Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Marathon Recap

I'm going to start at the Beginning.  For those of you who want to skip right ahead to the end, you can feel free to do so.  There will be subheadings to make it easy for you.  But I don't think I can explain the end without properly setting up the beginning.

For me, its always been sort of a love hate thing with the Boston Marathon,  or probably more of just a dislike thing.  As a slow runner, I've got to admit the snobbish "qualifying times"  (that were made more difficult recently) that keep the vast majority of runners out of the race have always rubbed me wrong.  To me, there is nothing more amazing than the 6 hour marathoner who sweats and tries for 6 hours to do what some can do in 3:15:00 and to keep them out is discouraging.

And then there is the fact that whenever you tell people that you've run a lot marathons, they inevitably respond, "Have you run Boston?" not really knowing that their question is going to invoke your lingering sense of slowness and incompetence when you have to explain that there is NO WAY you are ever going to shave the hour and forty five minutes off your time in order to make the qualifying standards.

I grew up in the Boston area, and have recently moved back there, so I was anticipating getting significant "Boston" pressure this year (which was much more easily ignored in Atlanta or San Francisco) until my husband just happened to be sitting next to a guy at a dinner.  The guy just happened to be related to one of the race's organizers and my husband just happened to be complaining that I was headed out to do the Disney Marathon the next morning (he says he was just talking about it). . . Surprise.  I had a time exempt entry into the marathon!

I took it.  Even though part of me felt like I was "giving in"  I couldn't resist the chance to get the Boston Monkey off my back.  At least when people asked, I could simply say "yes, I've run Boston" and leave it at that.

It'd been a long cold snowy winter here in central Massachusetts. Admittedly, my training hadn't been optimal-- 108 inches of snow between February 1 and March 20 does not do wonders for a training regime.  Add in studying for the bar exam (my 3rd state) and lets just say, I'd gone into races feeling a bit more confident physically.  Mentally, as the race grew closer, I got more and more nervous as I started to focus on not being one of the qualifiers.

I made it to packet pick up (in the same room as the bar exam no less) and was discouraged to realize that not only was I in the last wave start (I'd expected that); I was in the last corral in the last wave (this was probably my own fault; I was given an opportunity on my time waived card to put down a time.  I was afraid to enter one for fear that they'd change their mind and not let me in).  I started having very realistic feelings that I was going to be the last one out on the course and that there was not going to be any spectators left.

Race Morning dawned clear and chilly.  I drove into Boston to catch one of the runner transport buses back to Hopkinton.  Not knowing the city very well, I did what I always did. Parked at Prudential Center and started wandering until I found someone to show me how to get to the bus location.  The lines were long, but friendly, and eventually we were on a bus to the start.  
I was surprised by how long it took to get there-- we were on the bus for over an hour. . . and we chatted about the race as we drove.  I expressed my fear that I would be last to a few of my seatmates. . . their response, an encouraging "No, you qulified to be here, it won't be bad?"  Ugh--no, actually I didn't.

I was surprised by the small size of the the "athletes village" at the beginning of the race.  27K athletes didn't really fit in there all that well, and the lines for the port-a-loos were huge. . . (as an aside, the gentlemen using the woods as port-a-loos were given a choice by the local police-- go to jail on a public nudity charge or get disqualified from the race and turn in their number-- HARSH choice Town of Hopkinton). . . but eventually everyone cleared out of the village and headed to the start.

I was in wave 3; corral 6.  I started to feel better when I realized there were 9 corrals and at least there might be a few stragglers behind me when I got to the finish.  .  .  I walked down with a gentleman who was wearing his M80+ age group on his back.  .  . I am consistently amazed at these guys. . . Awesome. . . and then I saw Tedy.  As in Tedy Bruschi-- my all time favorite Patriot (his story is pretty well known) giving out hugs to the members of his team as they entered the race.  I grabbed a picture and kept moving.

Finally it was time to start.  Time to see what all the hubbub was about.  So many people had told me that Boston was such a special race. . . so different from all the other marathons. .. it was time to find out (and being the skeptic that I am, I wasn't expecting much).

The race itself was just that. . . a marathon, except that it wasn't.  The course was unremarkable, and amazing at the same time.  The first few miles, as they always are, were tough for me.  I pulled out a trick from my Team in Training Days, and started to assign miles.  Mile 2:  Aunt Virginia, suffering from cancer, that was for you.  Mile 3:  Mark Zafra, that one was yours.  Mile 4: A friend who'd recently had surgery.  Mile 5:  Laura Owens, that was yours.  Mile 6:  I celebrated all the healthy people I knew. . . and then the fans kicked in. . . and (holding you Laura Warren for Heartbreak Hill) I didn't need to dedicate miles any more.

THE FANS WERE AMAZING!  I was shocked.  Wearing my erstwhile Worcester Academy tank top, I was shocked at the number of people who set up WORCESTER chants. Dad's in Assumption, Holy Cross, and WPI sweatshirts running into the road to give me a high five.  Little kids (and some adults) mispronouncing Worcester--leading me to wonder what they teach people East of 495 about the second largest city in New England.  Thank you Natick for truly showing some love to the Woo.

