One of the great unknowns in the Boston Marathon is the weather. Patriot’s Day can deliver anything from a snowstorm to a heatwave to a downpour. This year the New England weather lived up to its reputation with a stiff headwind. What began as a light 5-10 mph wind in the early morning slowly gained momentum, settling around 20 mph by late morning. Running 42.2 km directly into a headwind is not an easy feat, especially when those 42.2K are down and up and up and down, repeat until the finish line. Headwinds increase resistance, meaning you need to exert extra energy to move forward. According to Alberto Salazar’s Guide to Road Racing, a 10 mph wind will slow down an elite runner by 10-15 seconds per mile and the deleterious effects are even greater on the average runner. The slowdown goes up exponentially as wind speed increases beyond 10 mph. He says a 20-30 mph wind will make you feel “just about stopped you in your tracks”. The Boston course has the well-known challenge of the many uphills and downhills, notorious energy drainers and quad killers. According to the elevation information in my Boston Marathon Program, on the 26.2 mile course only a single mile (mile 25, for those interested in specifics) has neither a net uphill nor downhill. Headwinds + Hills = Double the Fun. You push to the top of the hill eagerly awaiting the reward of a downward slope, only to be greeted by an unexpected wall of wind. You know it’s a blustery day when it is a hard cardiovascular effort to run down the hill.
In the elite women’s race the wind may have factored into tactics, resulting in a surprisingly slow start (and the slowest finish since 1980). The top women seemed to employ a conservative strategy, with no one wanting to go out in front against the wind. At 20 miles Kara Goucher took control and led the ladies to a faster pace, ultimately allowing the eventual first and second place finishers to save enough energy for a battle royale in what was the closest women’s finish in the history of the event. In the words of winning female Kenya’s Salina Kosgei “The problem is the wind. We were going against the wind. It wasn’t easy for us to run very fast.” In her blog, elite runner Devon Crosby-Helms talks about running into the wind without the luxury of other runners to draft (plus her blog is a cool insider view into the race experience of an elite runner, like no port-a-loo lines – can you imagine?). Sometimes it’s reassuring to know that the superstar runners are struggling through adverse conditions just as much as the rest of us. The elite men started aggressively, wind be damned. Not that they didn’t feel the effects by mid-race. As Ryan Hall summarizes, “It was a tough day out there for everyone. The wind was in your face the whole way.”
But I’m not complaining. Part of the Boston challenge, charm even, is the unpredictable weather. I packed three potential race day outfits, reluctant to trust a weather report on Friday for a race the would not be run until Monday. Coastal weather is notoriously difficult to predict and I wanted to be ready for anything. Despite my precautions, the one thing I didn’t do in training was practise drafting. I’m positively hopeless at drafting. I like to run at the side (left side, to be precise) with a clear path in front of me, not tucked in behind a slightly bigger runner. I don’t like being that close to sweaty strangers. I get antsy drafting because the pace inevitably feels easier in the draft-zone (in keeping with the entire point of drafting), making me want to sidestep around and go faster. Of course in doing so, immediately I’m met with the gusts that drove me into hiding in the first place. Consequently, I run like some sort of draft-dodger popping in and out of the draft zone. So draft I did not, instead relying on the energy from the sidelines to weather (ha) the wind. And looking back, the wind didn’t bother me much. Oh, I cursed it every now and then, but I tried to remind myself that the breeze kept me cooler than normal in the 10C conditions (an advantage because I’m a cold-weather runner). Sure the wind slowed me down a little bit, especially as I fatigued (I’m guessing I lost around 5s/km due to wind); but it could have been much worse. 25C temperatures, for example, would have been a near disaster for me.
Title Reference: Bob Dylan – Blowin’ in the Wind. From the album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. 1963.
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