Sunday, May 5, 2013

A reflection on the Boston Marathon.

This post was started a few days after the marathon, but it has taken me a few weeks to find the words to actually complete it.  Looking back on the events of Marathon Monday has left me in a state of utter disbelief.  Disbelief that someone is evil enough to hurt and kill people who have done no wrong, disbelief that this even happened.  It will always seem like a nightmare.

The Boston Marathon is my favorite day of the year, always has been, always will be.

The Prudential steps
The first time I cried on Marathon Monday was early, in the athletes village.  25,000 plus people, silent, for twenty six seconds, remembering the twenty-six victims of the devastation that occurred in Sandyhook, CT, a few short months ago.  Remembering, knowing we’d remember again, when we reach Mile 26, which was dedicated to the lives lost.  The second time I cried was when I was running, around mile ten.  A gentleman with cerebral palsy was completing the race with the help of three guides.  He was facing backwards, and as I cheered him on, he smiled and stuck out his hand for a high five and smiled.  Inspiring.  I'm not sure if he was able to finish the race that day.  The third time I cried, I was outside the Fairmont Copley, race HQ, at 2:50PM.  BOOM.  BOOM.  Panic, confusion, away from my people, alone.

All together, until 2:50pm, the day had been perfect.  Up early, quad shot espresso in hand, Mother dancing around the bed singing god knows what and Father mapping out his precise spectating plan.  A race morning filled with nerves, hugs, friends, inspiring people, and fabulous hospitality organized by the BAA.  I have no complaints about my race.  The Boston Marathon is a beast, humbling, a challenge that people work their entire lives to qualify or fundraise for.  The most prestigious marathon in the world.  The energy of the day is infectious for all.  Eighty runners from New Mexico, Dukes Track Club and Albuquerque Road Runners, people on the course who've been integral in shaping me as a runner from all times in my life, and my family and friends who are my number one fans and supporters.  Old coaches, race announcers, York High School, Colby College, Tufts Dental grad school friends.  New Balance Boston, Saucony Hurricanes, past and present teammates.  

Jo and Stew, number one fans

Hutch and Al, York High School
coaches and the reason I still run. 

Gary Allen, fellow Mainer and an inspiration.
Andy Schachat, race announcer
New England is HOME still, though I live far away.  I felt strong throughout, ran with New Mexico friends until mile 14, then solo until mile 17.5 when Tyler jumped in.  Tyler has helped myself, my sister, and my father during the end of many marathons, and this was no exception.  Water, fuel, positive words...he had 'em all.  When i got tired, he told me stories of Ranger School and the Army, how tough it can be, and it made me feel not so tired anymore.  Coming through Fenway, Citgo in sight, the crowds, huge, loud, intoxicated, totally Bostonian.  Under the bridge, I hear my name, thumbs up, turn right on Hereford, Steve and Dan, loud as could be, put the sprint back into my legs.  Left on Boylston, breath taken away, down the hill to the historic line, look at the watch, sub 2:53 it’ll be, and there, center of the wide blue finish, my person, crouched and squinting, open arms.  Smile, strength, push across, hug and happiness.  2:52:53.  Happy.  Twelve minute Boston PR, the first of four Bostons that I enjoyed and appreciated every moment and every spectator, even when the moments were tough and the spectators were smoking cigars (yes, cigars).  I love the Boston Marathon.  

Finish line, bliss and Saucony #FindYourStrong
R-L: photobomb guy, Tyler, Liz, TK, Stew
and his ginormous camera

Post-race staggering around, dry clothes, curled up on a park bench for a while, found my people, got down to lunch, but couldn’t sit still.  Wasn’t right to be inside.  Went looking for Arlene, found both her and TK, brought her inside to my family.  Went back outside for Jesse, to bring him through the VIP entrance to the Fairmont.  

“Just me again,” I said to the guards as I walked out, “I’ll be right back.”
BOOM.  BOOM.  We look at each other, then to the EMTs next to us.  
“What was that?” I said to them.  We are around the corner from the library, not in direct view of the finish, but about 400 feet away.
“I’m not sure what that was," said the EMT, as their walkie talkies start going nuts with voices and sound and panic.  "Just run the other way."  
Boston Police running towards the line, marathoners covered in mylar sheets running the other.  
Decision time: back inside the hotel where it is “safe,” or go find Jesse.  Jesse is alone, have to find him.  Start sprinting, adrenaline is the only thing making the legs move.  They try and throw me out of the secure zone, now for emergency personnel only, but I don’t listen until they physically try to grab me and throw me out.  Hop a fence, standing on a raised platform in front of the Hancock tower, screaming Jesses name, screaming screaming.  People this far down don’t know what has happened, though I don’t either, business workers coming out of the building saying it’s a gas explosion, that it’s traveling down the lines, get as far away as you can, there will be more explosions.  All I can think is this insane and morbid thought; I don’t want to get blown up alone.  I want to find my people.  

