"Out of all of my marathons, that was my worst finish time by far. But it is definitely the medal that I am most proud of."
~ William Greer
This past Monday I ran my seventh Boston Marathon. The weekend on the whole has always been pretty epic and this one was no different. But this time around the actual marathon itself was like no other race experience that I've had to date. Ever. As you may already know, for the past two years I've had the privilege of running as a guide for a visually impaired athlete and as a member of Team With A Vision and I was very excited to be doing the same again this year. Back in March, I learned that I was paired up with William Greer who would be coming in from Texas. It would be his nineteenth marathon and his second Boston, his last one back in 2013. He didn't arrive in Boston until Friday which meant I wouldn't get to meet him in person or do a practice run with him until Saturday. I was definitely a little nervous about the fact that we didn't have more time together before the race but there was clearly nothing we could do about it. When I touched base with him on Friday afternoon he let me know that he normally got up at 4:30am and that he'd be happy to meet up with me any time after that. I'm all for early, but not even I can get going at 3:30am. So, I suggested we meet at 6:30 which meant I needed to be out my door by 6:00; still early but a bit more manageable. Saturday was a gorgeous morning, sunny and relatively warm by New England standards, and driving in got me instantly fired up for all that lay ahead. William met me in the lobby of his hotel and shortly after we got going for an easy shakeout. The BAA 5K, which I typically do but would be skipping this year, was taking place later that morning and the city was already buzzing with people so we made our way toward the river and then out in the opposite direction of the race.
A little backstory on William here. When he was in high school he was hit by a car while riding his bicycle. He had an open skull wound that took most of his vision and some of his short term memory. Basically, he had to re-learn how to do almost everything, which, when you think about it, is pretty incredible, both that he made it back to where he is now and that he's running marathons on top of that. He sees enough that he doesn't need to be tethered to his guide when he runs though I did have to stay to the left as he has no peripheral vision on his right side. We cruised comfortably, getting to know each other and discussing our game plan. I asked a lot of questions to make sure I knew how he specifically needed help and by the time we finished our run I was feeling cautiously optimistic.
After saying our goodbyes I headed back out for a few more miles, finishing over at the Boston Common where the 5K was taking place. I was a little sad not to be participating but, from a running perspective, I've had a pretty intense spring with a weird calf injury and some heavy duty training and racing and I felt I needed to save all my energy for Monday rather push myself in a 5K and risk something happening that would prevent me from guiding. I met up with my Oiselle teammates who were cheering and cowbelling their faces off and had a little love fest with that crew before making my way back over to my car.
From Boston I busted a move over to Lexington to catch my younger daughter's soccer game (they won) and then we grabbed some lunch and headed home to Winchester. We only had a couple hours before Jeff and I would be going back into the city for the Team With A Vision 25th Anniversary dinner. It was a pretty special night as they were celebrating their 25th birthday with all of those who have gotten involved through the years; the runners, the guides and anyone who has been a part of the team or the organization as a whole. Not only were we going to meet up with William but I also got to see Joyce Cron who I had the pleasure of guiding the last two years. I haven't seen her in too long so I was more than thrilled to give her a hug and to catch up with her and her husband.
TWAV RUNNERS & GUIDES
Having left our girls at home solo, Jeff and I scooted out before the evening was over. Not that we don't trust Rosie and Grace, but you never know, particularly when Rosie is in charge of dinner. We got back around 9pm and I zipped up to bed as we had to be up early the next morning for a gymnastics meet. Never a dull moment in the Trachsel household. The meet was over by 10am after which I rushed straight to the grocery store to get some last minute items in preparation for the Oiselle team dinner that I was having later that afternoon. I had about 40 people coming in for it but this was my fourth time hosting this event and I've got the logistics down to a science so my stress level was under control. I was a little worried about how tired I was feeling and was trying to sit or rest whenever possible, but there wasn't as much time for that as I would have liked. There never is. Everyone started showing up for dinner around 5pm; racers, spectators, family, friends and we dove right into dinner as most of us had a big day ahead of us and needed to eat and dash.
