Boston Deferrals Need to HTFU

Look, I get that it was unseasonably warm on Monday and that it made for hotter than usual Boston Marathon race conditions, but deciding not to race or deferring to next year because you didn’t like the temperature is just laughable. If you’re elite or athletic enough to be able to qualify for the Boston Marathon, you can deal with a hot race. There are thousands of runners who would have killed to race on Monday, regardless of the conditions, and you’re telling me that you’re too big a diva to run when it gets to the mid-80s? Gimme a break.

A higher than usual percentage of racers (3,863) didn’t even bother showing up to pick up their numbers this year. Obviously a portion of the no-shows could be folks who had injuries (as was the case of a friend of mine who tore her hamstring and was unable to race) or had a situation pop up where they couldn’t race (a family emergency, work conflict, etc), but the rate was higher than in previous years. Of the 22,426 runners who did show up to pick up their numbers, 427 deferred, which is even worse than not bothering to show up in the first place. You travel all the way to Boston, pick up your number, and then decide that you’re going to chump out and run next year in the hopes that temperatures will be more to your satisfaction? Ridiculous.

Yes, I know it was hot. I know it was uncomfortable. I know that overall times were slower than previous years and that more people were treated for heat-related ailments (cramping, exhaustion, overheating). But that’s the nature of racing. You sign up for a race not knowing what’s going to come your way. You can do the training and prepare for it as best you can, but there are certain factors you can’t control on race day that you just have to deal with. Do you think the 2011 Ironman Canada athletes wanted to race in upper-90 degree heat all day? Obviously not, but they showed up at the start line and powered their way through like champs, and they raced 140.6 miles in adverse conditions, not just 26.2. Do you think Ironman Louisville athletes want to spend an entire day pushing themselves through ungodly heat and humidity, or that Ironman Coeur d’Alene athletes want to swim 2.4 miles in a ball-shrinkingly frigid lake?

Did I want to race Costa Rica in the searing sunshine and come home with absurd tan lines? Did I want to battle ridiculous crosswinds at Ironman Boise 70.3 in 2010? Did I want to run through a windy monsoon during the Seattle Half Marathon this past year? No. Hell no. But you know what? I gritted my teeth and persevered, just as the Ironman Canada, the Louisville, and the Coeur d’Alene athletes did and just as every athlete should.

Boston was hard this year. Harder than usual, I’m sure. PRs were shot, everyone was uncomfortable, it was a miserable day. But if you sign up for a race and aren’t prepared to deal with the potential curveballs that go along with it, you shouldn’t race at all because clearly you’re not cut out for it. You’re kidding yourself if you expect all of your races to have perfect weather, perfect race conditions, and that you’ll post a PR. You’re delusional if you think you’ll never get a flat tire, experience gut rot, be forced to endure wind or rain or snow or heat, and that everything will be hunky dory for you.

The challenges behind racing are more mental than physical. The people who opted not to run or deferred because they were intimidated by the heat were defeated without even having to step foot on the course. You don’t share stories with your friends about the training days or the races that went perfectly, you take pride in and talk about the times when you rode your bike through a hail storm or you crossed the finish line after puking your guts out for 26 straight miles. It’s the tough workouts and races that stick with you, the ones that kick the shit out of you but you emerge from stronger and victorious. If I ran Boston this year, I’d be proud as hell to have crossed the finish line under tough conditions, regardless of my time.

If you can’t stand the idea of a race’s conditions slowing your otherwise fast self down, check your ego. If you’re worried about Mother Nature making things difficult for you, harden the fuck up. It’s not your tempo runs or your weekly mileage or your chia seeds or your stupid toe shoes that will get you across the finish line, it’s your mental toughness. Everyone has to deal with the weather on race day, not just you, and the difference is how you handle yourself when variables are thrown your way. The people who showed up and ran on Monday sure as hell didn’t want to run in the heat, but, to quote a teammate of mine, they were “doing work and gettin’ it done.” The ones who didn’t punked out because they lack mental toughness and because they were plagued with doubt and fear. It wasn’t the heat that ruined them that day, it was themselves. Don’t be a deferral. Be a racer.