As many of you know, it was a dream of mine to someday run the Boston Marathon. When I first started training for the marathon distance in summer of 2016, I had no clue what to expect and thought my road to Boston would be much longer than it actually was. When I BQed on my first marathon in October 2016 (thanks to my fiancé, you should check out that story), it was only -1:33. It was not enough to get in but enough to give me the confidence to know I could do it. I ran another marathon in May 2017 for a -4:28 to squeak in by just a little over a minute.
I was euphoric when I got that e-mail from the BAA that I was officially registered in the 2018 Boston Marathon. I decided not to do a fall marathon in 2017 and start training earlier than I typically would. Big mistake. I think I put way too much pressure on myself for Boston, and it ultimately lead to too much stress and a decline in my performance.
Throughout most of my training, everything pointed to me being able to hit my goal of sub 3:30. Besides a one-week bout with the flu, I was hitting the right paces on my workouts and my “easy pace” got faster. Five weeks before race day, I did a 20 miler on the course with the last 5 miles at faster than marathon pace and felt like I still had more in the tank. I did not do any other races during the cycle, keeping my sole focus on a PR and BQ at Boston.
March 21- the morning of my dissertation defense- BAM! I was doing a 7 mile tempo run at half-marathon pace, a challenging workout but nothing I had not already done in training. After the tempo portion, I felt a sharp pain in my butt and hobbled home. I passed my defense, officially becoming a PhD, but I was in pain. The next day I woke up crying that “Boston was over.” Not healed by that Saturday, I had to miss my 22 mile long run. To make matters worse, my 22 miler was going to be done with friends and I had been looking forward to it for months. It was hard to not board the bus to Hopkinton that morning.
I was diagnosed with SI joint dysfunction. Both my PT and doctor assured me that I would still run Boston, but it was hard to believe them especially as the healing took longer than even they expected. I was out of running for two weeks, though doing some intense work on the recumbent bike- who know how good of a workout you could get on that thing?
At one appointment, my doctor told me that I could try running again on Easter Sunday. As a theologian, I got excited and joked that the waiting to run part was my Lenten penance. However, I was not really joking. I woke up on Easter Sunday with a lot of hope and went into a very dark place when I was not able to run that morning. To make matters worse, the gym was closed so I had to skip biking that day. My fiancé had to force me to go to church. I was a mess. I felt that God had abandoned me. After all this work, why would I get this freak injury out of the clear blue on the day of my defense of all possible mornings? As some of you may know, I dealt with some pretty bad anxiety and depression while finishing up my dissertation, and marathon training really helped with that. Everything on my Facebook and in my house reminded me of Boston- it felt like the world was mocking me. Every morning when I woke up in my pain, it seemed like I would get another e-mail update about Boston.
Finally, shortly after Easter, the pain did go away and I was able to return to running. My doctor gave me a cortisone shot. Even as he was giving me the shot, he said “You are going to PR this thing!” He insisted that the biking kept up my fitness and that because I was already through two marathons, I would be fine. I was skeptical but decided that if he believed in me, I would not give up. I got in some runs before the marathon. The first two were bit shaky, but I started getting my groove back after that.
I set two goals for myself. 1) Still run the sub 3:30 if possible. 2) If I was not feeling a sub 3:30 and knew it was not going to happen, to just enjoy the race, shake hands with spectators, kiss my fiancé at his viewing spots, take selfies, and just savor the course.
I reached neither goal. But God was in this crazy mess, and I did take something important away from this race.
Race weekend was a lot of fun. On Saturday, my fiancé and I went to the Expo and had an amazing time. I finally got a Spike the unicorn! On Sunday, we went to the Blessing of the Runners at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and I spent hours agonizing over what to wear with the weather report.
On race morning, I got to take a private bus to the Athlete’s Village, thanks to a running buddy, Mark Sekelsky. I sat next to another running buddy, Erin Cheyenne Staker, on the bus. It was a great group and talking to everyone calmed my nerves. As we kept looking at the weather report, I was more and more at peace with my #2 goal, thinking that would still give me a 3:40ish marathon.
Walking to the starting line from the Athlete’s Village turned out to be total chaos. Veteran Boston Marathoners assured me this was not normal. We were packed like sardines for 45 minutes, barely moving. When I finally got the starting line, it was after my scheduled 10:50am start time. I kept waiting to line up with my corral but never got the chance. I did not realize I was supposed to start running. I flipped out and a volunteer helped me get off my extra clothes.