It was such a fun night, exactly what I needed to take the edge off and so awesome to hang with old friends and meet new ones. The major topic of conversation was the weather for race day which was looking really grim. We threw out ideas on what to wear, how to layer up and suggested additional items that could be useful (ie. latex gloves, hand warmers and trash bags); all of us taking notes and figuring out how to get our hands on these extra items. Thankfully, my dear friend Rebecca S-M brought a box of latex gloves which we all helped ourselves to. Yes, it was going to be that bad. Everyone was out by 8pm and I made my way upstairs shortly afterwards. I got everything ready to go, said goodnight to my family and passed out within about 2 minutes.
I was up at 6:00 on Monday morning and the rain was already coming down steadily. Kirsten, who was also guiding with TWAV, and her husband Joe were scooping me up at 7:30 for a ride to Hopkinton. I remember thinking that it didn't look too bad as we drove out. It was grey and drizzly but not horrendous. I also remember thinking that perhaps it wouldn't be as bad as they'd predicted. At least I had that one little moment of optimism before the shit hit the fan. We had to walk about a mile to the Vision Center where we would be waiting with our runners before the race started. The center is a tiny, two-story house which in years past has been all that we needed as there was enough space out back to chill in the yard or on the porch. This year, though, all 100+ of us were packed inside like sardines. It was hot as hell and total chaos. My outer layers were soaked by the time I got inside so I laid them out to dry (they didn't) as I changed and got ready in my race clothes. In addition to my shorts and singlet, I'd be wearing the latex gloves, wool gloves, arm warmers, hand warmers, compression socks, a rain coat and a trash bag. I figured I'd start with more layers and could always ditch things along the way. For the record, I ditched nothing.
William and I went outside and took a quick photo before our final preparations. I was nervous but also really pumped. William told me he was nervous, too, but he seemed calm and collected and ready to go. We were in Wave 2, which began at 10:50 so we left the house about 10 minutes before that and William did some dynamic stretching as we walked over to our corral. As I mentioned, he doesn't use a tether to run, but given how bad the weather was and how crowded the scene was, I asked if I could guide him by his arm to the start which he happily agreed to. At one point I told him to look out as there was a giant puddle in front of us. I thought it would be good to try and avoid them for as long as possible. We would realize within the first 10 steps of the race that the puddles were everywhere most of them huge and all of them totally unavoidable. We found Coral 8, stepped inside and immediately began our slow trek to the start. This was it. Go time.
Again, this wasn't William's first rodeo, so he knew exactly what he was getting into. Or, at least, he thought he did. And at the time, I did, too. Our plan was to take it nice and easy for the first half of the race holding steady around a 9 minute pace and then to pick it up for the second half if all was going well. The rain was coming down hard now and the wind was starting to pick up. It was nasty. But, we were okay. I told him to let me know how the pace felt as we got moving, and to tell me if and when he needed fluids along the way or anything else, for that matter, which he agreed to. A few miles in he told me that he was having a little trouble breathing, most likely because of the weather. I'm sorry he said. It'll probably be a little boring for a while. But, the rain is making it hard for me to do anything beyond focus on my running. I told him not to worry that I was fine to just cruise along and get us to the finish. As we ran, the rain and wind got worse and the temperature dropped. It was getting a little ridiculous. At one point, William apologized for complaining. I laughed and told him to vent away as he had every right to do it given our situation. About halfway through the race one of the safety pins on his bib popped open and we had to stop and try to re-attach it. I took off both pairs of my gloves and tried to get it re-hooked but I found that I couldn't move my hands. Like, at all. I tried multiple times but they just wouldn't go. A policeman saw us and asked if everything was okay. I told him what was going on and asked if he could give it a try. Thankfully, he was able to get it done. Oh my Lordy, the relief. I wanted to hug him. I didn't. But, I probably should have. We got going again and continued our battle, which it now was. Every single mile was a small victory. Our pace was still right around 9 minutes but the weather was just getting worse and worse and by the time we got to the hills, William decided he needed to take a break. His strategy was to walk 100 steps and then jog 100 steps on and off for as long as he needed to. He let me know that doing it this way would trick his legs into thinking they had more in them than they actually did. Whatever works I said. We did this through the hills, sometimes changing it to 400 running and then 100 or even 50 walking depending on how he was feeling. He apologized, tell me that he was just really, really tired and was struggling to muster up the energy to keep at it. I told him not to think twice about it, that the weather was throwing a monkey wrench into all of our plans and that we were now in survival mode. If I have to crawl to the finish line, I'm going to get there he told me. I didn't doubt it. But, at this point I was crying a little inside as I haven't been more cold and/or wet for as long as I can remember. It was truly awful and no words do it justice. I was now in head down, arms tucked in, feet shuffling, robot mode. When William walked, I would sort of jog in place along with him, holding my arms in close to my chest like a T-Rex, basically doing whatever I could to stay warm. After we got through the hills, I thought to myself that it couldn't possibly get any worse. Then the rain started coming down so hard it almost felt like hail. The drops were huge and heavy and the wind was now swirling from what felt like every direction. The volunteers at the waters stations were singing, dancing and laughing out loud. We were all going a little crazy. The whole scene was beyond nuts.
