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The Run For Shelter

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route 16

 

Route 16 Running and Walking
6745 Kimball Drive, Gig Harbor

 

                        The Run For Shelter

 

By Dave “Poncho” Sherman

 

 

Dave and Charlea inspect the finish area the day before the Marathon

 

4/16/18 – Boston

Today is Boston Marathon day, and I’m already awake when the alarm goes off. I look out the window and see sheets of rain blowing past. Good news, it isn’t snowing any more. Today is a day to expect to get wet, and to dress accordingly.

I put on a tank top, then a tee shirt, arm warmers, tights, a light running jacket, a hat and throwaway fleece gloves. It seems like way too much, but then again, it’s easy enough to shed layers as needed. Over all this, I put on a full set of regular rain gear which I plan to discard at the starting line. My raingear is nice, but I bought it at Goodwill for just this purpose, so I don’t feel too badly about using it and then abandoning it.

I walk a ways to catch the buses out to the start at Hopkinton. Leaving the hotel, it’s surprising how heavy the rain and wind already are; it’s supposed to get worse as the day goes on. I hunker down in my rain gear and trudge into the weather to the buses. My shoes are wet by the time I get on the bus, but there’s no way around wet feet today.

I sit next to a guy from Tokyo. His English skills are equivalent to my Japanese skills, so we communicate using a lot of hand waving and gestures. Both his knees are heavily taped but still he’s out here. Once I saw someone with a crutch on the bus, so I guess a couple of bad knees aren’t such a big problem, especially if you’ve come all the way from Tokyo.

As the bus approaches Hopkinton, we begin to see snow on the ground from last night’s storm. There’s not a lot, just enough to remind us that it’s still plenty cold out there.

At the Athletes’ Village, we await our turn to proceed to the start corrals. The Village is set up on a school play field, and this year it’s a sea of mud and standing water. A couple big tents are set out on the play field, but to get to them you need to wade through the mud. I have a couple of grocery bags for this purpose. I tie one over each foot, and begin to wade. But the tents are completely packed with standing people, and there are piles of slush surrounding the tents, where last night’s snow has slid off the roof. I give up on the tent, wade over to a sanican, and then back to more solid ground next to a school building.

Taking off the grocery bags, I notice that one of them leaked and there’s a good-sized dollop of
mud on top of my shoe. Oh well, the rain will wash it away.

I don’t have to wait long before it’s my turn to head towards the starting line. On the walk to the corrals, I am thinking that I will soon need to take off my set of rain gear, and how cold and wet it will be without it. I’d like to leave it on, but it would be completely impractical to run in. Instead, I pick up a poncho that’s lying discarded in the street and decide that I will put the poncho on when I toss my rain gear before the start. Although the poncho extends well below my knees, I figure I can run in it for a few miles until I get warmed up.

The starting corrals are much less exuberant than usual. Everyone looks serious and quiet, and doing their best to shelter from the wind and rain. There are a lot of people wearing plastic bags and ponchos, space blankets and throwaway jackets. There are also quite a few runners wearing shorts and even singlets. These people look uncomfortably cold and are undoubtedly hoping for warmth once they get up to speed. I am already quite pleased with my newly acquired poncho.

And away we go, into the wind and rain. The first few miles really aren’t that bad, like running in nasty weather at home. It is cold, but I’m reasonably comfortable and am running at the pace I trained for.

 

Charlea insisted I bring a packet of hand warmers along, but I don’t need them and haven’t opened them, so I begin to watch out for a cold-looking volunteer. After a couple miles, I spot a chilled woman with the uninteresting job of guarding a minor side street. I swerve over, say “Here, you need these”, and hand them to her. She looks delighted, and I’m on my way again.

Somewhere past 5 miles, we’re coming into Framingham. I still am wearing the poncho but have decided to pass it on to some soggy spectator once we get into town. But as we approach town, my right calf rapidly tightens up, then feels like something pulls inside. My body consists of a collection of old injuries, but this is a completely new and unexpected one. I pull to the side and try stretching it, but it’s not a cramp and stretching doesn’t do any good. I try running on it, which seems to work if I go easy.

Each step hurts, and I am pretty sure I am going to end up walking this one in- – -only 21 miles to go! At this point I figure my only shot at finishing is to hang onto the poncho; without it I’d rapidly have hypothermia if I had to walk. For now, I will continue to run.

