Tuesday, April 17, 2012

too hot to handle -- 2012 boston marathon race report

my finish line
after months of training highs- the most miles i've ever run, the best training season i've ever had, i was pretty excited to see how i'd do at the boston marathon. i've never been so fit and so ready. i didn't expect a PR - just wanted to run a good, solid race and finish strong.

the build-up
we arrived in boston and had a blast touring the course, shopping the expo and hanging out with my husband and  my friend e, who had flown to chicago last fall to run by my side and taught me about having fun along a race course. (pix down below).

performance anxiety and frustration
as the weather reports came in, my anxiety increased. i am not a warm weather runner, so when the forecast for marathon monday was 87F, my heart sunk. the average training temp for me during a very mild winter was 30F. at that time, i knew that running a solid race may not be possible but my goal remained to finish strong. i began to hydrate with electrolytes. i cried as well -- so frustrating because i had come to run a good, solid race and after last year where i fell apart - mind and body, i really wanted the confidence of a race well run. 

the warnings
the afternoon before the race, the boston marathon association sent the following email.

Update to Entrants in Tomorrow's Boston Marathon®
Sunday, April 15, 2012 as of 4:30 p.m.

Running any marathon involves risks
  • The weather conditions that we will be seeing on Monday, April 16 will involve even more risk.  It will involve an increased element of risk to all participants due to the heat.  Only the fittest runners should consider participating.
  • We have put in place a broad array of services and support for our marathon participants, but the risks that will be presented on April 16 will be higher than normal.
  • Therefore, in cooperation with the Boston Marathon's Medical Team, it is our recommendation that anyone entered in the marathon who has not met the qualifying standards for their age and gender strongly consider not running, and that they strongly consider deferring until next year.
  • Another essential factor to take into consideration is whether you have ever run a full marathon in weather conditions involving hot temperatures-and that can mean temperatures even lower than those that may be present on Monday.  Do NOT assume that any experience you have in running a cooler marathon will be a reliable guide in making the decision in whether to participate or defer.  You must factor in the heat.
  • Everyone who does choose to participate should strongly consider running significantly more slowly that they normally would plan to run a marathon.  We have extended the opening of our finish line in support of this recommendation.
  • For the overwhelming majority of those who have entered to participate in the 2012 Boston Marathon, you should adopt the attitude that THIS IS NOT A RACE. It is an experience.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY-everyone needs to take responsibility for their own safety.  Ultimately this is an individual sport in which individuals must take responsibility for themselves.
Boston Athletic Association 
Advisory From Boston Marathon MEDICAL DIRECTORS to Entrants in the 2012 Boston Marathon
Sunday, April 15, 2012 as of 4:30 p.m.

The weather situation continues to be a significant concern for Boston Marathoners. We have determined that the race will occur in a "red zone" which is considered an increased risk but acceptable for high-level elite runners.  However, it is not considered safe for unfit and novice runners.

We strongly recommend that unless you have met qualifying times for this race that you accept the deferment option from the B.A.A.

Anyone who has not run a qualifying time should also very strongly consider the deferment option.

Again, if you have any medical problems or if you under-trained, then please do not run this marathon.

Those who are running the race should run much slower, adding several minutes to your per mile pace.

Also important, please be sure to complete the emergency medical contact information on the reverse side of your bib.

Remember, unless you are acclimated to the weather conditions forecast for Monday, you should not run.

For those very fit athletes who decide to run, you should take significant precautions:

  • Run at a slower pace and maintain hydration.
  • You should frequently take breaks by walking instead of running.
  • Heat stroke is a serious issue and is related to intensity of running as well as the heat and humidity.
  • Good hydration is important but over hydration is also dangerous.
Thirst is an indication that you are under-hydrated. You should maintain hydration levels slightly greater than your hydration program in your training, but not excessively so.  Over-hydration can cause severely low sodium, known as hyponatremia.

Even the fittest athletes that take precautions can still suffer serious heat illness. Recognizing symptoms of heat illness in yourself and others is critical. This may include headaches, dizziness, confusion, fatigue, nausea and vomiting. If you experience any of these, stop running immediately and if symptoms persist seek medical attention.

