This is not the post I dreamed about for 26.2 miles. The post I planned was along the lines of Once Upon a Time and Happily Ever After. Stereotypical in plot, with the main character overcoming the physical and mental challenges that go along with running a marathon but coming out on top, it would include all my unique experiences and observations, from running with the man dressed as a chicken to seeing Team Hoyt cruising along at mile 15. It would be the grand finale of everything that I’d trained for since December.
I wanted to tell you all about the ridiculous wake up time of 3:30am to meet at the Garden and be on the bus to Hopkinton at 5am. The bus ride out that was just as long and nerve racking as people say it is. That one of my favorite running partners, Chrissy, made sure to call me on her way to work to give me a pre-race pep talk. How fast the 4.5 hour wait time to head to the starting line flew by while the Bruins Foundation team bonded over drawing on each with permanent marker, rocking out to the DJ in our private heated tent shared with Team MGH (including private porta potties!), sharing training and life stories, and being fascinated with Shannon’s ability to consume so much caffeine and sport bean-like products in such a short period of time. How the walk to the start line with Brittany, Stephanie, and Shannon was just what I needed to get my confidence where it needed to be to start. And how for some reason, we were told by the lovely BAA volunteer to get in with Corral 4 even though we were supposed to start a couple thousand people back in corral 9.
I wanted to tell you how the first few miles is just as adrenaline pumping as it’s hyped up to be, with runners shoulder to shoulder as far ahead and behind as you can see. How I went out too fast, just like they warn you not to do. That people who say it’s pretty much a decline to Newton are nuts. Yes the elevation goes down, but the entire time it’s going down with rolling hills upon hills—People who say otherwise are lying. Trust me. I wanted to write how seeing my first cheerleaders, the Sharps, at mile 9 was perfectly timed as I needed a push. How the Wellesley College girls should get a medal for their scream tunnel and their signs that they make after taking requests via social media. That at mile 15 I was already hurting, the stupid heel of my shoe kept digging in my ankle and my calves were aching which was an annoying new development but knowing my parents were only a couple miles ahead was enough to keep me going.
I wanted to tell you that if you plan to run Boston, make sure you have a cheerleader at the Newton firehouse (between mile 17 and 18). Seeing my mom before the start of the Newton hills was a huge adrenaline boost (which I needed since you already know I’m terrible at race fueling and was running on mostly water and a couple sips of race provided Gatorade). How it didn’t dawn on me until about mile 19 how hot out and thirsty I really was.
I wanted to write about how despite my calves screaming and Heartbreak Hill truly owning me, I didn’t stop once. How my awesome brother, a student at BC, appeared at just the right time at mile 21 and leapt over the metal barrier and ran with me for almost two miles (and that he already worked it out with the cops that it was OK so he wouldn’t be tackled on the spot). That to my surprise my parents had sped from mile 17 to Cleveland Circle and I got to hug my Dad before taking off for the last 5k of the race. That seeing the Citgo sign really does give you that amazing feeling of “this is it”. That Anna and her insanely enthusiastic (and possibly intoxicated) boyfriend was another great surprise on Comm Ave that got me all smiles as I made my way downtown.
I wanted to share that even though you think the hills are over, the bridge over the highway by Fenway Park might as well have been Mount Everest. That it was at that point I felt a tight, ball like cramp form in my right calf making it almost impossible to move. That I paused for 5 seconds to kneed it out with my knuckles, almost started to cry, and that it was all the awesome Red Sox fans (of all things!) that started to cheer for this Yankees fan that made me say screw it and limp up that hill. That by some grace of God the cramp seemed to disappear on the downhill and it was almost smooth sailing.
I wanted to tell you how seeing Ryan, Meghan, and Raina at mile 25.8 cheering from the overpass right before I made it to Hereford Street made me pick up my pace about 30-45sec/mi. That the left hand turn onto Boylston Street felt like a kid walking thought the gates at Walt Disney World for the first time. That as I hit the 26 mile marker I could see the gun time was 4:05 and I knew I started a little back so the possibility of finishing Boston in under 4 was still within reach. That crossing that blue and yellow finish line is just as euphoric as I imagined, that it was even better than I dreamed. That the volunteers were so nice about not rushing me out and let me take my pics (and even took one of me under that glorious banner). How I called my Dad, exclaiming “I FINISHED!” and he excitedly told me I hit it under 4. That walking through that threshold that only a small percentage of people ever will was amazing. How walking the 10-20 feet from that sacred line to get a water and taking that first sip of insanely refreshing H2O was when the whole “Wow I just ran Boston” really started to hit. And how turning around and watching more runners cross into the promise land just intensified my super-charged runners high.
