Boston 2018: Her Grueling Journey to the Finish

Sleet wouldn’t stop her. Heather Schulz recounts her 10th Boston + 34th marathon.

| By Heather Schulz |
Just keep going, get to the finish, please body don’t fail me!
Boston marathon is one of my all time favorites marathons! The spirit of the city, the amazing spectators, the challenging yet awesome course!
I didn’t always feel that way!
I ran my first Boston in 2005. I didn’t have the best experience! I thought the course was so difficult (but really I was undertrained) and I suffered from the half to the finish! I swore that was the last time I would run it!
Well, Several years later (2009), one of my good friends qualified and she convinced me to go back to share her first Boston. I reluctantly agreed, and said to myself I would train but just go have fun! I actually did train much harder and I ended up having a great race and surprised myself with a 3:10! I was hooked!
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That race started my love for Boston! After, I would go back in 2011 and every year consecutively since! My last eight Bostons I have ran in 3:10 or under, and the last four out of five years, I’ve run a sub 3 hours.
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Then came Boston 2018! 3:29My slowest time in 10 years!
What happened? Here you go…
Well everyone knows Boston weather can be very unpredictable. Each year we hope and pray for chilly temps, low humidity, and calm winds. Boston in my previous marathons has brought temps in the 80s, which is quite dangerous, and also temps in the 30s, which can be OK if it’s not raining and windy.
Well that brings us to this year! The epic weather event that had every runner glued to the weather station and making last minute wardrobe decisions. I don’t think anyone really knew just how bad it was going to be!
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2017 vs. 2018. This year’s weather took a toll.

Race Morning

I’m scoping out the radar and for once the forecast has not changed all week and it was still showing that we were going to get some heavy rain/wind etc.
Since I ran Boston in 2015 (similar forecast I thought) and I ran well (2:55), I figured I would be fine. (First mistake.)
I had my throw away clothes on from Goodwill, a poncho and my $1 store umbrella that I wouldn’t mind leaving behind at the start. I walk outside — it’s freezing, windy (28 degree windchill) and raining.
Thankfully my hotel is only a block away from gear check. I went to gear check and I’m looking around and just couldn’t believe how many people were already soaked. I drop off my stuff at the gear check and headed to the buses.
It’s pouring rain as I stand in the security line to get on the bus. Those without umbrellas were drenched! I couldn’t help but feel lucky I had my umbrella. I get through security and make my way to the bus for the hour-long ride to Hopkinton.
On the bus, there was a lot of nervous chatter about the weather and what we were getting ready to face. As we get closer to Hopkinton, I see snow on the ground in some areas. Not gonna lie, this was a first and it was making this Florida girl nervous. I started questioning my attire and was just hoping at least the rain would get lighter.

Pre Race

The buses pull up to athletes village. It’s pouring. 
At this point, I’m just so thankful for my $1 umbrella. LOL. It was like a 5 minute walk to the village, where I was looking forward to some relief from the rain.
We get to the village to find that it’s a complete mud fest — no relief! In some areas the mud is ankle deep! For once, there were no lines for the bathrooms because no one wanted to stand in the rain. I tried to tip-toe through the mud, to get to the tent, thinking there would be less mud under there.
Wrong! It was muddy everywhere! My shoes by now soaked are covered in mud! Thankfully I brought extra shoes and socks in a bag that I planned to change in to. Best decision ever.

Start

Wave one is called! I had already made my way out of athletes village and was staying dry with some friends at a house near the starting line. I changed my shoes and made my way towards the starting line.
Well it’s 10 minutes to start and the entrance I tried to use was not for runners, the security guy wouldn’t let me in and said the runners entrance was a few blocks over!
What? I thought I was going to be late! As I’m running my unplanned 1/2 mile warm up, I hear them singing the national anthem! Im thinking please don’t close my corral!
Yay! Although I’m a little out of breath, I made it!
Ready for the start and in my corral, I look around and everyone had ponchos/waterproof jackets and hats (Oops, I had a poncho, but no hat.) I was still confident I would be fine once I got warmed up. The race starts!

Mile 1-6

The best miles of the race, there was a slight drizzle, the wind had let up, and I was so excited to be running my 10th Boston!
Around 2 miles I threw off my poncho, around 4, I threw off my jacket. Only thing left was my throw away shirt. I was excited to be getting warmed up after being so cold!
That comfort was short lived! It wasn’t too long after that it started raining. I had worked so hard to keep my feet dry, but there were puddles everywhere and before long my feet were drenched!
I had cotton gloves on, (second mistake) and in one hand I had a small bag with gu-s and I had that hand in a gallon plastic bag to keep dry (last minute decision). This made getting my hand free to grab water difficult. By the end of 6 miles I was soaked except for my right hand, and I had missed a water stop or two! I was still on 6:45 average pace.

Mile 7-11

Still keeping the pace in the 6:40-50s, it’s raining harder. I still feel good, and I’m still optimistic that a sub 3 is possible.
By mile 11, the wind is picking up and it’s raining harder. I’m starting to get cold. I never took off my throw away shirt, and I’m thinking I should have kept my poncho.
My 11th mile dropped to a 7:09. I’m thinking OK, I’ll keep this pace and be happy with a 3:10. I was trying to stay positive even though I was starting to feel the effects of the cold.

