How does one begin to tell yesterday’s story? I want to tell the good. I want to share the energy, the excitement. I want to try to describe the bop in my step as I walked to the finish line at 8am yesterday. I want people to know that this was still a good event. That people still lived out their dreams. That there were hugs and tears of joy before there were embraces and tears of pain. But to do so seems a disservice to those injured and deceased from yesterday’s explosions. I will tell the story of our day and will preface by saying we are so incredibly lucky. And the heavy heart I carry, and will carry, is for those who were not.
JD woke up at 5am and with energy to spare. I lumbered around in bed until he left for the buses which took all the runners to Athlete’s Village – 26.2 miles away. There, they sit and wait in the cold until the start of the race. I went back to sleep until about 7:20, showered, packed up our room and then headed off to the finish line. Because this is a point-to-point race, it’s difficult to spectate. And because I wanted to make sure not to miss JD at the finish, I opted out of the potential chaos of jumping trains to see him at multiple points. He ran Boston in 2010 so I knew the importance of getting to the finish early. It doesn’t take long for the crowds to grow to an uncomfortable level and I wanted a spot right at the finish and right along the guard rails. As I bopped down Charles Street, I wore my “My husband runs fast” tshirt and had my lucky fishtail braids in. I wore this exact look when JD PR’d in November so was sure it would be good luck. I stopped by Starbucks for a Peppermint Hot Chocolate to warm me up. I knew I was in for a long day but was so excited. I just love spectating a marathon.
When I turned onto Boylston, the course itself was packed full of people. They hadn’t closed it down yet and so runners, bikers and rollarbladers took their opportunity to test the course. I walked past the finish line and decided to go a little further out so I could get a better view (the area closest to the actual finish line is heavily roped off with metal and wood to keep spectators from getting too close). I found a sunny spot right next to the Dunkin Donuts. There were two nice families flanking me – two families I got to know quite well. The crew to my left were cheering for Erin. This was her 13th marathon but her first Boston. Her mom and dad were in from Connecticut and her husband from Florida. He is in the airforce so has never seen her race. The group to my right were cheering for their friend. The man next to me ran in 2011 and so throughout the race, we talked about timing, hills, and pace. A couple from Mexico stood behind me. Though he spoke broken English and I poor Spanglish, we talked throughout and he even offered me his gloves when it was cold. All four of our groups were stalking the BAA.org app, website and twitter feed. Even that early – 2 hours before the men started and 5+ hours before I would see JD, there were people everywhere. My group (me and the families next to me) talked about the things we saw: the three homeless men behind us, the crowds amassing across the street, the K9 dogs, the police brigade. Erin’s husband read aloud the elite leaders’ bios and I kept every abreast of what was happening on Twitter. At one point, I asked them to watch my bag so I could run into Dunkin and get some donys and another hot chocolate. Another time, I asked the same so I could go to the bathroom. Of all the things I thought through- someone taking my bag or even worse, my prized spot at the finish, I wasn’t aware of my surroundings. Not like I should have been. I just watched people for interest. Looked at signs people made. The different nationalities represented. And I did what every spectator does at every marathon – I became part of the community. I knew the names of the runners my new friends were cheering for. I checked their bib numbers on my phone to track pace. I knew their goal time and my new friends knew all the same about JD. We had united over this event.
Around 11am, we started to see some action. The wheelchair participants were coming in hot and what an inspiration these people are. Using all arms and core, they flew by us. The winner of the female race, an American! As we listened to the National Anthem play for her, the other participants raced toward the finish – some juggling for that lead spot with the person next to him/her. The crowds roared. The cowbells rang. And the sun, finally, started its way to us. Though I had picked sunny spot at the beginning, soon after, it dipped behind the Lenox Hotel and didn’t return for hours. It was freezing and though a great day for running, I was happy to have JD’s extra long-sleeved shirt in my bag to wear.
Winner of the Male Wheelchair race
During this time, I was communicating constantly with my friends back home who were not just tracking the elites, but also JD. The elite women had a 30 minute head start so it wasn’t long after the first rush of wheelchair participants came through that the lead pack charged down Boylston. From everything I was reading on Twitter, it.was.a RACE. Felix, who had led for miles was overtaken by the chase pack including Shalane Flanagan (USA). With only a 7 second gap, Shalane looked like she had a chance for 3rd place. My friends were tweeting back and forth and I was ready with my phone to capture the speedy women as they passed. Shalane ended up in 4th (you’d be amazed how long 7 seconds is at the pace they are running). The crowd went wild for these women and you’ll notice below, the sun creeped closer.
