Belinda Stoll of Lockport commented in this space about two months ago how the warm winter weather in Buffalo had been perfect for training for the Boston Marathon.
She needed every bit of it. When she reached the finish line in Boston on April 16, Stoll had two words come to mind about the end of the race: "Thank God."
Stoll overcame temperatures in the 80's to complete the 26.2-mile run, making it an experience she'll never forget.
The longtime runner had heard five days before raceday that the weather forecast put projected temperatures above 80. The Boston Athletic Association sent out a few emails per day saying conditions were liable to be dangerous.
As raceday moved closer, the BAA said that runners had the option of skipping the race if they were afraid of the conditions; runners would be allowed to move their qualification to 2013's event. The catch was that runners had to go to Boston and pick up their numbers before deferring to next year. In other words, they still had to spend money to get to Boston -- remember, this attracts an international field -- and perhaps pay jacked-up hotel rates for a couple of nights in order to withdraw.
"I didn't get their thinking on that," said Stoll, 51. "People did what I did, which was to say, 'If I'm here, I'm running. I'll walk/jog part of it if I have to.' Four hundred people did pick up numbers and not run the race."
Stoll had a good-sized breakfast well before the race and made sure she had "a full tank" at the start of the run. She also received some good advice from University at Buffalo track coach Vicki Mitchell.
"She emailed me, and said it was not a race," Stoll said. "She wrote, 'You're doing the miles, and you are going to finish. So just run.' That's hard to do."
The veteran runner described the starting line as having an almost eerie quiet. By the 10-kilometer mark, Stoll realized that the next 20 miles were going to be very difficult, and that it was decision time. Drop out and use a winter of good training at a later marathon somewhere else, or gut it out now? She opted to keep going.
"Some dropped out. Some did what I did," Stoll said. "Time was too important to some people. It was too important to me not to have a DNF [did not finish] in Boston. I wasn't going to be the only one with a bad time. Brian McElroy [another local runner] said we were all in the same boat. Everyone figured to be 35 to 45 minutes off their projected time.
"I was so disappointed. I knew my time was not going to show how hard I had worked. Runners are all about numbers -- we weigh our shoes, ourselves, look at times. It's hard to accept."
The Boston Marathon sends runners off in three giant waves, with each group wearing color-coded bibs. By mile 15, Stoll started to catch up to runners with red bibs, indicating elite runners who had a 40-minute head start on her were falling way back.
Then Stoll started to see the carnage that the temperature was causing.
"It was disturbing. It shook me up," she said. "I saw a young girl who was on the ground. Her legs and arms were shaking. I went to stop at a water station, and a gentleman had his head bent down. When he stood up, you could see he was going to pass out. I heard his head hit the pavement.
"The last two miles, I saw bodies on the side of the road. I knew it was really bad if they couldn't make the last two miles. The side of the road was sloped, and they had their heads down in order to get blood flowing back to the brain."
Stoll had started running with a man from Virginia around the halfway point. The two of them encouraged each other the rest of the way, slowing when the other needed a rest. It helped. Finally, four hours, 31 minutes and 38 seconds after the start of the race, Stoll crossed the finish line and let the emotions pour over her.
"I could not believe, at my age, that I could accomplish that. It's the hardest thing I've ever done," she said. "I wanted to be happy, but there were lines of wheelchairs as soon as I finished. The medical tents were full. I was really stunned."
Would Stoll do it again? Absolutely.
"I'm going back next year," she said. "I have qualified, so I should not have a problem. I sure hope it's not 89 degrees again, though -- that's what it was when I finished."
*BPAC 6-Hour Distance Classic Ultra, Northtown Center in Amherst, 8 a.m. today.
*Sedita Dragon 5K, 21 Lowell Place in Buffalo, 6 p.m. Friday, 316-5782.
*GBTC Grand Island Half Marathon, Beaver Island State Park in Grand Island, 10 a.m. Saturday, 515-5159.
*Allegany Adventure Runs, 6K, 13K & 22K, Allegany State Park in Salamanca, 10 a.m. Saturday, 574-0888.
*ARC of Orleans County Terri Krieger Memorial 5K Run, 189 North Gravel Road in Medina, 2 p.m. Saturday, (585) 589-5516 x227.