Mile 12-16

Feeling cold but still strong, I try to distract myself by looking around and appreciating where I am.
As I near Wellesley College, I hear the screams of the ladies drawing near! That momentarily took my mind off everything! I felt some adrenaline rush through me and felt a little pep in my step! I watched guys stop and get kisses and watched as the photographers were trying to capture that perfect moment.
The joy was short lived. LOL.
Down hill I go and I’m nearing the halfway point. I hit the half marathon at about 1:30 and some change, a few minutes off my original goal!
The next 2 miles the rain and wind really picked up, but I was able to maintain my pace thanks to some downhill. I’m still pretty cold, but I’ve managed to keep my right hand somewhat dry in the gallon sized bag (also holding my gu-s). At 15, a friend of mine was waiting for me with some pickle juice. I was starting to feel weak so I was hoping it would help! Mile 16 I ran 7:07.

Mile 17-20

Cold was setting in.
My feet were numb, my sports bra and throw-away shirt that I kept on — soaked, my hair — soaked. It was a constant down pour now, with even a little sleet. The wind gusts were relentless.
My 17th mile was 7:57. That is over a minute slower than goal pace and the worst was yet to come! I made the decision right then to not look at my watch anymore. I just had to go. I had 8 miles left, and I knew it wasn’t going to get easier.
Mile 18 — a tough hill, but I got through it. Mile 19 was my last mile in the 7s… Mile 20, I’m getting out a gu from my bag and boom I drop the entire bag.
I didn’t go back, I just kept running… I did manage to hold on to a gel. My only dry hand now exposed and about to get soaked and frozen. Mile 20 — 8:24.

Mile 21-23

Heartbreak Hill!💔
My heart was already broken and my body already frozen.
I muscled up Heartbreak and didn’t dare look at how slow I was going. The gusts of wind are still coming at us, the rain was blinding!
Words of encouragement from those blowing by me helped my spirit. It’s all down hill after this, right?
Ha! Mile 22, my legs were numb, and they actually hurt from the numbness. The wind and rain were relentless and I couldn’t help but shed a few tears and ask “Why?”
I felt like I was in a video game and someone was trying to kill me. My pace had slowed even more (I felt it) and I was feeling lightheaded.
I was passed by some angels, one offered me their hat, another slowed for a while to see if I was OK…
I wasn’t OK… but I was still upright and I had to finish.
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Mile 23-Finish

Quite honestly this is a blur.
I remember wind and rain in my face, I remember looking up to the heavens and saying, “Please stop!”
I remember walking for the first time of my life in a race. I remember being so numb it made me cry. I passed medical tents knowing if I went in I wouldn’t come out, and I was not going to DNF (did not finish) my 10th Boston.
Mile 23 and 24, 10:0610:58 😱!
I remember being hungry and grabbing a banana from a spectator and gobbling it up! I’ve never done that! I remember the Citgo sign and the turn onto Hereford, but it didn’t bring the normal joy.
I was hanging on for dear life that I didn’t collapse from being frozen before the finish. It hurt to run, but it hurt to walk.
I see the finish and I knew I was going to make it even if I had to crawl. I made it.

The Finish

It’s not over!
As soon as my body crossed the finish, it froze up even more. My teeth were chattering, my body shaking. It seemed like I was walking forever…
I see the people giving out the the medals. I dip my head to get the medal and I almost fall over. A medical personnel lady immediately walked up and ask if i was OK. Right behind her was a guy with a wheel chair.
I said I was fine. I slowly kept walking, I tried to squeeze out a pathetic smile for the photographer. I finally got to the Mylar blankets. They we’re putting one on me and I couldn’t keep my balance. I was dizzy, frozen and shivering uncontrollably.
The lady said, “Please come to the medical tent, you are showing signs of hypothermia!” The guy with the wheel chair came closer.
I said, “No”… I lied and said I needed to get my phone (and dry clothes) to tell family I was OK. She followed me to gear check where the line was like 20 deep.
I was by now crying because I was so cold. Some nice man put his arms around me and held me close. I don’t remember his face, but his kind embrace helped keep me warm and I was so grateful.
Being in rough shape, people kindly expedited me up to the front. After getting my stuff, I was encouraged to go back to medical. I declined but agreed to put on dry clothes right there in the gear tent. I thanked the lady for her help and hobbled still shivering back to my hotel.
The block I had to walk to the hotel seemed like an eternity. As I walked through the hotel lobby, I realized again I wasn’t suffering alone. Everyone looked like they had just been through a war. We had all just finished a marathon, yet no one was smiling.
I made my way to the elevator, and to my room. I spent the next half hour sitting in a hot shower trying to unthaw. My fingers felt achy for several hours, but as for the rest of me, once I got warmed up, I was OK!
Boston…. you were tough. But guess what? I was tougher!
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I learned more about myself from this race than any other. I learned to take Mother Nature very seriously and to heed to the cautions of the race directors. (Wearing something waterproof could have saved me.) I learned I could run some what unconscious (not sure that’s a good thing). There are miles I really don’t remember!
I learned that my passion for this sport is stronger than any storm! ❤
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I also learned we are not defined by our race times, but by who we are on the inside as a runner. Everyone who crossed that finish line on April 16, 2018 is a true champion!
Boston 2019, get ready… I’m coming for you! 💙💛
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Heather’s favorite place to train is in Clermont! Here, she’s on the Clay Loop.

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 7.58.43 AMHeather Schulz, of Team Track Shack, has run competitively for almost 30 years. The coach, mother and Orlando native favors training and competing in Clermont. Follow her on Instagram, @heatherunz

 

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