How I Didn’t Quit the 2018 Boston Marathon

There’s no shortage of heroic stories for the finishers of the 2018 Boston Marathon, one of the worst weather Boston Marathons in the history of the race. Finishing this race was a victory in and of itself, and it took every ounce of my being, grit, and willpower to not quit. This was my second Boston and my 13th marathon. Here’s how I didn’t quit the 2018 Boston Marathon.

The Positivity Layers

When I layered up to make my way to the buses and then Athlete’s Village I looked nothing less than absurd. My intended running gear for the day was to be Under Armour tights, a Nike Quick Dry t-shirt under an Under Armour Cold Gear long sleeve, under an Under Armour jacket. On top of this I put some Goodwill sweatpants and super warm hoodie. And on top of that I put my 20-year old sailing foul weather gear that I had decided I would be fine parting ways with to hopefully replace with new gear this season. I also carried a dry pair of shoes and socks with me to the Village. I had a pair of Mountain Hard Gear running gloves with a whole in one finger and a pair of 7-11 gloves bought the night before to put on top; inside I would put hand warmers.

Needless to say, from the T to Boston Commons and waiting in line for the buses I started to feel like a very warm Michelin man and my spirits were high. The bus energy, as always, was soaring and that adds its own layer of positivity. The spirit of marathoners is beyond contagious and in talking with my Nashville seat mates, one of whom was running her first Boston, there was nothing but excitement in me for the race. I jokingly told them how I was mentally preparing to spend just four hours in this weather.

By the time my wave (Blue, wave 3, corral 3) was lining up, I’d swapped out my muddy and soaked shoes for my dry shoes which were immediately soaked. I ditched the sweats and decided to leave on the foulies. I had decided it was worth it to try and run in those and stay warm as long as possible. I stood in my corral feeling absurd in my sailing gear but still over confident in their protection of me against the weather. In starting corrals I tend to be more of an observer and I quietly feed off the energy of those around me. The amount of runners still in their ponchos and trash bags was not lost on me. Our wave left at exactly 10:50 and I had the same emotional swell inside me I do at any marathon. It’s subtle but strong and its’ the feeling of setting out to conquer something with swarms of others who are each there with their own mission. My mission this Boston was simply to finish.

The Early Miles

My immediate thoughts as we left Hopkinton were around the downhills. The wind and rain were already under way and I thought to myself, just get through mile 16. I knew the course was pretty much downhill for a while and I thought if I could just ride those downhills it wouldn’t really matter how I got through the final 10.

By mile 3, I was hot from my foulies. I knew I would see my husband Tim around mile 4 and decided I’d give him the jacket then. But then, new, strong wind gusts started up and I decided I’d reconsider at our mile 8 rendezvous. Immediately after I saw him at mile 4 I started thinking about quitting. I wondered how that works. Do you just walk off the course? Do you have to tell someone?

From miles 6-8 I continued to think about quitting. Every slushy step, every gust of wind, and every new dump of rain weighed on my mind. I started writing a blog in my head about why I quit Boston. I thought about my Instagram caption and what I’d tell my family, my friends, my co-workers, all the people tracking me on Marathon Monday. I thought about the people that would worry when my times stopped tracking. I thought about how I’d tell people that I hope they aren’t disappointed or upset that I quit, knowing full well that no one would judge me except myself. I figured I could walk off the course with Tim at mile 8. Or maybe mile 12 (he was going to try and see me every 4 miles). I thought, if I quit at mile 12 I wouldn’t have even made it halfway. I thought, people have gone through much worse than running a marathon in horrible weather.

At mile 8 I gave Tim my heavy foul weather jacket. I was secretly a little happy to be able to take it home as I’ve had it for a LONG time. By the 13.1 mark I was still thinking about quitting. It was just SO miserable. My form was horrible and I didn’t even pay attention to pacing. I barely looked at my watch. I knew I’d see Tim again either at 14 or 16 and that’s when I could walk off. I thought about telling my 6 year old son that I quit. He’s a boy that loves to try things but not stick with them and we are constantly trying to encourage him to stick with things. So I thought about having to answer why I quit. And the answer? It was hard. We spend a lot of time telling our son you don’t quit things just because they’re hard. You find a way.

I saw Tim at mile 14 and knew then I wouldn’t see him again until mile 20. There was no way I was going to quit at mile 20. So, at 14 I had to find a way to finish.

Finding a Way to Finish

I gave myself A LOT of flexibility in this race. I walked a little. I walked through water stops when I chose to stop. I was acutely aware of how easy it would be to ignore hydration and fueling. It was hard to open Gu and grab cups, and they weren’t even of interest. But I knew keeping something in my system was important. I didn’t get near the intake or pacing of fuel and water I should have, but I tried. After mile 17 though I didn’t touch a single water stop, my hands were just too frozen.

At mile 14 I took a pit stop and that’s when I realized my foul weather pants were no longer keeping my dry. There was also a very odd moment inside that dry porta pot when the heaviness of the pounding rain was so obvious simply because of the way it banged on the bathroom. But that little bio break was necessary and I was off again!