Boston Marathon Co-Medical Directors, Dr. Pierre d'Hemecourt and Dr. Sophia Dyer

slow is good
i decided to run the race slow and steady and to just relax. it wasn't going to be a spectacular time, but it is an incredible experience so i should cherish it. on the morning of the race, i went off to athlete's village w e, and we had a good time. i kept drinking a mix of electrolytes with water. i had bought sponges and stuffed one in my hat and in my top to stay cool during the race. 

the first 3 miles
the first 5k were ok. i could definitely feel the heat. i began at a moderate pace and i was hopeful if i stayed steady that i'd get used to the heat and pick it up slowly towards the end...and if not, it was ok too. so i was bouncing along, pretty content for a while, and then i started feeling nauseous. i've battled nausea while running before so i thought it was still nerves and it would shake out as my body got used to running.

miles 3-4.5
the nausea led to some dry-heaving and i walked for a bit. i went back on the course and ran. it happened again and i walked some more. then around mile 4 i started feeling weird. just a bit light-headed. at the water stop, i drank a sip of water and it came right back up at me, and more. i stood to the side and tried it again, and this time, threw up even more. i wasn't really thinking so clearly so i tried to run and start to feel dizzy. a fireman was standing there and asked if i was ok. i wasn't. 

my limit
after that, the medics went to work. there wasn't a first aid station nearby so they iced me down and poured a ton of water on me. when they took my heart rate and blood pressure, both were very high, after being iced down for 10 minutes. i sat there and eventually felt better. they said at that point,  i could go by ambulance to have an iv at a hospital or go to the first aid tent and have a drive to the finish. i opted for the latter. but, there was only one way of getting to the first aid tent. i had to walk back .9 miles because there was no one who could take me there any other way. 

i began to walk and it was fine for awhile. at some point, near the last water station, i started feeling faint. volunteers noticed and called a policeman to take me to the first aid tent. i was then put into a medic bus. after about half an hour of other people being brought there and loaded on, we left to go join the main bus taking us downtown. we were there for about an hour waiting but by now i was shivering from the wet clothes and air conditioning so i didn't mind waiting in the sun. 

when i finally arrived at the medical tent at the finish line, i was feeling alright. went inside, had a quick check up and was released to go- i didn't want to stay there - they had iv bags strung on a rope across the entire length of the tent and it was packed full of people....i couldn't find my husband and e and after 30 minutes of wandering in the hot sun, i started getting dizzy again. back to the tent i went and was iced down again and given broth when i was steady enough to go. they had much worse people to look after than me. the tent was full at that point and people were being brought in by the busload. the man lying on the cot beside me fainted, stiffened up and shook all over - it looked like a seizure but i wouldn't know. not a fun scene.

alls well that ends well
well, i didn't have any further incidents. i have a headache now even 24 hours later but it's ok. i did the only thing i could have. i'd like to do a full marathon next month and see no reason to let my winter training go to waste. i had a rough night of regret and frustration but at the end of the day, i walked out of that tent in far better shape than if i'd tried to run more on that course. i couldn't have guessed that i'd get heat stroke so quickly but i did. it's time to move on and find the next challenge and the next triumph. i have loads of people to support me and i am so grateful for their tweets, texts and notes yesterday when i dropped off the grid. thankfully i'm back and i'll be good to go very soon. oh yeah-i have new some funny stories as well about sitting in the back of the sag wagon.(and yeah, i know that sag wagon is a cyclist term, but whatever...)

i won't stay down
Failure is the topic of episode 5 of Run World Radio (download free from iTunes>podcasts>Run World Radio - or listen on player on side nav bar above). i spoke about my chicago experience but turned the paradigm of failure to one of success-in the end. now, i can't dwell on this single race as an achievement i failed at. stuff happened. now i have to move on. ironically, the quote i use in the intro of the podcast, gave me strength this morning....here it is...from Mary Pickford, a kickass Canadian woman -- " Supposing you have tried and failed again and again. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call "failure" is not the falling down, but the staying down.

some fun pix
at the start line on saturday
at the base of heart break hill

a note left on our car while we were having dinner

e trying to get me to buy indecent bootay shorts

reunited w my twin
bib, shirt and packet all picked up

e loves her stick

athlete's village

i love athlete's village. so many gorgeous people and a great atmosphere

my banana and i in athlete's village

the sag wagon- of the 15 ppl in there then, 4 were canadian, and one was irish. one was an IM from venice beach, ca.


