Reflecting on a Marathon in Record Heat
Milford runners slowed down, swallowed salt tablets and even stuffed a water-soaked sponge in a jog bra to make it to the end of a sweltering Boston Marathon.
Running in a hot marathon requires a change in strategy, and many Boston Marathon runners did an about-face.
Runners who had hoped to beat a previous time record held back this time. Others walked a portion of the 26.2-mile distance. And everyone took extra steps to try to stay cool. The marathon on Monday was run in full sun and temperatures that reached 87 degrees.
Kim Austin, a first-time marathoner, hates to wear hats but bought a lightweight running cap for the marathon. She slowed her pace and decided to enjoy the race rather than try for a finish time. In the end, she finished a few seconds over five hours, about an hour longer than she had expected two weeks ago.
Austin, at one point, took a sponge from a sideline supporter and stuffed it down the back of her jog bra, pouring water over it at the stops and squeezing it when she needed to cool down. The heat was oppressive, but physically she felt pretty good, Austin said.
Watching other runners flopping over, or collapsing, was unsettling. By Massachusetts Avenue, she said, it was a common sight. "There were people dropping like flies," she said. "It was crazy."
John Dumont, 50, kept up his racing pace for about half of the marathon, and then decided to pull back, thinking it was better to finish it safely. He finished the run in a little under four hours, about a half-hour longer than he had expected when training.
By Mile 10, he saw runners from the first wave walking. These are runners whose qualifying times in previous marathons put them at the front of the 22,000 pack.
Despite the slower pace, the heat still dehydrated him, Dumont said, and he stopped into a hospital emergency room after he finished to get some help.
The race was an experience in long-distance heat.
"I felt like I was wilting like a flower," he said.
Ken Poole, 71, a veteran marathoner, kept his usual pace until about the half-marathon point, and then pulled back. "The heat came bearing down," he said. "And it just kept getting worse." He finished the race in 4:31:37, about a half-hour longer than he normally expects.
"The thing that saved me was I had taken a packet of salt with me," he said. He downed it with some water and started to feel better around the Boston College area of Newton. The race was challenging, he said, but like many runners who trained for it, Poole said he never considered a deferral until next year.
And his effort paid off: in his age group of 70 to 74, Poole came in 12th, and first among Massachusetts runners.
Coleen Greco, who ran a first marathon, had trouble from Mile 5 due to blistering in one of her feet. She also had asthma, possibly exacerbated by the heat. She had to alternate walking and running, starting in Framingham. This added about two hours to the time she had expected.
She certainly wasn't alone. By Mile 5, she said, "The medical tents were full."
And she wasn't going to stop for blistering. At Mile 10, her husband who was waiting for her, saw she was having trouble, so jumped in as a bandit to run the race with her.
By Mile 16, she wanted to sit down. "I couldn't catch my breath," she said. Her husband helped motivate her to keep moving, if more slowly.
The couple finished in a little under seven hours.
"Slow and steady wins the race, so to speak," she said. "I've always been really good about listening to my body." She kept hydrated and didn't feel out of energy, but the conditions were difficult.
Near the finish, she was rewarded with cheering from Uta Pippig, who won the marathon in 1994, 1995 and 1996. Greco had met her at the start, and Pippig recognized her as she was approaching the finish.
"She came up and hugged me," Greco said.