The weather was thankfully not so bad in the beginning. I was going pretty fast. I forced myself to slow down to save energy for the later parts of the race. I had to keep pushing through other people since I did not start with my corral and no one around me was running my pace. I kept asking if anyone was doing “7:50-8:00 minute miles” and everyone just looked at me like I was crazy. I felt sad that I had no one to run with, since I normally start marathons talking to the people around me. Slightly before the half way point, I noticed my splits dropping but figured I would make them up on the downhills.
By the half way point, I felt a slight ache in my hips that I at first though was the injury but now realize was the cold. I knew a PR was over but I was determined to make goal #2 happen. Then around mile 15, I just knew something was terribly wrong. The rain got heavier and my clothing was soaked. My splits dropped dramatically. It was incredibly frustrating. I tried to just enjoy the crowds, but I was so cold that I could not even muster a smile or high five for anyone. Cardiovascularly, I was not even tired but my legs were so cold they would just not move any faster.
By the time I saw my fiancé at mile 16, I knew I was going super slow, so I decided to take a few minutes to stop and get a new pair of gloves from him. He caught this on video and watching it again now, it’s pretty funny! He was standing with a volunteer who was incredibly kind. I was sobbing. The woman he was had a warm smile and kept telling me “we’ve been waiting for you! You are doing great!”
Me: “I don’t feel good. My time is going to be terrible.”
Bryan: “That’s OK. Just take your time.”
Me: “I am going to finish”
Volunteer: “Of course you are!”
Bryan and the volunteer (I wish I knew her name, she was truly an angel) helped put the new gloves on my hands. We were all so cold and disoriented that I noticed when I got back on the course that Bryan had given me two different gloves! Thankfully, my hands were warm. They were the only part of my body that was!
I sped up slightly after seeing Bryan but then slowed down dramatically again right before the Newton Hills. I kept getting text messages from Bryan, who knew something had to be terribly wrong. Even on my easiest easy runs (think like, the day after a 20 miler), I was running at least 1-2 minute per mile faster than the pace I was now running. During training, I could not even have run this slow if I tried!
“Kate, are you OK?”
“Please drop out, this is not worth it.”
At this point, Bryan started alerting some of the other people tracking me that something was wrong. “Kate dropped to a 9:49 pace. Her last marathon was an 8:00 pace. Something is wrong- I hope she stops.”
I kept going. The Newton Hills were a blur. I stopped looking at my watch. My teeth were chattering and my legs felt frozen, I could not move them any faster. But I refused to walk. I knew that if I walked, I would just feel colder.
When I got to Heartbreak Hill, I cried. I cried because I felt so awful and the medical tent looked so tempting. I also cried because I run up Heartbreak Hill all the time. I was so prepared for this part of the course and my legs would not move. I used to joke all the time during training, “Heartbreak Hill isn’t going to break my heart!” And yet, here I was on race day- the day that mattered and I was literally stuck in that nightmare a lot of runners have where you are at the race and your legs feel like they are moving through quicksand.
I remember being at the top of Heartbreak Hill during training and saying, “Let it rip!” After Heartbreak Hill, the course is mostly downhill. Its where you can let it go and give it your all. Cardiovascularly, I wanted to start sprinting but my legs still wouldn’t move faster even as I went downhill. I could not bear to look at my watch, now registering splits that are so slow they are setting new records as “personal worsts.” If this happened on a training run, I totally would have given up. However, before the race, I remember telling my family that if I got to the top of Heartbreak Hill, I would finish no matter what. I kept saying out loud “I’m gonna finish. I’m gonna finish.”
I knew my running club, the Brighton Bangers, was going to be at mile 22. However, I had thought that perhaps since I was going so much slower than expected, they might have been gone by the time I reached Cleveland Circle. Not the case! As I sobbed, shivering and soaking wet, while running down Chestnut Hill Ave, I heard people yelling “Go Kate!” I turned to my left and they were holding a sign that said “The Wizard of Mroz.” Surprising myself, I managed a big smile and a wave.
By mile 23, I was frightened that I might pass out before reaching the finish line. “I’m so close. I’m so close. 5k. You can run 5k in your sleep.” My teeth could not stop chattering. My heart broke as I saw my watch reach my original goal time, only at mile 23.
People still cheered for me like I was a rock star. In the middle of torrential rain, the crowds did not stop. I wished I had the energy to look at their signs and smile at them, but at this point, I could barely think.
At mile 24, I began the Our Father and realized I had forgotten the words. I just counted on God to finish the prayer for me, and to know what was in my heart.
