Departing Framingham and crossing into Natick, runners encounter a change of street names that few probably notice. What had been Waverly Street becomes West Central Street, although the highway remains 135. After a slight rise and a curve so gentle they hardly notice it, runners pass Lake Cochituate. In addition to the cheering masses, fishermen can be seen standing by the side of the lake, trying their luck, oblivious to the commotion behind them, the staccato sound of soft-bottomed shoes pounding the pavement not being part of their attention span.
The 15-K checkpoint is beside the lake. Heather Lee-Callaghan foot-stomped another mat in 1:12:35. Far ahead, given their head start, the lead women were closing in on Kenmore Square, one mile to go. By then Rita Jeptoo had opened a 12-second lead on Shalane Flanagan, who had slipped to fourth place. Even with her fast track legs, it seemed unlikely that Shalane could reel Jeptoo in by the time they turned toward the finish line on Boylston Street.
For a brief period of time, at least until the moment Jeptoo crossed the finish line, every runner running the Boston Marathon was on the course together. Every single one of them! The 23,000 runners of Boston 2013 probably covered near 20 miles of road. They filled that road, like a snake slithering toward the sea.
Lee-Callaghan had no time to think about what part of the snake she might be. The Canadian runner was suffering a medical emergency. The top of her right shoe was soaked with blood. A burst blister! This had happened to her once before at the Fredericton Marathon in New Brunswick, Canada. Lee-Callaghan did not like blisters; she did not like blood. She knew she would need to deal with the growing crisis. But how?
Lee-Callaghan decided she had two choices:
Be totally stupid and continue, hoping for a PR, obsessing over her Garmin the whole way.
Stop at an aid station, bandage up, lose three to five minutes, but finish the race and have fun.
She chose the second option, running into an aid station just past the Natick Common, screaming: "I’ve got a bloody toe! I need a bandage!"
"Sit down," said the medic, trying to calm her.
Blogging later, the hyphenated runner would describe having a massive panic attack: "I’m taking off my running shoe and bloody sock watching hundreds of runners go by as the clock is ticking during the Boston Marathon!"
While the medic bandaged her toe, she noticed two other men and a woman sitting in the tent, Mylar blankets wrapped around their shoulders. "Neither looked like they intended to get back on the course. They told me I looked strong and wished me luck and said to keep going. I wished them well, thanked the volunteer and ran out of the tent like a bat out of hell."
Thoughts continued to boil within the head of Jen Marr:
So many people.
Calling our names.
Kids, so many of them.
Holding out licorice, water, jelly beans, oranges, ice,
And best of all, their hands.
"Take it all in," I kept repeating to myself.
High-five the kids.
Wave at the adults.
Thumbs-up to the people holding signs.
We were having fun.
Not everybody was having fun. As it always does, the toughest race on the World Marathon Majors calendar soon would take its toll from runners who might be said to have misbehaved, who perhaps had not trained as hard as planned, who had chosen a toofast pace, who became overwhelmed by the experience of Boston and forgot that they had come to race.
This included Amy Zebala. "The race was phenomenal. It was a gorgeous day: sunny, with temps in the high 40s to mid-50s. After the congested start, the course opened up. Into Natick, I was 5 to 10 seconds ahead of my planned pace, but I was holding back and felt everything was going well. The crowd was vocal, and the miles flew by.
"At about 10 miles, I began to have some tummy issues." Zebala eventually would need to take a bathroom break, but it cost her only a minute, and she was soon back on pace. Time flies when you’re having fun.
Erica Greene found the Boston Marathon to be Amazing and Awesome: "The crowds were awesome. There were so many people. It was amazing, so therefore I was never able to settle into a rhythm, because everything was awesome!
"I was giving high fives, asking people if I was going the right way, and asking Team Girl Scouts, â€˜Where are Thin Mints?’ I was having a ball, but it began affecting my running. I hit a wall at Mile 11."
Mile 11, she said to herself. Really?
Aubrey Birzon Blanda ran wearing a bib that had been signed by Kathrine Switzer at the Expo. Switzer had been one of the earliest of women running Boston, and she remained a celebrity and role model among female runners. This was her 36th consecutive year working with the WBZ-TV team. Switzer also had signed Blanda’s bib in 2010 and 2011, but Aubrey this year had struggled with hamstring problems during the last several weeks of training. Partly for that reason, she decided to accept the pace set by a man named Allan she had met walking to the starting line.
"Allan set a tough pace, and the hamstring felt good until Mile 10." It was then that Blanda realized the reason the hamstring didn’t bother her was because every other muscle, down to her ankles, was shot. "Six miles to go to the Newton hills, and my quads were completely dead."
"I was trashed."
Tracy O’Hara McGuire, 37, a stay-at-home mom from Portland, Oregon, accepted the cheers of fans along the sidelines, feeling like a superstar: "Thousands of fans screaming your name, cheering you on, pushing you past your limits. It’s simply magical."
But as McGuire later would admit, coming through Framingham and into Natick, "the wheels began to fall off." Her stomach felt full. Her head felt dizzy. She started to feel nauseous - and she still had more than half the marathon to run. McGuire decided she had been drinking too much water, so she threw away the bottle she had been carrying.
Carissa von Koch struggled as she passed Mile 11 and approached the town of Wellesley. Her stomach was upset, and she needed a bathroom break, but someone was ahead of her in line, so she kept running, then she changed her mind and turned back. Once inside the porta potty, she heard her watch beep into auto pause mode. At that point, she knew she had lost track of her overall time.
"I stepped out of the bathroom feeling defeated. I thought of all my friends who were running the marathon just to soak up the atmosphere. I wanted to join them, but here I was stuck in the middle: not running fast, but not running for fun, either. I thought of everybody back home checking my progress online. They would feel concerned for me when they realized I was not hitting my pace goals."
Von Koch went back to doing the only option left her: Carrying on despite it all, running smart, conserving energy, and taking what the legs would give her that day.
Michele Keane felt a wave of nostalgia hit her as she passed through downtown Natick. She spotted a restaurant, formerly an ice cream spot when she was growing up. And then she saw her mother, Jean Collette, standing there as always, waving, cheering, shouting, "Michele! Michele!" This was their spot. Her mother still lived in their old house. Michele remembered how, when she was a girl, she and Mom would hand cups of water to passing runners. She stopped for a drink that was as much celebratory as refreshing.
Then she kissed Mom and kept running.
Jessica Reed, 37, a registered dietitian from Athens, Ohio, entered Boston with anticipation that could, at best, be described as lukewarm: "After doing Ironman, I didn’t think Boston was such a big whoop." The cheers of the crowd changed her mind. Never in any of the triathlons she had run had Reed encountered such crowd support. That plus the signs many of the spectators held.
"You Are Not Almost There!"
"Toenails Are For Wusses!"
"26.2: Because 26.3 Would Be CRAZY!"
John Munro also was amazed by the energy flowing from everyone standing by the side of the road: "These weren’t spectators, they were supporters, who screamed their heads off, who waved funny placards, who said something like, â€˜That isn’t sweat, it’s awesome leaking out.’ These were supporters who screamed so loudly at Wellesley College, you could hear them a half-mile before you saw them."
The half-marathon was just past Wellesley College in the town of the same name. The belly of the snake had now reached that point in the Boston Marathon.