Older, wiser at this Boston Marathon



photoColumbian News Editor Micah Rice.

2012 Boston Marathon finishers from Clark County

Adrian Ramirez, Vancouver, 3:01:45.

Morgan Saltenberger, Vancouver, 3:05:52.

David Caldwell, Vancouver, 3:13:32.

Micah Rice, Vancouver, 3:15:28.

Cory Cochran, Vancouver, 3:16:55.

Adria D. Biasi, La Center, 3:22:01.

Ben Chase, Vancouver, 3:23:18.

Megan Liston, Washougal, 3:33:12.

Tiffany Klopman, Washougal, 3:35:38.

Ashleigh Crunican, Vancouver, 3:40:54.

Richard Lodmell, Vancouver, 3:47:30.

Chris Neibauer, Battle Ground, 3:55:12.

Matt McDonald, Vancouver, 3:59:00.

Daniel McElrath, Vancouver, 3:59:49.

Angie Huggins, Battle Ground, 4:01:22.

Randall Grove, Vancouver, 4:02:03.

Kelly Leonard, Vancouver, 4:11:55.

Dianne Thomsen, Brush Prairie, 4:19:42.

Julie Drimmel, Battle Ground, 4:23:28.

Anita Burkard, Camas, 4:25:08.

Tom Counts, Vancouver, 4:27:02.

Wendy Low, Vancouver, 4:27:34.

Karen Neibauer, Battle Ground, 4:33:32.

Walter Warren, Vancouver, 4:42:35.

Deborah Krebs, Vancouver, 4:53:34.

Jeffrey Schaller, Vancouver, 5:02:16.

Lizette Drennan, Vancouver, 5:03:03.

Lisa Wourms, Camas, 5:13:08.Justin Ashworth, Battle Ground, 5:26:53.

BOSTON — Hundreds of miles, dozens of workouts and months of planning go into preparing for a marathon.

For this year’s Boston Marathon, the only suitable training would have involved running inside of a sauna.

Temperatures above 85 degrees on April 16 made this among the hottest Boston Marathons ever. For me and 28 other runners from Clark County, our cool wet spring did little to acclimate us for a test that would strain even the world’s fittest runners.

For this, my second Boston Marathon, a qualifying time of 2:54 placed me in the second of 10 starting corrals. That was close enough to see race director Dave McGillivray as he issued a stern and sober warning: “The only PR you need to think about today is personal responsibility.”

The heat led race officials to urge all but the fittest participants not to run. They offered the unprecedented option of letting qualifiers defer until next year. As many as 4,300 of the nearly 27,000 registered runners opted to sit out what is considered by many a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Still, for those around me, the countdown to the start had all the fidgeting and excitement of any other big race. The gun fired and we were off toward the finish line 26.2 miles away.

Downhill and partially shaded, the first five miles breezed by as I settled into my three-hour goal pace. I would try to maintain this speed, but would slow down at any sign of heat illness. I wondered how those blazing past me would fare when the course’s notoriously tough second half would come.

I also had to wonder about the man dressed neck-to-toe in black under a Minnie Mouse dress. As he ran near me for miles two through eight, my ears rang with surprised shouts of “go Minnie!” as well as wary exclamations of “Oh my God!”

Marathons bring out colorful characters, but all kidding was over for me and many others by mile eight. A bank’s clock display read 85 degrees, my legs felt heavy, and my head felt light.

By mile 10, my pace had slowed to where a three-hour run was out of the question. After a few minutes of private mourning, I accepted that today’s goal would be simply to finish.

The pressure off, I actually found myself slightly rejuvenated. I exchanged occasional waves and high-fives with spectators. I took enough time at water stations every two miles to drink an extra cup.

Other runners were having a much rougher time. By the halfway point, I regularly began to see athletes walking or being treated by medical staff. One younger runner was exhaustedly yelling “water, water” to nobody in particular. A spectator gave him a bottle as I slowed beside him.

“There’s a medical tent right ahead,” I said, pointing.

“No man, I’m finishing!” he shot back, his eyes seemingly unable to focus on me.

The next day, I read in the Boston Globe about a 25-year-old runner who was hospitalized with dehydration. Upon being discharged several hours later, he returned to where he had collapsed and finished the race. I wondered if that was the young man I tried to help, or if he was another of the nearly 200 runners who were hospitalized. Race medics treated another 2,000, twice the usual amount.

Running in hot weather carries two primary risks -- dehydration and overheating. The second of these became my primary concern heading into the race’s toughest portion: a five-mile series of inclines culminating in Heartbreak Hill in the 21st mile.

The water I would dump on my head did little to cool me. It felt warm as it ran down my neck.

Good Samaritan spectators holding out bags of ice were my saving grace. I kept my temperature from crossing a dangerous threshold by grabbing handfuls to hold on the back of my neck. “Steady and smart” I kept telling myself.

That mantra got me through the final miles, where reminders of the damage inflicted by the heat were everywhere. With one mile to go, I saw a runner being strapped onto a stretcher, an IV bag being held above her.

Rounding the final corner, I managed a grin as I glimpsed the finish line. I broke into a full smile as I saw my wife, who was undoubtedly worried about how I would handle the heat. I gave her a thumbs up and strode toward the finish line, crossing with a time of 3:15.28.

I could have been disappointed that months of preparation did not produce the three-hour marathon I had hoped for. But I’ve come to learn that greater powers, heat in this case, can foil our most ambitious attempts to ensure an outcome.

Instead, I take satisfaction from pursuing a goal, giving it my best and finishing safely on a day when at least nine hospitalized runners were in critical condition at some point, according to the Boston Globe. In a sign of how the heat affected the entire field, my finishing place of 1,387 was nearly 1,500 places higher than in the 2011 race, which I finished six minutes faster.

I’ll be a year older next time I try to break three hours at Boston. The unique challenge offered by what many have dubbed “Survivor Boston” means I’ll hopefully be a year wiser. I’ve already learned not to complain about our Northwest weather . . . at least not too much.

Columbian News Editor Micah Rice, 35, is a lifelong runner and has completed nine marathons. His personal best is 2 hours, 54 minutes, 25 seconds at the Portland Marathon in October. That time earned him qualification to the 2012 New York Marathon and the 2013 Boston Marathon, both of which he plans to run.