The Boston death march.
By Davey Orgill
I remember at one point looking over at the crowd the sounds of the cheers as well as the faces becoming blurry. I couldn’t even tell if what was happening was real or not. This feeling was something I’d never experienced before. I was unable to run for longer that 30 seconds without my chest tightening and me barely able to take a breathe.
Well let’s start from the beginning. On April 16th 2012 I was about to run the Boston Marathon. One of the oldest most sought after Marathons in the world. I shot a wedding on Saturday night. Flew out bright and early Sunday Morning. Arrived around 5pm. Met up with the Schwabs ( a couple from my home neighborhood) who were kind enough to pick up my race packet. We walked around town for a while trying to find some pasta. After an hour or so of walking. We found some food. Then headed off to bed. Now before I go into the race details I want to emphasize that I had very high expectations for this race. I had been training up to 70 miles per week since December. Running diligently every day of the week but Sunday. I had trained hard. I did my part and now it was time to enjoy the fruits of my labor. We got to the Red roof inn. Which the room smelled like a wet dog. I layed out all my racing gear, took a quick shower and went to bed. I said went to bed. Not went to sleep. I always sleep poorly before races and this one was no different. For the first couple hours I kept getting up out of bed not wanting to forget something for the next day. Thinking about the race. Getting more and more nervous about the race. The temperature was expected to reach record highs. The race director had sent out multiple emails to all the runners telling us that we shouldn’t race. That we could differ to next year. That we should not try to get our P.R. that speed was the ultimate killer. I said to myself. I’m here. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. Heat or no heat. I didn’t think I’d have much of a problem. Since I ran through the heat all summer last year with no problems. So I finally got to sleep around midnight or so. Then woke up at 3am. Laid there for another hour or so and finally it was time to leave. At 5:50am we left for Hopkinton to hang out at the runners village. I was one of the first runners there. I grabbed an available seat and talked with a few other runners. Finally after a half hour or so the busses of runners started showing up. It was an extremely long and anxiety filled morning. Waiting 4 hours for a race to start was so hard. I kept trying to enjoy the atmosphere and the experience of the Boston Marathon and 22,000 other runners. But I Just wanted to start running. I was on edge and had waited a long time for this. I passed some time watching the other runners rituals as they rubbed white stuff all over their feet. Had several jerseys and shoes to choose from to run in. It was pretty interesting to watch. They had music playing and tons of runners everywhere you looked. People from all over the world. It was pretty chilly out there until the sun came out. Then it started to warm up fast. There were 3 waves/ start times. The red wave, the white wave and the blue wave. I was in the 1st wave and the 3rd corral. Each wave had 9 corrals. Each corral held about 1000 runners I’m guessing. Finally it was just about time for the 1st wave to make the .7 mile walk to the start line. There were so many people there. On the way down to the start line the road was completely packed. I knew this was my only chance to warm up so I found some other runners weaving their way through the crowd so I joined in their little train and made a jog through the herding mass of runners. Near the beginning of the corrals I was able to do some of my pre run warmups with a few short runs. Finally I made my way up to the 3rd corral. We had to wait there for about 20 more minutes. It became shoulder to shoulder in there. 