A conductor on the train today asked a runner on his way to Hopkinton if he preferred the heat to this cold, damp weather. “The heat,” the poor guy grumbled as he headed off.
I would argue with him on that point. My 30-plus marathons include 2012 in Boston, when the mercury hit 87 degrees. I survived that one, but only by pouring water on myself every chance I got. That said, I’m writing this from the climate-controlled comfort of the Globe newsroom. And he’s out there running, alongside roughly 30,000 other brave souls. Here’s my opinion on what makes today’s weather most challenging.
It’s freezing out there: This will be the coldest Boston Marathon in years. But 40-degree weather is usually ideal for a fast time. Typically, you heat up quickly as soon as you start moving. The key is to stay warm before the race, to prevent yourself from catching a chill.
Alllll that rain . . . : The low temperatures start to become a problem, though, once you’re immersed in frigid rain. I generally try to wear less, not more — even with the cold. High-tech jackets and long-sleeve shirts still get wet, and those damp clothes can turn into a heavy, misery-inducing shroud later in the race. The big concern is footing: Sharp turns and downhills can get slippery, and water sloshing around in your shoes can make you more prone to blisters -- and they can get massive. There’s nothing quite like the creeping dread when one starts to develop on your foot. It starts with an itching sensation, but many eventually convert into what feels like a serrated knife, hacking away at your skin, one slice at a time.
Wind that blows right in your face: The most challenging aspect of today’s conditions is undoubtedly the wind, exceeding 20 miles per hour. Unlike most marathons, Boston’s race goes in just one direction. There is no turn around. Unfortunately for this year’s runners, that direction puts them square into some fierce headwinds. The wind can turn raindrops into a constant barrage of tiny darts. Even on a warm, dry day, runners would find it tough to overcome. Expect people to draft off each other, to save energy. Every buffer helps. Etiquette calls for elite runners to alternate in the lead position, though not everyone chooses to pitch in.
The bottom line: No one training for Boston would wish for these conditions. But let’s face it, New Englanders have had to endure other bad days this winter to make it to the starting line.Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.