  1. I'm SO sorry it didn't work out for you, but I'm really glad you're ok. It could have been SO much worse. Very smart of you to notice the problem early. Love you!

  2. Damn! Keep your head up. You will be back for revenge on this one!

  3. I am sorry you didn't get to finish (really sorry) but I really appreciate the detail you shared, and the fact that you paid attention to your body's warning signs. I know nothing can replace the exact experience you WANTED yesterday but I can tell you're determined to kick this distance's butt again in the future. We'll all be tweeting away in support!!

  4. I am glad you are ok.. heat stoke is scary shit. Loved the pics. xoxoxoxo

  5. I'm sorry it didn't work, but very glad they took care of you so you can race again one day.

  6. Glad you didn't risk going further. You are so powerful you will come back stronger.

  7. Bummer. Heat is NO JOKE and you didn't have a chance as one who trained in winter temps. Even after several months of hot and humid summer acclimation, runners still get into heat trouble. It's very serious because as it happens, sometimes you don't realize because your mind goes to mush too.
    We ran a 50 miler 2 days before in mere mid-70s weather and runners were feeling it, and that was in mostly shady woods along a stream.
    SO GLAD you are going to be ok. You'll kick ass on your next one. That training is in your legs and ready to be unleashed!

  8. You're one of the baddest, most kickass runners I "know" - but we're all human. You will run another marathon, and soon, and the air will be crisp with not a trace of humidity, with a gentle breeze and you will run, run, run and it will be wonderful. XO

  9. Yesterday was absolutely horrid here -- so bummed to hear about you getting sick, but happy to hear you didn't push yourself further and do any more damage.

    I hope you are feeling better soon -- you'll be back stronger for the next race!

    (So sorry if this is a duplicate comment!)

  10. I;m grateful for the grace and wisdom you demonstrated in

    Those 2 simple actions say more about you than anything else!

  11. I'm glad your OK ...... keep up the good work! You'll get it!

  12. While happy to read you are ok, I am so sorry it turned out like this. The heat is not to be joked with and terrifies me that my race day may be like this.
    Rest up, heal up and move on.

  13. As it has been said...and will likely be said again, glad you are okay.
    For having had a similar experience in 2006, I can tell you that planning another one in the near future is the best approach. Ran a PB 4 weeks later. You have done the training and the weather was out of your control; regroup and go kick some ass at the next one!

  14. I'm sorry you didn't finish, but glad that you made it out uninjured. You can never predict how you'll react to these heat events. You did the smart thing by taking the aid. Looking forward to reading about you coming back to kick its butt next year. ;)

  15. you're awesome and you WILL have your day. hugs to you.

  16. Very sorry to hear that Boston did not work out for you. It didn't for me, either. I ran my worst marathon ever and started walking at mile 7, but I am safe and well like you. In my mind that is an accomplishment. When you are that in tune with your body that you know when to stop and how to run, you are doing the right thing. And that is really the only thing that matters, doesn't it? You and "I will be back." (Yeah, I got the right accent to make this sound authentic.)

  17. you survived to race another day...and that is ALL that matters, really. sign up for another mary asap...and don't let all that early year running to to waste. cheers.


  18. I'm so glad you're OK!

    Wow! Not the kind of adventure any of is looking for! You're one of many that though more than ready for the 'usual' Boston experience got hit with more than what they bargained for :-(

    I spent much of the day mad at elitists and the ignorant making light of an @ 90 degree marathon, in APRIL in Boston, without acclimation, for most. I'm even angrier, after reading your report! It sounds like you were in very real danger.

    I'm glad things worked out so that you got to write this! Honestly I hope I never have a similar experience AND after having read this I wouldn't attempt an endurance event under those conditions...I choose to take advantage of YOUR experience!

    I hope you bounce back from this adventure more determined than ever.