At Framingham, the course changes direction slightly, and at this point the weather seems to gain intensity, both for wind and rain. But now I have another project to work on besides dealing with the weather. With my lame calf, I notice that I am running with a limp. I want to avoid limping because I know that running with a lopsided gait for 20 miles will be bad news for other muscles and joints. By concentrating on every step, I can run in nearly normal form, although it also causes me to be very much aware of my bad leg. At least my leg isn’t getting any worse.

Until mile 12, at which time it tells me it has had just about enough. Walking 14 miles is a whole lot better than walking 21 miles but is still not appealing. I pull over at a first aid tent to see if they have something they can do for my calf. The tent is full to overflowing with dejected, hypothermic runners. I am relegated to the area outside of the tent. One of the volunteers (bless them all!) gets some sort of goo that she smears on my calf. It isn’t a miracle cure and doesn’t really deaden the pain, but at least it keeps it from getting worse. Away I go again.

The rain continues to increase, to the point where parts of the road are flooded. It is risky to run
through the puddles because some of them are shallow and some are deep. A guy next to me is running in a puddle when he hits a deep spot, trips and goes down in the water in full length Superman form. At least he ended up no wetter than he was before he fell.

In the Newton hills, we get the full force of the wind and rain. My poncho tends to wrap around my legs, which makes running more challenging. I resort to gathering the corners of the poncho in my hands to keep it off my legs. This is better on the legs but isn’t so good for the aerodynamics of running into the wind. Parts of the course which I remember as being downhill are now feeling like uphill. While the poncho does have its drawbacks, I notice that there are still plenty of other runners around me wearing similar items.

On Heartbreak Hill, I pass a push rim wheelchair racer who is obviously struggling, but who also
undoubtedly knows that he is nearly done with the difficult uphill sections of the race. I too, am glad to reach the top of Heartbreak and begin the descent into Boston.

Perhaps a half mile into the downhill beyond Heartbreak, I hear a shout behind me. Turning to look over my right shoulder, what should I see but the wheelchair racer flying past me. Literally. He is moving fast, but is on his side, maybe six inches off the ground. It seems that he clipped the runner behind me and is now in the process of crashing.

He hits the pavement just ahead of me, sliding and spinning to a stop. He has a seat belt on so remains in his​ chair. When I come up to him, he is lying there moaning. He has a sodden down coat on, but much of the right sleeve has been eroded by the pavement. You just never know what’ll come out of your mouth, especially at mile 21 of a marathon.

I say, “You’re okay, let’s go!” I grab him by one shoulder and another runner grabs him by the other, and we pick him up and set him back upright. We aim him down the hill, and away we go. Glancing back at the runner that got clipped by the wheelchair, I see that he is still standing but has his hands on his knees. Others stop to tend to him, most likely telling him he’s okay and to get going. Just ignore those broken bones and leaking bodily fluids.

Reaching Brookline, I begin watching for the Citgo sign, a sure indication that you’re getting near the end of the race. Normally you can see the sign from over a mile away, but when I get on the long straight stretch where the Citgo sign should appear, it’s not there. Rain is coming down in buckets now, and the rain is so thick it obscures the sign. The sign finally emerges from the rain. By this time, I realize I can make it to the finish without benefit of the poncho, but then I begin to think of how cold and miserable the finish area can be, and decide to keep the poncho for post-race shelter.

A half mile before the finish, the sides of the road are littered with outer layers that runners have discarded, hoping for that photogenic finish line shot. At this point I toss my soggy fleece gloves and take off the poncho, but instead of tossing it, I wad it up and carry it on across the finish line. The only reason I take it off is so Charlea can spot me, as she would likely miss me disguised in an unfamiliar poncho.

Immediately upon finishing, I put my poncho back on, and it feels good. A few minutes into the finish line chutes, volunteers hand out nice hooded cloaks, and I put mine on right over the poncho. The gear check area is a mass of confusion and it looks like retrieving your gear check bag is going to take a while.

I have no time for standing around and getting cold, so I abandon my gear check bag (until the following day) and wade back to my hotel.

 

I arrive at the room just a few minutes after Charlea returns from a full day of spectating. We compare stories to see if spectating or running was more of an ordeal on this particular day, then I take a long, hot shower and we head out for a hamburger and a beer.

Yes, the wheelchair racer did finish the race. And yes, I did take off the poncho before getting in the
shower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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