Boston Marathon: Tales from the Front Lines, Part I

Even given ideal conditions, marathons are challenging: everyone knows that. But what if you train for months, meet a tough qualifying time, and get to the start of the Boston Marathon and you’re greeted by gale force winds, driving rain, and freezing temperatures? What do you do?

Well, if you’re really a marathoner, you suck it up and show your mettle. That’s what thousands of runners did last Monday, April 16, including a large Austin contingent.

Brooke Hartley (above) completed several Ironman races before running Boston.

Brooke Hartley, a 28-year old working on her law degree was one of them. Coached by Austin’s Ironman standout Andrea Fisher, Hartley took stock of the conditions, and prevailed. Although initially concerned about how well she might run, she dug down and turned things around.

Here’s her story.

RTR: How many other marathons have you run besides Boston 2018?

BH: I have run one other marathon (Boston in 2010). I have also done two Ironmans.

RTR: You ran a fine 3:27:46 last Monday in Boston. Was that a marathon PR?

BH: Yes, that is a PR—although, I kind of don’t count my first marathon. I ended up checking into the hospital for five days after Boston 2010. I basically crawled across the finish line at 4:06:50 (long story).

RTR: Describe the conditions that greeted you race morning:

BH: The first thing I noticed when I looked out my window was the wind. It was raining sideways into my window and the flag on top of the building next to mine looked like it was about to rip off the flag post. I am currently living in Boston near the water, so I was hoping that it would be better at the start in Hopkinton. It wasn’t. When I stepped out of the bus to athletes’ village, it was actually hailing. That didn’t last long but I don’t think the rain stopped once the entire day. It would downpour every few minutes and I was completely soaked and freezing before even getting to the starting line. Around the time I started I think it was about 35 degrees but felt like 25° with the windchill. The cold would have been manageable, but it was the rain/wind that made it just brutal. It was so bad that I went into a porta-potty to get out of the rain while I opened some hand warmers to put on my gloves—and I actually took my sweet time in there. Never before have I thought that the conditions inside a porta potty were better than outside!

RTR: What were your thoughts when you realized the conditions were going to be 35 degrees with gale force winds?

BH: I was really worried about my time. I really wanted a solid time and didn’t want to have to just survive. I kept hearing people say, “it’s definitely not a day for a PR.” It’s always windy where I live in Boston because it’s on the water and I know how much the wind can slow me down—or speed me up if its tailwind (but unfortunately, I was told that there would be no tailwind on race day).  I also panicked about what I was going to wear and scrambled around Boston trying to find some waterproof gear—which proved to be nearly impossible because everyone else apparently had the same reaction and every store was completely sold out.

RTR: How did you mentally handle the race given the challenging conditions?

BH: My fiancé, Kevin, and I ran this race to raise money for our friend, Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2012. Before he was diagnosed he was the captain of the Boston College baseball team and an all-around phenomenal athlete. After his ALS diagnosis, Pete has been pivotal in raising awareness and money for the cause. He is one of the founders of the Ice Bucket Challenge. And he is by far the toughest person I have ever met. Whenever I had doubts or started to feel bad for myself, I just remembered that Pete would kill to be able to run a marathon in any weather and I am pretty damn lucky.  I’ve done a good number of races and I’m convinced that the spectators at the Boston marathon are far and away the best. The rain/wind/cold definitely did not keep them inside—they were crazy. Pretty much the whole course is lined with people screaming/yelling/dancing (at one point I saw girls in bathing suits mudsliding). This was huge and really kept the adrenaline going the whole race. It also helped to remind myself there were over 25,000 other people literally feeling my exact pain. I knew that Fish [Andrea Fisher] had trained us well, the fitness was there and mentally I just needed to get the early miles under my belt and then I would be locked in. I would tough it out just like everyone else. I tried to stick to the race plan that I had planned with Fish, with no changes for weather. That didn’t exactly happen (does it ever?!), but I wasn’t TOO far off.

RTR: Describe the race once it was underway- halfway point, 20-mile mark, etc.

BH: I would say the lowest point for me was around the halfway point. My hand warmers pretty much stopped working after six or seven miles because they were soaking wet and my hands were absolutely frozen. By 13 miles my hands themselves pretty much stopped working. I couldn’t open my zipper pockets to get GU out and I definitely could not grab the tiny salt pills that were in my jacket pocket. I started to freak out a little that I wasn’t going to get my nutrition and it was going to be a disaster. I never was able to get the salt pills but luckily there were some aid stations with GU (which I clapped my two hands around as I ran by because I could not grab with my fingers).

I actually felt better mentally at mile 20. First off, you’re almost done with the hilly portion of the course here and I knew that. I knew I had lost some time on the hills but starting at mile 21 there’s quite a bit of downhill, so I was still hopeful to make it up (turns out I didn’t really make it up, but it was a nice thought).  My hands still didn’t work but I knew I could survive another six miles without GU if I had to. Around 22 the physical pain really set in. Legs started to cramp up etc. I was basically just praying I could manage it without a complete meltdown for the next four miles. I knew I had not nailed my nutrition, so I was a bit concerned. But around this time, I also noticed that my fiancé, who had been running the same pace as me pretty much the whole race, was fading. We have a bit of a friendly competition going, so this was very good news.

Turning on to Boylston Street where the finish is, was insane. Not only was the street completely littered with clothing (I guess people taking off their extra layers before hitting the finish line?), making it pretty difficult to navigate without tripping, but it started downpouring harder than it had the entire race. I could barely see.

RTR: Did you ever contemplate dropping out?

BH: No way. I had trained with my fiancé, Kevin, and one other close friend. I knew they would never drop out, so I sure as hell wasn’t going to. I also really wanted to beat them both, as I alluded to earlier

RTR: Once you finished, what were your overriding sentiments?

BH: The first thing that popped into my head was, “Oh my god, I think I beat Kevin.” And the second was I need to get inside and get in a warm shower immediately. My teeth were chattering uncontrollably and my whole body was shaking.

RTR: Once I warmed up, I was relieved that the weather didn’t completely tank my race and thrilled that I qualified for next year’s Boston. I also had that post race (perhaps irrational?) desire to sign up for another marathon ASAP to go for a new PR before next year’s Boston!

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