However, the heavy pants were driving me insane and by mile 17.5 I pulled over to take them off. The first leg was a struggle and finally a spectator (THANK YOU lady!) helped me out. I was annoyed with how long it was taking despite my lack of an actual time goal. When we got the pants off over my shoes I suddenly felt so free and so much lighter.

Somewhere in there the hills started. I had done some hill training and leg work in my training plan but not as much as I’d hoped. I felt ready for the hills and I honestly don’t think they’re that bad in Boston. I walked a little on one of them. The weather was just so bad that the hills became unnoticeable.

I focused a lot on thinking about people who have endured worse conditions and done harder things. I passed blind runner teams. I passed a Hoydt running team and wheelchair racers. I passed a double amputee with two blades and I cried. I cheered him on and gratefully put one foot in front of the other. I also thought about all the people I said I’d run for, and all the people I think about on runs who I also run for. And I did body scans. Constant body scans: my neck hurts, my hands are cold, my thighs are cold, my shoe is filled with water, my sock is scrunching, my hat is crooked, my hood is blown off…these constant quick body checks allowed me to move from one miserable checkpoint to the next without dwelling on any one thing too long.

A Moment of Confidence

At mile 18 I had my moment of confidence that I would indeed truly finish. I’d ditched my heavy gear and was feeling like I could actually run again. I checked my watch and started working through various finish time contingencies. My biggest concern was being able to make our 5:30 p.m. flight. So at mile 18, I said out loud, “8 miles to go!” and that felt like a huge relief. I went into one mile at a time mode.

I saw Tim at mile 20 and told him I felt great! Immediately after that it started to monsoon again. At mile 21 I officially got COLD. One mile at a time. Mind over matter. I started thinking about my training. Near the end of training I had started to think it was insufficient. Turns out, it was totally sufficient. At mile 21, which was my longest training run, I was confident I’d be finishing, I just had no clue of my pace. I remember settling in with this confidence though – that I could indeed cover 26.2 miles. I was also finished with any walking as I was in the final downhill miles of the course. I focused a lot on my breathing, tried to think about better form, and continued with my body scans.

Mile 22 was another milestone. It might seem silly to tick off each of the final miles as a milestone but that’s how it felt and that’s how I got through. Four more miles felt doable. And then it monsooned again. The last 3.5 miles were a total headwind, nonstop gusts, heavy rain, and my chest was freezing. I had only a few thoughts about whether it was hard to breathe because I was freezing or because it was late in a marathon. But I never panicked and I did more body scans: super freezing toes, stiff hands, cold forehead from my dripping hat, sopping wet everything, and legs that I couldn’t decide if they were numb or heavy from being wet. I just needed them to keep moving. And they did.

One of the incredible things about the Boston Marathon are the spectators. The other is the volunteers (9500!). The spectators were still out, through the entire course, it was incredible. And in the worst of the weather, those last three miles, the crowds were out in full force. I could hear the crowds at mile 23 and the energy was awesome but I couldn’t lift my face to see them. I was staring only at a few feet in front of me to keep the rain out of my eyes.

At mile 24 I knew I’d see Tim again and that was a perfect final push to the finish. His hood was off and he was soaked too, but there cheering me on, GoPro out and filming. It meant the world to me the way he just kept showing up. While slogging alongside me we quickly switched up our meeting plan from Boston Common to our Airbnb apartment. I then spent the next mile wondering if my Charlie Card would work and how I’d get myself onto the train through some form of sympathy with a T employee if in fact it was too wet. (Amazingly, it was the only thing that was bone dry, in its ziplock tucked into my LuLu Lemon sports bra.)

Left on Boylston

And then, there it was. Mile 25. I only thought about finishing. That last mile seemed to take forever and with each step the emotion built. It was the fifth year of the bombing and I’d be finishing in the four hour window, the same as when those bombs went off. I was nearing the end of hands down the worst race experience ever and yet I felt nothing but love for the course, the city, the runners around me, the spectators. I felt insane gratitude for my own body carrying me through the race. Finally we turned left onto Boylston. I had considered walking in this last stretch, just to soak it all in (no pun intended). But I didn’t. It was in fact, still a race and something kicked in. I could see the finish line and my instincts are to dig a little deeper, find an extra kick, and finish strong.

The tears started as soon as I crossed the finish line in 4:00:25. And then the uncontrollable shaking started. The medal. More tears, and more shaking. The many reasons I didn’t quit were all around me. Thank you Boston for making me Boston Strong.

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6 thoughts on “How I Didn’t Quit the 2018 Boston Marathon

  1. Laura

    Amazing story!! I really wanted to quit in those first ten miles too- it was just so miserable. I love reading your thought process as you for yourself the whole way to the finish! We did it!!

    Reply
  2. Lauren Staines

    Amazing story Nat! I felt all your emotions as I was ready your journey through your run, ending with tears myself. Incredible journey from training to Boston. So very proud of you! Congratulations for all your accomplishments!

    Reply

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