For the entire last two miles, I felt so confused and cold that I kept reminding myself of my name. “You are Kate Mroz and your fiancé is Bryan Weinstein. You are Kate Mroz and your fiancé is Bryan Weinstein.” I figured that if I at least could remember that, it would be OK.
I had dreams of the iconic turn “right on Hereford, left on Bolyston.” It was nothing like what I dreamed. Confused and disoriented, I did not even hear or see my fiancé scream to me right before turning on Hereford.
When I did cross the finish line, I just started crying. My body was shaking uncontrollably. I kept looking behind me to make sure I actually finished- with how bad I felt, I was so afraid I only imagined stepping over the mat. One of the medical volunteers grabbed me immediately and I was put in a wheelchair and moved into one of the medical tents. My legs were shaking violently and my teeth would not stop chattering. The doctor asked if anything hurt and surprisingly, I had no pain or soreness at that point, just immense cold and confusion. They took my temperature and it was 92 degrees. Normal is 98 degrees, and anything under 95 degrees is considered hypothermia.
My hands were so shaking so much that I could not do anything. A few female volunteers helped me get my wet clothes off and texted my fiancé to tell him where I was. They wrapped me in warm blankets and also had me hooked to a heating machine. Even though more runners were constantly being brought in and many were more ill than I was, I never felt neglected. I was really scared, and one of the nurses was sitting with me and holding my arm and telling me that it was going to be OK. When I was feeling slightly better but still shaking, I suddenly got upset asking if I had actually finished and if I would get a medal. One of the nurses went and got my medal for me and put it around my neck.
When my hands stopped shaking and I could maneuver my phone, I checked my official time. 4:02:49. Over 32 minutes slower than my previous marathon. My heart sunk. I remember saying before the race, “if worse comes to worse and I’m not feeling it, I’ll just finish under 4 hours, I can totally do that!” Of course, I would have been under 4 had I not stopped for those gloves, but not by much! My parents called to see that I was OK and I remember crying into the phone, “I didn’t even break 4 hours. We all said that even in the worst conditions, I’d still break 4 hours!”
Unfortunately, after I felt better, it took a while for me to get released. My clothes were in bag check and the BAA did not want to release them to Bryan. It took almost an hour to finally get my clothes to the medical tent. Once I got dressed, one of the physical therapists made me walk around the tent a bit. Unfortunately, due to the hypothermia, I did not follow proper post marathon protocol, which is 1) walk around after crossing the finish line 2) get some nutrition right away. Thankfully, we had to walk a bit to catch an Uber which helped flush out the lactic acid build up in my legs.
I did not get to go to any post-race parties as I had originally planned. There are a lot of online training buddies that I missed meeting. I am telling myself that I need to get back to Boston another year because I still owe my dad a picture of myself in the Boston Red Sox dugout wearing a Yankee shirt and a medal!
I did not eat any of the snacks Bryan packed for me except for my Muscle Milk Protein shake. It was so late that we decided to just go straight to dinner after showering. We enjoyed some ribs at Stockyard Bar and Grill. I wore my celebration jacket. Due to the hypothermia, I was a lot hungrier after this marathon than previous ones. My metabolism was in an elevated state for the entire week after I finished the race.
I am not going to lie and say that I do not feel bad about how this race turned out, I do. My heart is broken. I battle the voices in my head that ask why my body gave out in the cold and other people’s bodies did not, why I was not strong enough. However, this race tested my strength as an athlete in ways it had never been tested before.
It also made me realize how much support I have, even though I often think I am alone. When I was struggling with my injury: my fiance, my parents, my doctor, and my physical therapist became “Team Get Kate to Boston Healthy.” I spent a lot of time crying over what I thought would be a DNS, and they comforted me and told me to stay positive. Before the race, I received tons of text messages and Facebook posts (both private and on my timeline) wishing me the best. Friends and family that I had not heard from in a while contacted me after the race to tell me how proud they were. Lots of people expressed amazement that I finished my PhD and the Boston Marathon in the same year. People could not care less about my time! People have treated me like a rock star, even though I do not feel like one and that is a beautiful thing. I am going to do my best to accept it and enjoy it.
As Edward Schillbeeckx said, “God is new each moment.” I am amazed at how throughout my life, I have often felt like God is absent, and then I have come to feel God’s presence in the most unexpected places and in the most unexpected ways. God was there in the midst of this hypothermia- inducing marathon. It was not the day I dreamed about, but I discovered some beautiful surprises nonetheless.