Then I wanted to write about chatting with the other runners about their journeys. About how we all floated down Boylston St. on cloud 9 refueling with bananas, wrapping up in our space blankets, and being awarded “THE” medal. That I met up at Equinox fitness with our other speedier Bruins Foundation Runners, we high fived, showered up, and grabbed celebratory drinks. That Ryan and company all met up with me and we spent the next few hours cheering on other runners and drinking Sam Adams 26.2 beer. And that we all lived happily ever after.
Except that last paragraph never happened.
As I watched the other runners crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon I heard a loud boom that shook the ground. Immediately a plume of brown and grey smoke rose up in the air and my runners high turned into a rock in my stomach. Ten seconds later there was another boom, more smoke. My first thought was that something exploded underground in the T. An accident. Some type of mechanical malfunction. I was picturing the worst things since I couldn’t see clearly and thinking oh my god I was just running right there, what is going on, should I run? At first people around me just stood there frozen. And then there was panic. Being herded by volunteers, I headed down Boylston with other runners away from the smoke. The marathon volunteers were amazing, calmly funneling us down the street, handing us our medals and space blankets. I just grabbed them from them and called Ryan. What if they had walked up Boylston to meet me? Are they OK? At this point I was just picturing blasts traveling down the street towards me. Thank god he answered the phone. The next 15 minutes seemed like the longest of my life. In a state of dehydration, fear, and confusion I finally turned off of Boylston and onto Berkley towards Newbury street. I asked a man with a marathon official lanyard who was on the phone what was going on, he looked nervous and said he thought there was a bomb and that someone was shot (looking back he must have been told by someone that because of the way the man in orange who is all over the news fell over). A second wave of people started running and I stood in front of a car on the corner in front of the Church of the Covenant so I wouldn’t get trampled. Finally Ryan, Meghan, and Raina appeared out of nowhere and I broke down. They all grabbed me, hugged me, and said we needed to get out of there and that they had been in touch with my parents already. My first thought then was to the Bruins Foundation people who I knew were expecting me at Equinox. I didn’t want them to think anything had happened to me. However at this point, no calls were going through. I finally was able to send a Facebook message to Erin letting her know that I was OK and to keep my things wherever they were. My next thought was Meghan and Raina as they phoned their parents (and miraculously were able to get through to them). They were New Yorkers. They lived 9/11. This wasn’t supposed to happen here. They shouldn’t have to experience this. And then to Sarah and Jen. They came just to watch me. They were at the finish. Were they OK? We found a police officer on the street corner further down Berkley who already had people gathering around him. He just told us that he didn’t know much except there had been two explosions by the finish line and that there were thought to be more live explosives and to just get out of there. Getting a cab was impossible so we just walked. I saw the Charles River, the place that I had spent so much of my training circling getting ready for this day, it was like a haven. We walked to the esplanade and then headed up to the Longfellow bridge and walked to Cambridge. The fact that I had just ran a marathon barely phased me. I would walk all the way home if I had to. I finally was able to get cell service and the voicemails, texts, and Facebook messages flooded in. My friend Sarah’s frantic voicemail was the most comforting thing to hear because it meant they were OK. I called her back and left her an equally emotional voicemail letting her know I was fine and was unbelievably relieved that her and Jen were alright. We finally got a cab home and the rest of the day that was supposed to be spent celebrating was spent emailing and calling family, friends, coworkers letting everyone know I was safe. It was also spent glued to the television as details of what happened filtered in. I was relieved to finally talk to Erin from the Bruins who said that she had been in touch with everyone from the team. I was happy and angry and sad when I got texts from Shannon and Stephanie, saying they were alright but were stopped only a short distance from the finish.
Now, a few days later and it still seems like a bad dream. A state holiday in Massachusetts that is about patriotism and pride. A day in a runner’s life that represents strength, dedication, commitment, hard work, happiness, camaraderie, and just a plain good time. A day for a runner’s support system (aka all their family and friends) and for people who don’t even know runners to come out and watch people from the elite to the average Joe-Schmo (aka me) run 26.2 miles for fun. All of this was stolen in an instant.
I am still struggling with countless feelings around what happened. Still running every “What If?” though my head. What if I realized I went out too fast and slowed down? What if my brother had stayed with me? What if that calf cramp at Fenway stuck? What MY people had lingered at the finish? Every “What If” that would have made me a possible 2-4minutes slower. Someone attacked one of the greatest breeds of people there are: Runners and their fans. And not just any runners and fans, but the ones who know that the city of Boston and its marathon is one of the greatest things around. I’ve found comfort in the running community (social media is AMAZING) and in my amazing friends and family. I’ve also found comfort in “my” city and in seeing the entire country and the world show up and support #BostonStrong.
If I am being honest, I will admit I wasn’t sure I would run Boston again. But last night I got to see and hug some of team Bruins Foundation at the Bruins game, people who I hadn’t seen since Hopkinton. I was sold in less than 5 seconds.
See you at Boston 2014.