Women winners – watch the video!
One of the many women who sprinted 26.2 miles
The family next to me and I had a bet – whether the elite men would finish before the sun reached us. When I had walked down to Starbucks for the bathroom, the weather was so much warmer down there. We were building up body heat by cheering, but the sun would make it a perfect spring day for spectating.
JD was doing great, by the way. Every split was consistent and right on pace for his 3:05 goal. Though he has already qualified for Boston 2014, I know he wanted to requalify at Boston (something apparently only about 30% of runners do). It’s a tough course – so much downhill (which shreds your quads) and then brutal uphills. He and his friend Michael run together on Saturday mornings and have been running fast. I know both were hoping for a great time. Though my BAA app was slow to respond, I was getting updates on JD every 5K from the website. And my friends Jake, Meghan and Amy were tracking JD online and could provide even more detailed updates. I hated not being able to see him at more points in the race, but felt I was close to him just being able to see his splits.
Not too long after the women elite ran through, the men turned the corner. But right before the male winner passed me, the sun reached me. I bathed in it. My toes became unnumb. My fingers thawed out. I was ready to spectate even harder. And again, as the men flew by towards breaking the winning ribbon, I got a video of the top 3.
Men winners – watch the video!
This race is an incredible race. The athleticism is just unbelievable. I have been to plenty of races where JD is running in a sparse field and finishes in the top 10% every time. But Boston? So many are fast. With the winners done, I was just waiting for JD to get to me. And was amazed by the thick field of runners all finishing under 3 hours. It’s just crazy.
so many speedy runners
We had about 45 minutes before JD would come through so I was tracking him like a hawk. But not just JD, I tracked my fellow spectators’ runners as well. The crowds had gotten extremely thick and so though I had posted up along the guard rail, more were squeezing in. A little boy and little girl stood right between me and one of the guys I had been there with for over 5 hours. The mom had dark hair and we chatted about the fact that this race was 30 degrees cooler than last year’s race. The kids were a blast – trying to determine what country each runner was from and cheering loudly. I talked with my Mexican friends and told them to cheer for JD. And when one man ran by with no shoes on, they yelled “No zapatos!” which made me laugh since it’s one of the few nouns I remember from Spanish class.
There is a group of service men and women who every year start the race much earlier in the day and walk the entire 26.2 miles in full gear and packs. These packs weigh up to 50lbs. When we saw each small group of them in uniform, making their way to the finish, our cheering crew chanted “USA! USA!” and cheered so loudly. When we saw multiple men cramp up and stop in the middle of the course, we’d yell “Come on 1234! You got this! Hang in there. Keep it up!” When we saw people walking, looking like death we would seek their bib number and yell “Pick it up 1234! You are so close! KICK IT UP!” When we saw those runners with the last minute sprint, going full force into the finish, we would scream as loud as we could. We created an unspoken cadence of how to cheer together and we were loving every second. The crowd was happy. Energetic. We were united.
My friends who were cheering for Erin expected her around a time of 3:30 (and she started at 10:25 or so, so that put her at 2pmish). My friends to my right expected their friend around 3:40-3:50 (which put him a little after 2pm). I met a man from Fishers, IN who was cheering for his girlfriend but he expected her later too. So JD was the first of our group to cheer for. My new friends asked me his bib number, what he looked like and were on high alert to see him come through Boylston. Unfortunately, right around the 30k mark, JD’s pace started slipping. My friends told me that’s where the hills are so I hoped his pace would be back on track by the 35K mark. But it wasn’t. My at-home friends were giving me the play by play and it was clear, he was struggling. I assumed injury and just hoped he wasn’t in too much pain. We waited and waited and waited for the 40K (which is the 25 mile mark) to come up. When it finally did, I knew we were minutes from seeing JD. Jake texted that he was 500 feet out and my brother told me he should be there any second so my entire group was staring and searching. One lady asked me what he looked like and I said “I don’t know, attractive?” and another was scared we missed him. I told them to keep looking, we’d find him. In panic mode, I texted Jake and said “Did I miss him?” and he said “No, he just ran by an Apple Store.” Now I have no idea how Jake had such details, but given JD and I had spent the past 2+ days in this area, I knew Boylston like the back of my hand. I knew exactly where that was and stood up on the guardrail to look for him. There he came….much slower than normal but with a smile on his face. My friends screamed and screamed “GO JOSH!!!!” and rang their cowbells. You’d have thought it was a group of people that had known JD for years the way they carried on. When JD reached me, he stopped, grabbed my face and kissed me. And then raced ahead. As I grinned ear to ear, I heard one man say behind me “Let’s hope he didn’t just miss his PR by 8 seconds for that kiss!” I grabbed my bag and weaved and ducked through the crowds to head to the family meeting area. I wished everyone good luck and thanked them for the lovely morning. At that time, I felt a more poignant goodbye was necessary. We had spent all morning together! But I knew it was time to meet JD.
