Chrissie Boatman started crying four blocks from the finish line.
The tears didn’t stop her from running.
But the farther she ran, the more she cried. And by the time she was in the shadow of the finish line at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, she was face-scrunched-up bawling. She alternated between putting her hands over her mouth in disbelief and raising them above her head in triumph.
It took her five years to get to that finish line.
“I went across it this time,” she said, laughing.
That was no small accomplishment for Boatman. On a day when a record 26,200 runners waited out a nearly two-hour delay caused by early-morning thunderstorms, then battled high temperatures and brutal winds, everyone had a reason for being at the Memorial Marathon and sticking it out. But no one was motivated quite like Boatman.
She nearly died on the course in 2009.
Sunday, the Tecumseh resident returned to the Memorial Marathon for the first time since then. She came back to run the entire marathon and finish what she started.
“It was great,” she said after crossing the line. “Honestly, I felt so strong. I never even hit the wall.”
Five years ago, she hit it so hard that she almost didn’t survive.
* * *
Chrissie Boatman was like a lot of women seven years ago. She’d had kids, three in all. She’d hit a milestone birthday, turning 30. And she’d put on a few more pounds than she wanted. She decided it was time to get healthy.
So, she started Weight Watchers and joined a running club at the Y near her house in Mesa, Ariz. She wore sweatpants and baggy shirts and was a self-described horrible runner at first.
But running once a week eventually evolved into training for a 5K. Then came a 10K and a 10-miler and a half-marathon. Those races went so well that Boatman figured the next step was a marathon.
Her friends at the club thought she was a little crazy.
“You just started running a year ago,” they would tell her.
“Oh,” Boatman would say, “this is what you’re supposed to do.”
A native of Oklahoma, Boatman decided her first marathon would be back home. She would run the Memorial Marathon. She wanted to be prepared, so leading up to the race in April 2009, she followed a solid training plan and put in a lot of miles. She knew that she was ready to go by the time the race rolled around.
But on the morning of the race, Boatman walked from her car to the start line and realized that something might be wrong. Even though she was relatively new to distance running, this day felt different. Before other races, she’d been cold and shivering waiting to start. Before that Memorial Marathon, there was no chill in the air. It was actually warm. The sun wasn’t even up.
It was a bad sign.
That year turned out to be as warm, windy and humid a day as the Memorial Marathon has ever had. Runners dropped out by the dozens, even well-trained ones. They found the conditions too hazardous to navigate.
But Boatman figured she’d handled the Arizona heat, so she could handle this.
And she did for about 16 miles. But around that point, the Oklahoma humidity and wind caught up to her. She struggled to run, so she drank more water; she later learned that drinking water instead of sports drinks threw off her already out-of-balance electrolytes even more. She slowed down more, even stopping to walk occasionally.
Then, around Mile 20 or 21, she looked at her watch and had no idea what the numbers meant. She was swerving. She was shuffling. She was struggling.
As Boatman approached the aid station at Mile 23, medical workers came out to meet her. Someone ahead of her had told them that it looked like she might be in trouble.
“Hey,” one of the workers said, “are your OK?”
The worker reached out and touched her.
She collapsed into the worker’s arms.
Moments later, the workers had her submerged in a baby pool full of ice water. Boatman was crying and pleading to continue. If she could just sit down for a minute, she’d be fine, she argued. But she couldn’t hold herself up, open her eyes or even remember her husband’s phone number.