This was before I got to Wellesley.  OH MY GOODNESS.  I'd always heard about the girls of Wellesley College, but frankly figured by the time my slow butt got there they would be all gone.  NO.  NOT IN THE SLIGHTEST.  The road narrows and you are running downhill; this is right about the 12 mile mark, so you are closing in on the half way point-- a marker in any race that can be both encouraging (I'm half way done) and discouraging, (13 miles left) at the same time.  Women lined the street-- screaming, cheering, hands out for high fives-- even from this old fat lady-- signs declaring:  "Kiss Me-- I'm French", "Kiss Me-- I'm a chemist", "Kiss me-- I'm an opera singer", "Kiss me-- I'm out and proud" lined the race course.  The noise was unbelievable.  So too was the amount of energy that I picked up from those girls.   At the same time, I was running near a blind US Army Green Beret and his two guides.  . . I lost them as they headed over to talk to one of the girls "Kiss me-- I'm ROTC" but not without thanking them for their service and inspiration. All in all-- what an amazing amount of emotional energy taken and given in that one single mile. . .

Then it was on to the hills.    Gotta say, Heartbreak Hill-- not quite as bad as advertised.  Partially because I've been living in San Francisco for a while-- and partially I envisioned Laura Warren sitting there on the side of the road just like she always is for that huge hill at Vineman. . . making me cry and telling me to stop crying and start working . . But what a thrill to know I was up and over it and at mile 21-- or pretty much all downhill into Boston from here.

I guess it is worth noting that I was running a great race.  I was surprising myself with my time and although my quads were burning-- the real difficult part of heartbreak hill is the quad busting downhill--I felt OK.  I had a little over an hour and 5 minutes to get those last 5 miles in in order to get my first post kids sub five hour finish. . . so I was pretty psyched.  More importantly, I'd gotten the "I'm going to be last" chip off my shoulder and was not feeling nearly as inadequate as I'd been at the start.

And then there was BC:  the proclaimed "Golden Mile"  WOW.  Downhill. . screaming, completely wasted co-eds lined both sides of the street. They screamed, they demanded high fives, they mispronounced Worcester, they hollered, they spilled alcohol on/near you. . . it was like Bay to Breakers without the sober people!

Just when I was worried that I'd expended all of my emotional energy. . . I passed the Hoyts.  I'm going to say that again.  I passed the Hoyts. . . I'd seen the Hoyts run so many Falmouth Road Races, I'd cheered for them; shed tears for them, and now I was passing them.  I pulled my phone out from my pocket and took a quick video as I went past.  Now I had tears streaming down my face as I pulled up to mile 23.

I was awed, I was thrilled (still rocking the PR pace), and I was almost home!!! Going to get the Boston medal!

Suddenly I heard sirens and police were darting onto the course and pushing the runners down into a single file line. . . I said a quick prayer for, what I assumed, was the person in the ambulance that, I assumed, was about to come screaming past me. . . I didn't count the number of marked and unmarked and motorcycle police that screamed by. . . but it was a lot.  Admittedly I thought it was odd that there was no ambulance following in the wake of the police cars, but I thought, "Boston is a big city, something must have happened somewhere".  After the police cars went by, the runners fanned out again and headed for home.

The crowds on the sidelines kept cheering. . . there may have been a drop of in the numbers of people, but it would be hard to tell from where I stood-- it was late in the marathon-- the elites having finished hours ago and a substantial number of people lined the streets urging us slowpokes on.

I crossed the 40K timing mat and got a little further down the road before I started wondering if I'd made a wrong turn somewhere.  I couldn't really see the runners in front of me any more.  There were so many spectators coming down the center of the road towards me. Some were running, most were walking.  I turned to a police man on the side of the road and said, "Did I miss a turn?  Am I going the right way?"  His response:

"The marathon's been cancelled.  The finish line is gone."

The marathon's been cancelled.  The finish line is gone.  I ran a few more steps.  What?  I stopped running and started to walk.  What? I stopped walking.  WHAT?  I stopped my watch.  WHAT?  I asked a volunteer what had happened.  There'd been an explosion. Was it bad?  No one knew details.  Runners were still running towards the "finish line".  As they stopped, a huge group of us: runners and spectators alike gathered in the center of Commonwealth Ave.   Asking questions of every police officer; asking questions of race staff.  Getting no answers.

The most common question?  What were we supposed to do?  It was about at that point I remembered I was running with my phone and pulled it out to call my husband and my parents.  Or text, since cell service was difficult. . . letting them know I was OK.  I saw the overwhelming number of people worried about me on Facebook and did a quick status update that I was safe.  I told my husband, and a few others, that my car was probably "gone"-- like the finish line.