Here he comes on the right!
Getting to the family meeting area takes patience and skill. I walked by the finish area, down some back streets, around the entire course, back around the other side of the spectators and straight for Letter D. I waited and soon saw JD hobbling toward me with his heat blanket on. He collapsed on the concrete next to me and recounted his race. He knew at mile 14 he wasn’t going to get 3:05. He surged on until mile 18, still averaging around a 7/mile pace. But with the Newton Hills and Heartbreak Hill, he had nothing left. His legs were spent. He wasn’t injured or out of breath. He just had nothing left. He was disappointed, but knew he gave it his all. He risked going out fast and wasn’t able to get the time he wanted (he finished around 3:24) but still ran fast. In fact, he ran so fast, he very well may have saved my life.
We didn’t wait long before making our way back out of the chaos. I can’t describe the chaos. People everywhere. There is an attempt at order but there are strollers, kids, double strollers, runners, bags, guardrails. It’s a mess. As we reached the subway stairs, we stood at the top about to descend and JD said “There’s Boston Common right?” I said yes. He said “Ok, I think I can walk back to the hotel.” So we did. People stopped along the way to tell JD congrats and I was bursting with pride. I may never qualify for Boston but I can tell you, at that very moment, I wanted it so very badly. There is NO race like Boston. NONE.
JD in Boston Commons. Right before we found out about the explosions
Right around this time, my friend Amy texted and said “I’m seeing tweets about an explosion near the finish line. Are you guys safe?” I told her yes, and then immediately turned to Twitter. By typing in “Boston Marathon Explosion” into the search, I pulled up everything that was happening. The images. The reports. Tears filled my eyes. JD asked what was wrong and I told him. But we both hoped, and thought it was possible, it was just a man hole cover or maybe some firework went wrong. Clearly it couldn’t be more. Back at the hotel, we stood at the hotel bar with other runners, glued to the TV. Over time, other runners joined us and told us what they had heard. Family members stood at the escalator waiting, begging for their loved ones to arrive. Texts and tweets and messages flooded in. Both JD and I barely talked as we just focused on responding “Yes, we are ok. We are safe” over and over again. It was incredible to see how many people thought of us and loved us. And we checked in with our friends: Michael and his girlfriend were ok. As were Ramsey and Ali.
As we learned more, my heart continued to pound and my face got hot. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I was there. I was in that exact spot for almost 6 hours. I know that area and can paint every detail in my mind. The explosions were on my side of the course. And I was gone before it happened, so I was safe. But what if? What if my friends weren’t? I looked up and JD was staring at the ground. Tears in his eyes. He said “If it had been you, I couldn’t have helped you. My legs were so tired. I couldn’t have gotten to you” I told him that was silly and adrenaline would have kicked in but it’s fine. We’re fine. But neither of us could shake it. It was just 40 minutes or so before, that I stood there. Front row. Amongst a crowd of wonderful cheerleaders. Completely unaware of what lay near us.
We realized pretty quickly that we needed to get to the airport sooner than normal. We stood outside the hotel and waited forever for a cab. I eventually downloaded a local Boston cab app and we managed to get a car. By this time, my phone was blowing up. Because I had live tweeted the entire morning, local radio hosts and news anchors asked for my account of what was going on. I was happy to provide information, but felt guilty doing so. We weren’t there when it happened. We didn’t see it. We didn’t hear it. We were safe. So many others were not.
