By Faith Briggs
Photos by Sam Ayide
Twenty-six point two miles of historically horrific weather conditions faced the 30,000 runners headed to Hopkinton on the morning of April sixteenth. This was the first victory of the day: making it to the start line - rain-soaked and freezing before the race had even begun. In the hours to come, each foot placed in front of the other was a victory. The 122nd Boston Marathon will be fodder for dinner table recollections, the trump card in running stories and the worst and best memories to be called upon for the rest of the lives of those who undertook it. In short, it was a miserable day. The rain was relentless and determined. The runners were too.
For the third year in a row, I watched the race from the top of Heartbreak Hill, the final climb in the course, with the cheer squad from Black Roses NYC and members of beloved run crews like Parkdale Road Runners, LDN Brunch Club, Track Mafia and our friends from District Vision. While we normally look like the rowdy barbecue at the tailgate that everyone wants to join, this year we were huddled together in ponchos with trash bags covering cameras and bodies. At one point I looked over to see Mari Di Monte, barely able to move her arms in a too tight trash bag, laughing uncontrollably over the situation: “I paid to be here, I traveled and took off work to come stand in the rain in a trash bag!”
My thoughts looking around: “This is what love looks like.” But that’s enough about us.
The race was underway and we began ringing cowbells and yelling in awe of the bravery that we witnessed. First came the wheelchair racers, hands slipping off of wheels in the constant stream of water, faces directly exposed to the torrential rains, pushing themselves up the unforgiving gradient. Sheer grit.
The front pack of the elite women came next, with Desi Linden running strong in 3rd place, slightly ahead of hometown favorite Shalane Flanagan. The runners battled through, eyes squinting to see, still bundled in hats and wearing windbreakers and gloves, unheard of marathon attire. Linden would soon become the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years.
Then the male lead pack approached (elite men start 20 minutes after elite women). At that point, Geoffrey Kirui was in the lead, and no one else was even visible, we were dumbfounded. Even more so when we heard that Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi had made up the difference to win the race, becoming the first Japanese male to win Boston since 1987.
Twenty miles in, ponchos flying, the race unfolded. The pack thickened and the emotion on faces was best described, also by Mari, as “pure opera.” It was beautiful and heartbreaking, I felt tears spring to my eyes consistently as I watched the runners push through, walking, running, dragging, pushing, willing themselves to continue on. Teammates passed and in post-race comments said they could barely even see us, somehow the Maurten bottles we were passing out seemed to appear from thin air. Tunnel vision, they said. “I felt blind, except I couldn’t feel anything.”
Over 2800 athletes received medical help throughout the race. Trackers weren’t moving, runners blacking out from hypothermia had to be pulled from the race by officials. From all around the world people watched in wonder as so many pushed through. Many fast runners stripped down too early and pushed their bodies to limits they could have sustained in other conditions, but even the elites knew they had to adjust expectations. People had to pace in order to finish and the winning times were historically slow. One teammate looked at her hands hours later and discovered her skin had turned grey in multiple places. For some, the weather won, bodies broke down in spite of will and ability. As Danni McNeilly mentioned in a recent interview referring to the day of any race: “lack of performance does not indicate lack of ability.” That said, Danni had an incredible race herself. #wakandaforever
Congratulations to those who chased the unicorn on Monday, we’re still speechless at the power of your accomplishment!