My family wanted to know what I was doing. . . The thing is, I didn't know.  The police had no information as to what we runners should do.  The race officials had even less.  We stood there shivering in the late afternoon breeze and waiting for some one to tell us what to do.  People came out of their homes bringing us trash bags to wrap around ourselves to try to keep warm.  People brought water-- in any containers they had.  I was sipping water out of Tupperware jar. I was shivering and loaning my cell phone out left and right.  Most found their loved ones.  One man, whose family was waiting for him at the finish, couldn't get his family to pick up the phone. . .

By now, I'd learned that the finish line was not "gone" but what had really happened.  It was bad, but not as bad as I'd thought.

After about 45 minutes, word started to circulate that we were to head towards Boston Common and the baggage buses at least would be there.  I sent the information to my family and started walking in that direction.  I found my baggage pretty quickly. . . and was reunited with a friend from the start line-- Boston was her 50th marathon. . . she'd had her whole family waiting at the finish to celebrate the accomplishment. . . but they all were safe.  She was a conflicting mess of emotions:  relief that everyone was safe, anger at the bad guys, frustration at not being able to finish the marathon or her quest for 50, confusion, and guilt.  I needed a port-a-loo, but they were all locked shut for safety.

I finally got my sweats from the baggage bus. . and seconds later a team of police came in and closed off the area:  "this is a new crime scene"  "get out of here."   I ran in the opposite direction.  I was one of the last to get my bags yesterday.

Knowing the car was parked in the area that was now an active crime scene,  I didn't think for a second about trying to get back to the car. I started trying to see how I was going to get out of the city.  People were milling about everywhere. No one knew where to go or what to do.  I arrived at Boston Common, and although that is where we'd been told to go-- there was no one telling us what to do when we got there.  I found 3 older gentlemen in BAA jackets and asked if they knew how to get on the T or a train West.  (thinking that once I got out of the city someone could pick me up).  They were headed to the T station, so we walked together.  They'd been near the finish line. . . they won't ever forget it.

We learned that this T stop was closed, but there was an MBTA guy there who told me if I could get to South Station I could catch a 5:35 train to Worcester.  It was 5:10.  South Station was about another mile and a half from where we were.  We busted ass across the city. . and got to the station at 5:30.  Stood in line to buy a ticket-- these three guys not wanting to abandon me. . . this was when I realized that I had no money (ran with my cell this time-- not with any money).  One of the men whipped out his wallet and at 5:33 I was hauling ass towards the train. Almost wish my Garmin was on because I know that was my fastest split time of the day.

I collapsed on the train.  And collapsed into a puddle of tears.
It was then I saw the out pouring of concern and support from my friends around the globe. I penned a quick facebook status

                  I am on a train out of the city and Headed for home. I am safe. I was at mile 25.67 when people came running back at me. People started to say marathon was cancelled. We stopped and waited for instructions. Eventually we learned what happened and started to walk. People came out and brought us trash bags to stay warm and water. 3 security guys from the race helped me find south station and bought me my ticket home. My car, drivers license and money is underneath Prudential Center. Not sure when I will get it back but it doesn't really matter. There are no words to express my emotions, especially as I sit here warm on the train and see the outpouring of concern from all of you. Thank you so much. Your love and affection is  warming my heart on a cold cold day.

Today is April 16, 2013 and much like September 12, 2001, we awoke a much different nation than we did the day before.  Our community of runners has been joined by people the world over, grieving for the dead and wounded and mourning the loss of our joy.

As for me, I'm a big ball of raw emotion.  A day that had been filled with so much emotion-- the fear of not being good enough, the manic energy of the Wellesley girls, the pure elation of the BC mile, the nervous anticipation of a PR, the joyful anticipation of the finish line, reached its limit when the officer said that the race was cancelled; the finish line was gone.

The confusion of those next hours will stay with me for a long time.  The loss and fear are just starting to set in.  I'm angry at the perpetrators for the loss of life and senseless destruction, but I'm also angry for being robbed of the ability to say I am a Boston finisher.  I will still always have to explain, "well, I've almost run Boston, but. . ."

I feel guilty that I selfishly wish I'd gotten my medal and my PR.  For the first time ever, I'm relieved that I wasn't 10 minutes faster.

Will I race again.  Of course I will.  Would I run Boston again?  In a heartbeat-- if I can manage to score a number.

As for now, I'm lacing up my running shoes.  Today, I will run for those who no longer can.

Thanks to everyone for your love and support.


  1. So very, very, very glad that you are okay. I cried reading your description of your day and can relate to the emotions of the race; your description carried me through to imagining the unimaginable ending.

    Love from all..


  2. Your blog was wonderfully written and I am glad you are safe:) even happier you will continue to run and you will have your Boston moment one day and you will appreciate it even more!
    I will keep the families of the victims in my heart and prayers.

  3. You're a finisher as far as I'm concerned. I hope you decide to return next year...I get the feeling that the greatest Boston story of triumph will be all of you who had a taste of the finish and were stopped, only to return again the next year and finish. Now THAT is persistence. ;-)

    Cheers, SD
    A Trail Runner's Blog

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