whipping the raindrops into sheets of horizontal needles.

Combine all those elements and this year’s Boston Marathon became a torturous test of endurance, a long day’s slog through the worst that Mother Nature could dole out. The headwind made certain that no records would be set. Any pre-race hopes for a personal best time were drowned out and blown away before the first downhill half mile had been completed. Simply making it to Boylston Street and the finish line counted as a signal achievement. By that standard, the most remarkable statistic from this year’s Marathon was 95.5%. From the original entry list of just over 30,000, slightly more than ten percent at least figuratively woke up, peeked through their bedroom curtain, and decided to go back to bed. But of the 27,042 runners, wheelchairs and handcycles that began the race, 25,822 – 95.5% – finished.

As surprising as the amount of resolute determination that was on display were the identities of those who led the pack. The foul conditions proved to be a great leveler. The men’s winner was Yuki Kawauchi of Japan, who is not even a full-time marathoner. Unlike the elite runners fans are used to seeing breaking the tape at the major marathons, Kawauchi has a day job, working as a school administrator. After the race he readily acknowledged that the conditions likely helped him.

Even more amazing than Kawauchi’s triumph was the race run by Tim Don. He is the world record-holder in the Ironman Triathlon, so is no stranger to long-distance running. But just six months ago he broke his neck when his bicycle was struck by a car while he was training in Hawaii. To preserve his athletic career, he opted against surgery to fuse the broken vertebrae; instead spending months in a halo, a metal device that looks like something out of a torture chamber. Metal bars were literally screwed into Don’s skull and attached to a ring encircling his head, completely immobilizing him above the shoulders. While wearing it he was unable to shave or shower. Yet the halo allowed his neck to heal naturally, and Don set a modest goal of finishing Boston in 2:50. Overcoming the cold and the rain and the wind, he crossed the finish line in 2:49:42.

On the women’s side the winner was Desiree Linden of California. Six miles in, running with New York City Marathon winner Shalane Flanagan, Linden was thinking not of winning, but of dropping out. Soon after, when Flanagan stopped to use a portable toilet, Linden slowed down to wait for her fellow countrywoman and help her get back to the lead pack. Yet even after doubt and delay, she was able to run down the leaders and become the first American to win the women’s race since 1985, crossing the finish line while still wearing her windbreaker. In her post-race press conference Linden said, “if it hadn’t been so difficult it probably wouldn’t mean as much.”

But perhaps the most remarkable finish of all was by 26-year-old Sarah Sellers. A full-time nurse in Arizona, Sellers decided to enter the race only because her brother was running in Boston. She had been a good runner in college until an injury ended her competitive career. Since then she had just run recreationally and had limited time to train because of her work schedule. Still she ran well enough in a Utah marathon that qualified her for Boston to be placed in the first group of women runners. The high placement left her hoping to not embarrass herself. Yet she stayed in touch with the lead pack, and then as the miles added up and others tired, Sellers began passing women, including ones she recognized and admired. By the time she turned onto Boylston Street for the final sprint to the finish, Sellers had passed every woman in the race save for Linden. The unknown runner who came to New England a few days early, so she and her husband could go biking in Maine’s Acadia National Park, left Boston $75,000 richer after her second-place finish.

Before the brutal test that was this year’s Boston Marathon got underway, no one was expecting Sarah Sellers or Desiree Linden or Tim Don or Yuki Kawauchi to be part of the story. But on a day when the true headline was the power of perseverance, they were the resolute leaders of the 95.5%.

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Responses

  1. What a story, Mike. 95.5%—what an ending!
    Ω

    • Thanks Allan. Short of an April blizzard the weather on Marathon Monday could not have been worse. But it made for a great story. Those runners are tough, and I think maybe a little crazy!!

      M-

      Michael Cornelius
      603.498.5527
      http://www.onsportsandlife.com


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