Stop me if you’ve heard this one.
A guy in a panda suit, a nurse anesthetist and Mother Nature in a really bad mood walked into a bar in Boston.
Except it wasn’t a bar but instead the 2018 Boston Marathon.
If you paid attention then you’ll know the event this year was brutal.
At start time, officials announced the temperature sitting at a balmy 38 degrees, making it the coldest start in Boston in 30 years. Add to that rain and a blustery, almost gale-like wind, which reached speeds of up to 30 mph and conditions were less than perfect.
The winning times showed. Desiree Linden became the first American woman to win Boston in 40 years, posting the slowest winning time for a woman in 33 years in 2:39:54.
On the men’s side things weren’t much better, as Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi finished in 2:15:58 for the slowest winning time for men in 42 years.
The men’s wheelchair race winner, yes his time was super slow as well, crossed the finish line and then went straight to the medical tent. Afterwards, he claimed he never managed to warm up during the roughly two hours on the daunting 26.2-mile course.
But something crazy happened on the course that day. As the conditions went from bad to worse, a few runners showed a lot of heart and grit.
On the women’s side, American’s grabbed seven of the top 10 spots. The American men fell one shy of that, as runners from the good ol’ US of A snatched six of the top 10 spots.
In a race where American distance running fans typically are happy to have two or three USA runners place in the top 10, the daunting conditions did nothing to hamper the locals and actually provided us with some great stories.
Take the words of the men’s winner Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi, who took to social media claiming the race offered the best conditions for him. Some might think him crazy but wait a second on that judgment, because it only gets better.
A lot of runners prepare for marathons by running races. Yuki, I’m using his first name because honestly I don’t want to try to spell his last name every time and I think someone like him deserves first name status, ran a half marathon as a warm-up for Boston in his hometown of Kuki.
Yes you read that right. My new favorite living distance runner, sorry Yuki no one will ever take Pre from my top all-time spot, is Kuki from Yuki.
What’s so awesome about Yuki placing second in the Kuki Half marathon you ask? Well my friends. The wunderkind did it while wearing a panda suit.
Not a panda hat or panda gloves but a full-fledged panda suit. He covered the 13.1-mile course in just over an hour and 10 minutes. Did I mention Yuki wore a panda suit, because I really don’t want that to get lost in this article?
By the way, Yuki holds the unofficial world record for running a half marathon in a three-piece suit. Just for fun Yuki also holds world records, these are official, for most sub 2:12 marathons and most sub 2:20 marathons with 25 and 79, respectively.
And he takes his running seriously. When he placed 14th a few years back at the Tokyo Marathon failing to qualify for the Japanese Olympic team at the London Olympics, he apologized and shaved his head in penance.
Yep. Yuki is a bad ass. So the gale force winds, record cold and driving rain deterred a lot of world-class athletes. But it did nothing to our new friend Yuki.
Heck, he probably found it easier running this race than his hometown half marathon.
By the way, he works a regular job every day that doesn’t allow him to receive corporate sponsorship. He can claim his prize money, but Nike can’t throw a swoosh on his panda costume and pay him for it.
Don’t think I’ve forgotten about the women and super kudos go out to Linden for grabbing the victory. But there is another runner who caught my attention. That’s runner-up Sarah Sellers, also from the US.
When Sellers crossed the finish line, she had to ask race officials what place she finished. Male and females run at the same time, and I’m guessing it might have been hard to tell genders with everyone all bundled up. She thought she had maybe grabbed a top-20 finish.
When she learned that she finished second, let’s say state of shock might be a huge understatement.
Sellers was flying so low under the elite-runner radar that when she sat down at the post race press conference, the gathered media started off with a question not often heard – “Tell us who you are?”
Maybe you don’t know how rare that is, but those words have never been uttered in any of the many, many post event press conferences I’ve attended. Can you imagine someone raising their hand and asking the same thing of say Nick Saban? Just think about the viral internet video that would follow.
Sellers turns out to be a full-time nurse anesthetist in Arizona and either trains later in the evening or super early in the morning, say four in the morningish. She loves her job. She even said winning the $75,000 prize money wouldn’t mean she would leave it.
It’s not like Sellers just walked to the starting line, borrowed a pair of running shoes and finished second, though. She was a top-notch distance runner in college but was only running her second marathon and not considered an elite competitor.
And what about that word elite. There were lots of elite runners in Boston. Or in other words, really well-known distance runners or at least as well known as those athletes can be. Many dropped out. Some didn’t even start and a lot never finished.
That’s fine. Those runners will find another race probably with a lot better conditions and try their luck again. But I’ve got to say watching the race and watching the replays of Yuki and Sarah brave the elements and beat almost all comers brought a huge smile to my face.
American distance running has come back into the limelight internationally over the past decade, but this year’s Boston Marathon showed what I love best about our runners and our new friend Yuki.
Distance running isn’t just about being your best on a perfect day with no wind and rain and the sun smiling warmly back at you.
My favorite runners and athletes are the ones who can toe the line in brutal conditions, with crazy wind and driving rain while Mother Nature beats on you like Rome whipped Buford in high school football.
Let’s be honest. The conditions at the Boston Marathon stunk.
But the race provided a glimpse into the heart of every runner. Two runners, who work regular, full-time jobs and sometimes even race in panda suits, showed us that you don’t have to be considered elite to win. You just have to be willing to fight like hell and never give up even when the conditions stink.