2 guys came and crammed right in front of me and I heard them say that someone was peeing right through his shorts onto the ground and it was splashing on them. Pretty gross. But you do what you gotta do I guess. With about 7 minutes to start time someone sang the national anthem. The tension and anticipation was rising. I had two gu’s with me for the race. I noticed one of them had fallen out of my pocket during my warmups. Not a good start. Next the elite runners arrived. They gave a short introduction of their accomplishments Including Geoffry Mutai who ran the fastest Marathon ever last year at the boston Marathon. Then before we new it we were off. I couldn’t help but smile. Knowing I was in Hopkinton experiencing this race with runners from across the globe. I started my watch. Waved to the tv cameras that were hovering above and started on what was going to be the hardest feat I had ever encountered. I had a very specific goal and plan for the race. I was shooting to run pretty even splits of 6:15 per mile with a goal time of around 2:45. I had trained at that pace. I had done multiple marathon pace runs at that pace so I knew I could do it. The first part of the race had some pretty good downhills so I knew I had to hold back and preserve energy for the latter parts of the race. As the race started there were so many runners. I was doing what I had to to keep at the pace I wanted. Weaving here and there. Giving hi 5’s to kids every so often. It was pretty cool every time I gave a group of people 5’s I would look down at my watch and I’d be going like 30 seconds per mile faster than I though I was. Mile one came in at 6:26. Mile two at 6:18. I was right on schedule. But I was working harder than I though I would have to this early in the race to keep that pace. Miles three and four came in in at 6:16 and 6:14. I was right on schedule still but I was having a hard time breathing. I figured it was just my nerves and I just needed to get into a nice rhythm. I took my first drink of Gatorade at mile 5. I tried taking deeper breaths through the next few miles but it was getting worse. Miles 5, 6, and 7 came in around a 6:30 pace. They had some minor hills involved but nothing too bad. My chest was getting real tight and it was hard to breath. I wasn’t sure what was happening. I kept saying prayers that my breath would be loosened and I could run the way I had trained to run. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I was supposed to breathe so much easier at sea level. I was getting scared. Miles 8,9, and 10 came by and I was slowing down with each mile. I was getting to the point where I could barely finish the mile without walking. I was drinking at every aid station but still felt thirsty. I still hadn’t seen April yet. I wasn’t sure if I had missed her but I really needed some encouragement right about now. Just before reaching halfway we passed Wellesly with all the screaming college girls trying to get kisses from the runners. Each had a poster with a reason why we should kiss them, “kiss me I’m a senior”, kiss me I’m asian, kiss me I won’t tell your wife” I ran on the opposite side of the road to avoid any complications. Finally I crossed the Halfway point. With tons of fans watching, thinking about repeating the distance I had just completed was daunting. Finally I heard april screaming my name. I had passed her but then turned around to talk to her. She said “are you quitting”?. I said no I’m not quitting but I’m tired and I can’t breath. She kissed me and sent me on my way. I had accepted that I wasn’t going to be able to get close to my 2:45 goal. But if I could get some energy back up I could still finish with a respectable time. I knew everybody at home was getting the text message updates and was watching me get slower and slower at every checkpoint. Every time I would walk (which was becoming more and more frequent) about 1-200 runners would pass me. It was so hard to do. I still have no idea if the 88 degree temperature was related to my breathing but I knew I had a major problem. The next miles really are a blur to me. I had switched my goal in the race to surviving, to not dying, to not becoming a DNF. Runners were dropping off left and right. I kept seeing them down on the side of the road. Getting medical attention. I saw one guy in the middle of the street writhing back and forth in pain from cramps in both legs. It was like something out of a war movie.
One thing I do have to say about the race. One expectation I had that was not let down were the fans. I have no doubt that they literally saved thousands of runners from heat exhaustion. Every where you ‘d look you’d see some little family with their little kids giving out oranges, or drinks or popsicles or ice chips. They saved me on multiple occasions. The once a mile aid stations were not enough. Every town we came to had passionate fans who genuinely cared about the runners and about the race. Like giving you piece of their will to get up the next hill or around the next corner. It was amazing.
