Runners who took part in the 122nd Boston Marathon on Monday, April 16, endured some of the gnarliest conditions in recent memory as a monsoon-like thunderstorm pummeled runners for the duration of the race.
Twenty-four hours earlier at the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton, Mass., runners at the 22nd annual Don’t Run Boston 50K were spared the downpour, but they battled through the coldest DRB in event history with temperatures in the 30s and afternoon snow flurries.
It was two daunting days of running in the Bay State, and 29-year-old Samantha LeBlanc was the only runner to tackle both races. In doing so, the Woburn resident became the fifth BM-DRB “doubler” and first to do so since Marcy Beard ran DRB’s 50-mile race followed by the Boston Marathon in 2014.
LeBlanc’s “double” almost didn’t happen, however. She put aside her disdain for maps – which is a necessity for non-veterans of the unmarked course (as well as many who have run DRB numerous times) – and also shook off some frustration caused by getting lost so frequently while training on the course.
“I’ve done a lot of runs at Blue Hills Reservation, so I know the area a bit, but my first actual training run on the course a few weeks before race day was brutal,” LeBlanc recalled. “Even with a watch loaded with a GPX file of the course, maps and course description, I spent hours getting lost and almost threw in the towel on the whole weekend. My stubborn self brought me back the next day, and then the following Saturday and Sunday again, and finally I got the hang of it.”
When LeBlanc showed up on Sunday, April 15, she lined up alongside other DRB newcomers such as Justin Hetherington, 33, of Providence, R.I., and veterans like 58-year-old Jeff List who came back from Anacortes, Wash., to earn his 10th DRB finish. The temperature was in the mid-30s, and it would get colder as the day went on. There were far more runners in tights and jackets than usual; participants were well aware that DRB’s traditional afternoon highs in the 60s – and sometimes well into the 70s – would not happen on this day.
Runners started in different waves a few hours apart, as is DRB tradition. For LeBlanc’s group, most of the pack stuck together for the early miles with the veterans who knew the course leading the way. The pack broke up after about eight miles as runners settled into their own paces. LeBlanc, a DRB newcomer herself, found herself running with Hetherington.
“Justin catching up to me and running the rest of the race with me was a blessing in disguise,” she said. “Not only was it a blast to have someone else to run with, but he kept my pace conversational and honest. If I was alone, I probably would have pushed the pace more and wouldn’t have much in the tank for Boston!”
Sharing miles with old and new friends has been a part of the DRB spirit since its beginning, and LeBlanc and Hetherington weren’t the only ones to partake. Justine Cohen, Rich Collins, Dane LeBlanc, Chester Osborne, Norm Sheppard, and Vivien Taylor all spent quite a few miles together and later crossed the finish line in a pack. The same was true for John Correiro, Giles Gregory, Mike Maher, and Kevin Mullen who enjoyed more than 10 hours of quality time on the trails together.
The weather got colder as the race wore on. The temperature soon flirted with 30 degrees and snow flurries began. LeBlanc and Hetherington were pelted with hail as they passed Eliot Tower at the top of Great Blue Hill.
LeBlanc credited race veterans for keeping her on course during the early miles. She and Hetherington weren’t so lucky during the final five miles.
“Because I had done miles 1-26 a few times, those were mostly seamless except for a tricky intersection at miles 23/24, but thanks to some veterans who had started at 6 a.m., we were pointed in the right direction,” she said. “The last five miles though I hadn’t run yet, and we went the wrong way a dozen times within just a couple miles. It was definitely a team effort to figure out the last part, especially after five hours of running. Two mushy brains are better than one!”
Together, LeBlanc and Hetherington figured out the route and completed the final miles side-by-side, finishing in 6:08.
Only one runner finished faster. Tim Finocchio, 40, of Holbrook, Mass., earned the victory in 5:36. It was his fifth time finishing DRB, and his second win. Previously he finished third in 2017, fifth in 2013, fourth in 2012, and first in 2011 (5:58).
Brian Huffman, 34, of Framingham, Mass., finished fourth overall in 6:27. He was followed a few minutes later by 49-year-old Howie Breinan of Hebron, Conn.; 41-year-old Frank Corraro of Franklin, Mass.; 58-year-old Garry Harrington of Swanzey, N.H.; and 37-year-old Doug Hsu of West Roxbury, Mass., who finished together in 6:32. Carolyn Harper, 26, of Somerville, Mass., completed the 50K one minute later. Gregory Pearson, 30, followed one minute behind Harper to round out the overall top 10. List was the final sub-7-hour finisher as he completed his run in 6:48.
Thirty-eight runners conquered the cold temperatures and the challenging course and were credited with 50K finishes.
A day later, LeBlanc joined thousands of other runners at the rain-soaked Boston Marathon, and she persevered and crossed the finish line in 3:26:20 to successfully complete her “double.”
“Boston felt like a breeze the next day!” LeBlanc said. “Course markings, no rocks, no roots, 5,000 less feet of gain and five less miles, and a ton of cheering spectators. You can’t choose the weather, you can only choose your attitude, and after weeks of uncertainty of whether or not I would even make it to the Boston Marathon starting line I was just so happy to be there and to actually be able to run, that there was nothing that would’ve stopped me from having a great time.”
Breinan, Harper Earn 50-Mile Finishes
While most runners at DRB ran the event’s classic 50K course, 2018 marked the ninth year that a 50-mile distance has been offered. Eight runners started the day with their sights set on covering 50 miles. Two of them completed that distance while the other six were credited with 50K finishes. Race Director Howie Breinan and Carolyn Harper were the lone 50-mile finishers. They also were included in the 50K results with their split times. Breinan tallied his record-setting seventh finish of the DRB 50-miler in 10:23. Beard became the second woman to finish the 50-miler twice as she posted a time of 10:47. It was a course PR for Harper by more than an hour, and only 2017 champion Elise DeRoo (9:52) stands ahead of her on the women’s record board.