We checked into the airport just fine and despite me apparently trying to smuggle an entire jar of peanut butter as a carry on, we managed to find a restaurant with a phone charger, beer, food and a TV without any concern. JD went to the gate to check on our flight while I took calls from local stations. My story was the same: I wasn’t there when it happened. But the crowds were massive. There were kids. And no, this won’t stop us from attending races in the future. With each conversation, my heart got heavier and heavier. Here I was providing such little information and yet craving all the information I could get.
Our flight was delayed (apparently just for mechanical issues?) and we were booked on a later one. We didn’t care – we just wanted to get home. I couldn’t pull myself from the news and when I was on the plane, I got online immediately. I scoured Google maps to find out exactly where I was in relation to the explosions. The visual still makes the tears fall.
The blue X represents where I was. Where my new friends were
I don’t know if my friends are ok. I have done the math over and over to see if they would have been out of there by the time the explosions started. I think about the kids that essentially stayed beside me for an hour. The mother had dark hair. There was at least one boy and a girl, maybe another boy. Could it have been Richard Martin? Unless I see pictures of them dressed as they were that day, I am not sure I’ll ever know. JD tells me I am torturing myself by going over this. But I don’t know how else to deal with it. I want to know everything. I want to see everything. I have looked through every slide show of pictures to see if I recognize the wounded. I think about the fact that if the bomb was in a trash can or a backpack by the finish, then I walked by it at least twice. It’s so surreal.
And I feel guilt. I was there, but just not there when things went bad. Maybe I could have helped my friends. Or at least I would have information by being there. I left them all and was happily strolling through Boston Commons when it happened. I am safe. JD, thank gosh, is safe. But so many others aren’t.
I posted this on FB last night:
I am so angry at the people behind today. I’m so mad that they took away dreams—dreams of those who were killed and injured and dreams of runners unable to finish their race. This was supposed to be a day about accomplishment, goals, celebration and support. And despite what these monsters did, it still is. Though I’m so grateful to be on my way home and know JD and I are the lucky ones, I am saddened to leave the community of runners and Bostonians who united over this tragedy. I witnessed the best kinds of people today— and heard about the true heroes who ran towards the danger to help those in need. the families who brought stranded strangers into their homes. The finishers who ran straight to the hospital to donate blood. A piece of my heart is left in that city. And tomorrow I will do the only thing I know to do to remain connected and to not let evil win: I will run.
We got home around 1am this morning and were thrilled to be in our bed, home and safe. Yet I do feel sad not being there. I see the images on TV and know that street so well. I quickly get my whereabouts and imagine yesterday morning. The imagery of such happiness and accomplishment. The sounds of the cheers and cowbells. The people’s faces I met. I try so hard to remember every face I met. I don’t want to forget. And though we are so so lucky, I know that there is a piece of that city and that race in our hearts. This morning I called the Boston FBI hotline with a couple strange things I saw. I am sure they are nothing, but they promise no small piece of information is too small. If I can help in any way, I want to.
Today, during my run, I ran fast. The pain in my lungs and the rain pouring down on my head felt good yet, at one point, I was so emotional I almost collapsed to my knees in pure sadness over this situation. I am angry. I am sad. I look at the map of the explosions and tears instantly fall. Some evil doer(s) tried to ruin one of the greatest athletic events in our nation. Someone took down not the runners, but the spectators who spent hours waiting for the one chance to root on their loved one. As a marathon runner, I know the importance of these people and this article says it best: The People Who Watch Marathons.
The running community has always been a close one. For an individual sport, we really rely on each other. We support, listen, encourage and understand each other. Had this happened at a race far away from me and JD, I would have still felt a connection to the terror based on that running community alone. But the fact that we were there. The fact that JD ran fast enough to maybe save my life. The fact that I don’t know if my new cheering friends are ok. The fact that this race was tarnished by something so awful. I won’t forget. I can’t forget. And every day I run, will be a testament to not ever forgetting.
My heart goes to those who were there. Those who are safe like JD and I. Those who were injured. And those who lost their lives. My heart goes to those who didn’t get to finish their Boston Marathon. I will be at every race as always. We will not be afraid, but we will be aware. And I will run harder and faster and maybe someday, I will cross that finish line as a runner and remember April 15th, 2013 as the inspiration that got me there.