William continued his walk/jog strategy through the final 10K. He apologized again, this time because he felt bad about our pace. I told him to stop worrying about it. That we were all in the same boat and that we would get to the finish line come hell or high water. Pun intended. Just before the turn onto Boylston Street, he asked if we could stop so he could stretch his legs out which felt super tight. He did a few lunges and knee pulls and then I heard him swear underneath his breath. He told me that he'd tweaked his hamstring and that it was buzzing with pain. Shit. I mean, we had less than a mile to go now and he was suffering so hard. We stretched some more and finally got ourselves up to the home stretch. I told him I could see the finish line and that we were going to do it. Thankfully he was able to push through and we made it safely across the line in a pretty damn remarkable time of 4 hours and 41 minutes.
Now normally, you stop and hug and jump up and down after accomplishing such a feat. But on Monday? Hells no. We bee-lined it to the medical tent both to have someone check out William's leg and to get warm. We stripped off some layers and bundled up in the mylar blankets, grabbing two for William who was now shirtless. The medics sent us on our way, suggesting William get a massage when he'd had a chance to change clothes and re-group. So, we found our bags at the TWAV meeting area and then hopped on a warming bus (hats off to the BAA for thinking that one through) so I could change and then help him find his wife. On the bus, he told me he didn't think he could walk so a very nice medic put him in a wheelchair and guided us out toward his hotel. Fortunately, he was able to stand and shuffle the 50 feet or so to make it over there. We got into the lobby and the hotel manager recognized William immediately. Since we hadn't connected with his wife he didn't have a key, so the manager hooked him up and then made sure he got up to his room. Much like the race itself, this was probably the strangest post-race experience to date as well. But, we survived, and that was all that mattered. I called my husband and asked (begged) him to come pick me up. I was shivering so hard that you could hear my teeth chattering. I went to Starbucks to get a coffee and was attempting to wrap both my mylar blanket and a fleece blanket around my body. Two high-school aged girls were watching and I could tell they were wondering what the hell was going on. I told them I was so cold it hurt and that I was trying hard to wrap myself back up but that I couldn't feel my fingers. They laughed and sweetly offered to help me get it done. Bless them. Jeff scooped me up at the hotel around 4:00 and I almost cried tears of joy when I got inside the car and put on the heat seats. A lot of crying this weekend. When we got home, I hopped into the shower and didn't get out for...well, I have no idea. Once the dust had settled, I gave William a call to make sure he was okay. He told me that he was doing better, that his hamstring had loosened up and that he was finally thawing out. Rebecca he said Out of all of my marathons, that was my worst finish time by far. But it is definitely the medal that I am most proud of. William I responded,I could not agree more. I let him know that I was so insanely proud of both of us for getting through what was easily one of the hardest things I've ever done. He thanked me for guiding him, for sticking with him when things got tough. I thanked him for letting me be his wing man and told him I was happy to do it any time. He laughed and said he was pretty sure that he was done with Boston, that he had no desire to come back. I laughed along with him and told him I got it.
On Tuesday morning I woke up to a beautiful, crisp clear day. Of course. Marathons are hard for all sorts of reasons. Weather often plays a key roll in how things unfold. On Monday, it took center stage. But then, they're not supposed to be easy, right? If they were, everyone would be doing them. The fact that William does them and others like him who have physical challenges, totally blows my mind. Such warriors they are. Monday was just one of the many battles that he has to face every day in life. This just happened to be really, really big one. We fought harder than we ever thought we'd have to and then we fought some more. We did it together. And we survived. It's a story that will go down in the books for both of us. The bragging rites are endless. We did it. We freaking did it. And that is a beautiful thing. Crazy. But beautiful.
Listen to this:
Follow My Feet - The Unlikely Candidates