There were so many hills in this race. I kept thinking I had hit the famous heart break hill and they just kept coming. I saw Dick Hoyt pushing his son in the wheel chair. What an inspiration. I patted him on the back as I ran by. I say ran by very loosely. I was running about half as fast as I was used to. It was getting so hot outside. Every chance I got I was running through a hose or sprinkler or dumping water on my head. I was drenched pretty much the entire race. I was gulping the Gatorade at ever stop and every drink I could get my hands on. I tried to use the roars of the crowd for energy but really I just wanted to fall down and die. I remember at one point looking over at the crowd the sounds of the cheers as well as the faces becoming blurry. I couldn’t even tell if what was happening was real or not. This feeling was something I’d never experienced before. I was unable to run for longer that 30 seconds without my chest tightening and me barely able to take a breath. It became somewhat of a death march. I just knew I had to keep moving forward. I couldn’t even walk down a hill without breathing hard. The only thing that sparked my short spurts of jogging was to end the misery sooner. I hit mile 24 and drank some weird coconut drink from someone and it set me off. My already upset stomach had had enough. I started spewing Gatorade. I tried to jog through the throwing up but it kept coming. Like 7 times gatorade and oranges kept coming out. Probably all I had taken in the entire day. Miles 24 to the end were grueling. I began to despair. Questioning my sanity for ever wanting to do this. Thinking I should never run again that I just wasn’t made for it. I could barely move forward and just when I was about to sit down and give up some kid yells “2” and his friends yell 5-5-5. And I realized it was my bib number 2-555 they kept chanting. It gave me the energy I needed to keep going. Then about a half mile later it happened again. Some young kids chanting my bib number. I was in so much pain and couldn’t take in the breath I needed, but those crazy Bostonians kept me going. Finally I reached the final stretch in Boylston. I had hit the 26 mile mark and had .2 to go. The finish line looked so far away. Some kids starts walking by me and says “not what you had planned today” I laughed and said I was shooting for a 2:45 and he said that’s the time he had qualified at and was going for the same time. We walked for a bit then I decided to try to jog across the finish line. I crossed at 4:05:02. The slowest marathon I had ever run. I was so glad it was over. Shortly after I crossed the finish line I started throwing up again. A volunteer asked me if I was ok. I wasn’t sure how to answer that. It seemed pretty obvious I wasn’t. I told him about my breathing problem I’d been having so he put me in a wheelchair and took me to the medical tent. It was like another scene from a war movie in there. About 150 beds full of runners passed out. Shivering. I.V’s hooked up. Some getting taken away on stretchers. I heard over 2000 runners needed medical attention that day with 120 taken away by ambulance. With 10 still in critical condition the following day. They took my vitals and kept me there for about 45 minutes or so. Made me drink some chicken boullioun and water to try to get some electrolytes in me. I went to the port a potty and threw up again. I was not getting better but I had to get out of there. Finally I told them I was ready to go. But I still felt horrible. I could barely walk but I needed to find april. I made my way to the bag drop bus and got my stuff. Then I had to make it to the street they had set apart to meet up with our families. It was so far to walk. I just wanted to lay down and die. But I was worried about april being worried about me. The sections were alphabetized and I made it to the W,X meeting area. I had to lay down. I couldn’t go any further. I layed there for about a half hour trying to muster up the energy to go find her. I borrowed another runners phone. April didn’t answer so I left her a message saying. I was in the medical tent for a while. I’m trying to make it to the O’s but I only made it as far as the W’s. I’ll stay here for a while. If I don’t see you I’ll try to make it to the O’s to find you. I never saw her. Another medical person asked if I needed help. I told him I just needed some time. After a while I stood up and staggered around the corner and saw the O’s. I saw April and started crying. I was weak. I could barely talk, trying to explain to her where I had been. We hugged. I layed down on the sidewalk and she fed me some potatoe chips and bread trying to nurse me back to health and give me some strength. I felt like such a failure. This was not even remotely close what I was expecting today. I felt like all my training was a complete waste. I didn’t know why this had happened to me or even what happened to my and why I couldn’t breathe. But I did know one thing. I finished the Boston Marathon. I made history today. I did something most other marathoners only dream of. On the way back to the hotel a song came on the radio with the lyrics what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And I realized that was true. That I survived this trial. And that I am tough as nails. That I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. That all my training was not wasted. I am a stronger runner today than I was when I started training for this. And that it only matters how quickly you get back up when life knocks you down. The 2012 Boston marathon was a humbling experience and one I will never forget. This is not the end of my running career. Only the beginning.