The forecast for Monday's Boston Marathon spelled disaster for some of the racers. The temperature was supposed to be in the 80s, a rarity for mid-April and a disadvantage for some of those who were relying on chillier temperatures to shatter records.
For Joshua Cassidy and Shirley Reilly, however, the weather wasn't a factor at all.
Cassidy put forth one of the most impressive performances of the day, winning the men's wheelchair division in 1:18.25, beating Ernst Van Dyk's 2004 record by two seconds. The second men's wheelchair racer didn't finish until more than three minutes later.
Reilly, who won the women's wheelchair division for the first time, beat runner-up Wakako Tsuchida by one second.
Cassidy was most concerned about beating Van Dyk, who has emerged victorious in the marathon nine times but finished in sixth place this year. Upon realizing that he was way ahead of the pack by the time he reached the top of Heartbreak Hill, Cassidy figured that he had the race in the bag and instead began to focus on beating the record.
Cassidy told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette's Rich Garven:
I was keeping time and knew there was a chance [at the record], so I kept pushing for it. I’m pretty excited, pretty happy. … With more experience, I think you have less of a game plan and you’re able to react a little better. I was going into it looking to stick with Ernst and if I was on my own, I was just going to keep my head down, work hard, and focus on my own strengths.
The weather was a surprise to Cassidy, as it was for many other racers who spent the winter training in long-sleeved garments. Cassidy wore the same long-sleeved shirt he trained in, despite the heat. He told the Associated Press, "I wanted to stick with what was familiar and not worry about the heat."
Cassidy was able to succeed in Monday's race because he didn't focus on anything—not the weather, not the people around him, not the spectators—except his own performance. It all came down to a mental game and his own ability to push himself, temperatures aside.
He told the Boston Herald's Joe Reardon:
If I was on my own, I wanted to keep my own race game and put my head down and keep going hard. When there’s a pack, sometimes there’s a lot of things going on and you’re worried about other people. This way it’s your own pace, working as hard as you can.
Cassidy knew that the longer he stayed out on the course, the slimmer his chances of winning would become. He added to Reardon, "At the finish, the heat was pretty taxing. I think the guys out there for three and a half and four hours are going to hurt. I hope they take enough water.”
Reilly, who finished almost seven minutes behind Tsuchida in the 2011 Boston Marathon, won on a sprint to the finish line and improved upon her previous time by almost three-and-a half-minutes.
The University of Arizona junior told Garven that it was her sixth or seventh time competing in Boston and she was thrilled to have beaten both Wakako and third-place finisher Diane Roy after failing to beat either of them before.
The heat seemed to make the pundits certain that no records would be broken on Monday, but that wasn't the case for those hitting the course. Instead, they pushed themselves based on the knowledge that racing comes down to mental, more than physical, fortitude.
Those who didn't believe they could win on such an unfavorably warm day didn't finish ahead of the pack. If Cassidy and Reilly had counted themselves among the naysayers, they wouldn't be polishing gold medals right now.