Professional distance runner Ryan Vail was excited when he woke up Monday morning to the pitter-patter of rain on his hotel window. He figured a bit of his hometown had followed him across the country for the Boston Marathon.
"Coming from the Northwest and rainy training conditions, I was hoping I'd be able to use the weather to my advantage," he said.
Vail, a 2004 Centennial High graduate, was one of the first to take the course as part of the elite men's field. While he waited at the starting line, he noticed a nearby sign board that pegged the wind chill at 11 degrees below freezing.
The starting horn sounded, and Vail attached himself onto the back of a fast-paced pack and sped through the opening 10K at a five-minute per mile clip.
"I knew we were going to have a strong headwind the whole way, so my plan was to tuck in with a group and hide — I didn't want to be left by myself to battle the wind," Vail said.
The Brooks Sports-sponsored runner felt his strongest during the next phase of the race, coming through the 15K checkpoint in 47 minutes, 2 seconds — more than a minute ahead of eventual champion Yuki Kawauchi from Japan.
"The first 10K is generally downhill, so the pace started out pretty fast," Vail said. "It settled down between the 10K and 20K checkpoints — it felt like a smooth marathon pace — I was in good company and moving right along."
This also offered the first hint that weather might play a huge factor in the day's results.
Hydration tables are spread every five kilometers along the course. The first two stops along the way were routine, but by the 15K checkpoint Vail was unable to squeeze any liquid out of his bottle — his hands were simply too frozen.
Vail started the race wearing two light racing jackets, along with gloves and hand warmers designed to stay heated for up to 10 hours. But they don't work under water.
"Once they got wet, they were done. They stopped working 15 minutes into the race," Vail said. "The rain was so heavy that no matter what you did you were soaked right away."
Still, Vail kept pace with a pack of top-10 finishers, crossing through the halfway point at 1:07:37. He stayed with that group over the next 10K, splashing with every stride, before the gorilla finally jumped on his back just before the Mile 20 checkpoint near Boston College.
"I liked my aerobic pace, and my legs felt good — my biggest concern was that I was starting to shiver," Vail said. "It was a strange sensation to be running and shivering at the same time. By mile 20, I was shaking too much to continue."
He ended up in a medical tent, sharing the fate of more than 2,500 competitors, including half of the elite men's contenders.
"The sorest part of my body after the race was my neck and jaw from all the shaking," Vail said.
Being forced to the sideline was difficult after putting in a solid three months of training that had him completing 140-mile weeks for the first time in several years.
"For the marathon, you have to be able to handle the tedious miles, and I do all right with that — I enjoy that alone time," Vail said. "I was healthy for the full 12 weeks of heavy training, and turning in some of my fastest long-run workouts. It still stings — it's going to take a little while to get over this. The only thing I can do is get ready for the next race."
For now, Vail and his wife, Eva, are spending a week in Mexico City with their 4-month-old son Oliver.
While nothing is officially on his racing calendar, Vail expects his next main event to be the United States 10K championships in Atlanta on July 4.
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