Ten minutes pass, no cell phones working, word is spreading and people are crying, frantic trying to find their loved ones.  Jesse and I find each other and get back into the Fairmont, now on lockdown.  My family is there, they tell me TK is safe, relief washing over since he’d been at the finish multiple times today.  From there we are locked in, together at least, for the next four hours.  Trying to make sure all of our people are safe, and alert everyone that knew we were here that we are too.  Our vantage point was the sixth floor of the Fairmont, looking over the ravaged finish chute, void of humans.  I’ve never seen an armored SWAT vehicle traveling the wrong way on Boylston, and I hope never to again.  The finish line med tent was visible, ambulances at the exit, rushing the wounded off to hospitals, people on gurneys all covered up.  Loud noises outside, a possible controlled detonation, suspicious packages found along the street and in other hotels, other explosions in areas of the city, everyone’s dropped gear is part of the crime scene.  No one knows what is next.

Finish chute and Copley Square from the top floor of the Fairmont.  Devastation, everything knocked down and a lone policeman in the corner.  This photo should be filled with marathoners, the finish line would be to the left of the photo.

Time passes, the hotels open to allow people out, rerouted runners who were stopped at mile 25 start returning.  One women states she’d been in the medical tent with her husband, who had a calf cramp, when the bombs exploded.  She was forced to stay as the injured were rushed in, some in shock, bloody, missing limbs.  Her children, she said, had been taken outside so they wouldn’t see.  The questions remain, who, why, what reason would anyone have for attacking this event and this day.  Three confirmed dead, two young women and an eight year old boy, close to 200 wounded. 

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The next day, Boylston still closed, the crime scene the largest and most complex in Massachusetts history.  Runners coming to pick up baggage that had been abandoned, individuals receiving their medals, many in tears, happy they are safe, proud of their accomplishments.  “I only made it to mile 18 before they picked me up,” some would say, “I don’t deserve a medal.”  Others made it to 25, others were ten feet from the explosion.  “You do deserve it,” we would say.  “We all were finishers in this years race, we just had different finish lines.”  I took some time to walk around the city, hundreds of news trucks from all over the world took up the streets, national guard and police at every corner, an air of emptiness and defeat hanging over the city.  But as part of Boylston reopened on Tuesday mid-morning, the furthest area from the finish, close to the Public Garden, people start marching forward, getting closer.  I watch someone lay down a bouquet of flowers, people start setting down signs, teddy bears.  A finishers medal hangs from the barricade.  The city, and the runners, are picking themselves up.  Strong. 

A woman receiving her medal from a volunteer
and some guardsmen
Posters hanging on the Mass Ave bridge

By the next morning this little memorial has grown to stretch across the road, others like it have sprouted along the perimeter.  United is the city.  Don’t mess with Boston, and don’t mess with marathoners.  Three weeks have gone by, the streets have reopened, but a large memorial still remains in the center of Copley Square.

April 15th, 2013 will be a day never forgotten, a day that changed many people’s lives in such a way that they physically and mentally will never be the same.  The Boston Athletic Association, volunteers, medical personnel, armed services and emergency personnel...even other runners who assisted the injured...we owe you all immense thanks.  And for Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, Martin Richard, Sean Collier, you were all too young.  In the words of Martin Richard, “No more hurting people.  Peace.”

Martin Richard, Age 8
In closing, I’d just like to thank everyone that made this day what it was...both before 2:50pm and after.  I’ve never felt more supported, and I know everyone out on the course that day can say the same.  The positive energy was infectious throughout the race, and that’s what makes Boston the race that it is.  The concern afterwards...well, all I can say is I truly am blessed.  The outreach from friends and family and the influx of social medial from all over the world was astonishing, and I am grateful for each of you.  
Run for Boston, held in Albuquerque, NM
As the story continues to unfold, please keep showing your support for the victims and their families through donations to the One Fund, established by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino.  To date, the One Fund has raised over twenty-eight million dollars and climbing.  There are many ways to help financially...Boston remembrance runs are being held nationwide, Saucony is selling #BostonStrong shoe lace medallions, Adidas has Boston Stands As One t-shirts, fundraisers are being held.  Every bit helps.  

The other thing to do...take a solo easy run, a 5K road race, a marathon.  DEDICATE it to the victims and the cause.  No matter if you’ve just started running recreationally or see yourself as competitive in your races, we are all the same.  In the face of tragedy, our community of runners has never been more powerful and determined.  We are united.

Boston Strong.