It’s hard to believe it’s been 6 years.
It’s hard to believe we were there.
It’s still hard to believe anyone would ever do such a thing.
As Marathon Monday approached this year, I started thinking about the year I ran the Boston Marathon. April 15, 2013. It was a race that had been on my bucket list. It was a race that I had been inspired to do because my dad grew up in Boston, and my sister had run it about 10 years before.
For most runners, the Boston Marathon is that one race you hope to qualify for. Hope to be able to train for without getting injured. And hope to be able to finish come race day. I was lucky enough to get that chance.
And until the bombs went off, that day was absolutely MAGICAL.
My parents and husband, Dan, and I had arrived a few days before race day, explored the city a bit, went to a Boston Red Sox game, and drove by my dad’s childhood homes. We drove the course the day prior, which was terrifying, but helpful to see this infamous “Heartbreak Hill.” And, the night before the race, we were about to order dinner in a restaurant when I turned around to see my sister there. She had surprised me by coming to see me run and literally planned to be there not even 24 hours! It was one of the most beautiful, selfless acts I have ever witnessed.
Excitement filled the air as I lined up with the other runners.
Anticipating the start of the race. We were lined up based on our qualifying times for our acceptance into the race.
It. Was. Packed.
I had signed up to take a bus to the starting point in Hopkinton, 26.2 miles from the finish in downtown Boston. I had no idea where or when I would see my family on the course, but they hoped to see me at least at the halfway mark so Dan could jump in and run with me (not totally illegal, by the way! HAHA!), and their plan was to meet me at the finish where there were family meeting areas arranged by the first letter of your last name. My dad, being the former USAF navigator that he is, chose the letter “X,” rather than our last name, so that it would be less crowded.
My goal was simply to finish, but I also wore a wrist band with split times to help keep me steady and on track.
I was so grateful that I had made it to Race Day uninjured. It was an absolutely perfect running day weather-wise. No rain. Not too hot. Not too cold. I started my run, and I’m not kidding, the ENTIRE course was lined with people. I honestly cannot recall a single length where there wasn’t at least one person standing. Cheering. Holding hilarious signs like, “Today is the only day you can poop your pants and nobody will care.” HA!
My name was written on my bib, so, people would cheer my name as I ran by. I never felt alone!
Marathon Monday is a holiday in Boston. All the schools are shut down, so families make it an event to go sit along the course and cheer for runners they know and for runners they have never met. College students at the various campuses are holding signs, tailgating, drinking beer, and some of the girls from Wellesley even offer kisses for single men (seriously).
I reached mile 14.
And,sure enough, I looked on the left hand side of the road and saw my mom, dad, sister, and husband waiting for me. They were holding signs and screaming for me. I was right on pace for my goal time. Dan had planned to jump in and run with me (hoping not to get caught), and he was able to! I didn’t know when we would see my parents and sister again, but hoped to at the finish line!
Heartbreak Hill was LINED with people, screaming my name, cheering me on.
And when I hit the top of the hill, I knew the end was in sight.
I could see Boston in the distance. I crossed the finish line with a time of 3:31:35. My fastest marathon to date. I nearly collapsed from exhaustion, but was tearful with joy. I had finished the Boston Marathon! It was a BEAUTIFUL race. At that point, I felt that it was the most incredible athletic event I had ever been a part of.
We continued to walk through the marathon chute — getting our warming blankets, my medal, water, snacks, and goodie bag.
Shortly thereafter, we met my sister and parents in the family meeting area (the letter “X” was nearly empty!), gathered up my things, and started walking to catch a cab. All of their phones were nearly dead as they had been tracking my progress the entire wait, and updating our family back home, who were anxiously awaiting to hear about the race.
We were two blocks away when the first bomb went off.
To be honest, at first it sounded like really loud fireworks, or maybe a building demolition. “What was that?” my sister asked. But, then, just a few moments later, the second BOOM went off. My dad, a former Air Force said, “That can’t be good. Not when there are two in a row. We’ll know if we hear sirens.”
We continued to walk as we heard siren. After siren. After siren.
We saw police cars go by, still unsure what had actually happened. I then saw a man with an orange vest on — he had been a race volunteer. I said to him, “Excuse me, do you know what happened?”
He looked at me and said, “Two bombs went off at the finish line.”
He turned and walked away. Shaking, I walked to my family and said, “He just said two bombs went off at the finish line.” My sister replied, “No. No. There is NO way that is what happened.” I started sobbing, asking, “Why would anyone do that? Why would someone be that evil?” My mom told me that it could just be a terrible rumor and that we should wait until we learned the truth.
We walked a few blocks, trying to glean any information, and just as we approached a TV screen inside a business building, Meg, my sister, received a call from her husband. “Are you ok?” Meg asked him if he knew what had happened, and he said his brother had called from New York to tell him that there were bombs at the finish line. It was THEN, with his call, and the words flashing across the television screen, that we confirmed the horrible, evil deed that the volunteer had told us about.
My sister said, “Post on your Facebook that you are safe” and told my mom to post on Whatsapp so that our family knew we were okay… but my mom’s fingers were shaking so much that she couldn’t do it.
We were in complete and utter shock.
Our hotel was five miles away, so we attempted to hail a taxi, but because the perpetrators had not been caught, all transportation had stopped, and cabs weren’t allowed to pick up customers.
We walked back to the hotel, past portions of the course.
There were runners stopped before they had a chance to finish this race for which they had so diligently trained. There were citizens of Boston sitting on their porches handing out water, offering help. As we trudged back to the hotel, our cell phones dead and sirens ringing in our ears, it felt as if something beautiful and big and powerful had died.
My sister’s sweet and generous friend offered to have us for dinner that night for a home-cooked meal as we worked through the trauma we had experienced that day.
We felt so unbelievably thankful we hadn’t witnessed any of the injuries or death, and that we were spared from physical damage and from the emotional damage that would have occurred at seeing any of this.
But, at the same time, we felt so devastated for those who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and at the thought of the type of hatred that would have generated an evil, twisted, horrific plan such as this.
Most of the day after that was a blur.
It was either later that day or the following day I received a call from someone from the Seattle Times… the reporter wanted to know if I could share my experience for a blog piece. When I was writing this blog, I came across his blog. You can read it here, my interview is about half way through the article.
You may remember this picture below. This amazing man, Bill Iffrig, goes to my local YMCA. I still see he and his wife walking around my neighborhood almost daily! I am so very thankful that he, too, was uninjured on this horrific day!<
As time passed, and the pain was less raw and the tears stopped flowing, I realized that, despite the fact that there is senseless evil in this world, there is FAR more goodness and kindness. And THAT is what I saw that day in Boston.
I heard stories of people putting up others in their home who couldn’t fly home, as many couldn’t reach the airport.
Alaska Airlines changed my sister’s flight without penalty, with the woman kindly asking her if she wanted to fly home with her family.
My sister’s friend’s family hosted us for dinner.
Strangers distributed cups of water.
Friends and family waited at home with hugs and love.
Runners did dedication runs the weeks following
ALL of these strong, brave, resilient people decided they would not let those two men taint the beauty that lies in the experience of the Boston Marathon.
And, the next year, in a show of faith and courage, runners lined up to show the world they are #BostonStrong. Someday, I hope to run the finest marathon in our country again, on a day that doesn’t end with violence, so that I can reclaim it for myself!