Pre-marathon with my girls

My Marathon Story

(originally published 4.26.13)

It’s Wednesday morning, my baby son’s first birthday. It’s a day and a half later, and the tragedy at the Marathon has started to sink in. That Monday’s disaster hit close to home didn’t really occur to me until last night. Monday’s marathon was my 4th Boston, 8th marathon. What was unique this time was that it was the first marathon for me in 10 years, the first since I became a mom and would have three beautiful and innocent angels cheering for me at the finish line. For whatever reason I decided in January, it was time for me to get back out there and run another marathon after my hiatus. I always thought running a marathon as a working mom with kids (even 1 kid) seemed impossible. I was encouraged by a friend, who had a friend, who couldn’t use her number. Want to run Boston? Of course I did. Did it seem a little crazy? Hell yeah. But I said yes anyway.

I’ve lived in the Boston area just under half my life now. It’s my home. I always loved this city, but the longer I’m here, the more it is my home. These are my people, this is where I came to college, where I was married and where my kids came into the world. My first memory of coming to Boston as a kid (from a small town near Hartford) was going to my first Sox game on Patriot’s Day and exiting the stadium to scores of runners filing by on their way to the finish line. Maybe I was 10 at the time. I thought the race was incredible, and hoped I would run it one day. It was that same trip that realized Boston was a pretty cool place, and many years later it would become my home. Over the years I’ve learned what most Bostonians will agree with — that Patriot’s Day is Boston’s own holiday and a very special day that way. It’s about spring’s arrival, celebrations, and honoring tradition.

My husband and girls drove me to Hopkinton early Monday. Sun shining, mid-50s out, it was a perfect day for running. Still, it was indescribably eerie to say goodbye to my girls there and know I wouldn’t see them for hours later in downtown Boston, to be joined then by their little brother. It was only a matter of hours before I would see them again, but in what I can only call a mother’s intuition, I worried about them immediately after we parted.

Once in the athlete’s village I became immersed in the excitement of the race. I was in the 2nd wave that started at 10:20. Many more runners still were in the 3rd wave that would start 20 minutes later. I made a last minute decision to jump into the corral my race number was designated. Originally, I had planned to start in a corral towards the end of the 2nd wave, since I knew those towards the front would go faster and I would be passed by a lot of runners. But I had a change of heart, wanting to stay towards the front of the wave, getting across the starting and finish line sooner. I was ‘borrowing’ an injured friends’ number (shhh) and she had qualified with a mighty fast time.

The pre-race energy was so positive. I think everyone is a little bit nervous at the start, because hell, we’re about to run 26.2 miles. I felt good, and I was ready for this. I knew what I was in for, and this race was different really only in that 10 years had elapsed since my last, and that in the meantime I had gotten married and had three children, so now the event wasn’t just personal, it was a family affair as well. It was made possible by the fact that my husband is amazingly supportive and encouraged me to run. He took care of our three children for hours every Sunday morning through the winter and early spring of this year while I went out and ran anywhere from 10–20 miles.

I ran fast and carefree the first 10 or so miles — it was blissful how I could hold sub 8:15 miles but felt like I was at my training pace of 8:45. Turned out the rest of my run wasn’t quite as blissful, because I pretty much endured increasing pain and slowing miles after mile 12. Classic mistake — I went out too fast, caught up in the excitement and keeping up with the speedsters around me. A marathon veteran, I knew I was going to finish this race no matter what, and if I could muster finishing under 4:00, I would be satisfied. I had trained with a modified version of the “Less is More” plan put forth by Runner’s World, meaning I essentially got the long run in most Sundays and scrambled to fit in 1, 2, or on a really good week 3 additional shorter runs.

Once the pain really started to set in, aside from my experience, I knew the crowds of fans would carry me. Boston is ah-maz-ing that way! And they did — more than I remembered in past strolls down this 26.2 mile trail towards the city. There are no words to describe how it feels to run through the ‘screaming’ Wellesley tunnel; to hear old friends you haven’t seen in years and never expected to see call out to you; to run past the packed crowds of smiling fans that encourage you up Heartbreak Hill; and even more, the gregarious students at my alma matter, Boston College calling out my college nickname (I wore it taped on the front of my shirt). The strongest crowds of all line the streets from Brookline to the finish — it is just overwhelming. This crowd loves their marathon.

As I shuffled along toward Boylston, I hoped hard I would see my family near the finish. I didn’t know exactly where they would be, and I so wanted to see my kids there and feel like I did this one for them this time around– my first marathon since having all three, the youngest just days away from his first birthday. I turned the corner onto Boylston and a few blocks in, I spotted them in the front row, on my right, just near the Prudential tower. My husband held up my baby boy, and my daughters waved their homemade signs. They were here! We did this, I thought. We did this. Yes.

And I finished. In 3:54 to be concise. I wasn’t thrilled with the time but I was just so glad it was over. I could barely move my legs as I hobbled through the finish chute. First there was water, then Gatorade. Next we were handed the big heat blankets, the medals, and then before bags of food were being handed out, I just had to sit down for a minute. I was trying to make it to the end of the corrals, but needed to rest — the legs just weren’t functioning — they felt heavier than ever — and it was unbearable. So I joined another woman on the pavement for a moment, and not a minute later a volunteer came with a wheelchair and said to hop in. I spent less than 10 minutes total in the medical tent, during which I marveled at the organization of it and the generous support of all the volunteers (noting to myself I need to volunteer for the race in the future). My legs got a few minutes of massage and I eagerly got up and signed out so I could grab my bag and flee to meet my family who I imagined were probably waiting for me at our pre-designated spot. It took me a while to find the bus where my bag of clothing (dropped off at Hopkinton) was parked, but I found it at the end of Boylston Street, then turned around to meet my family in the family meeting area a few blocks back toward the finish line.

And that’s when it happened. Bang. Like a cannon. Then a big puff of white smoke shot up into the air way down Boylston Street near the finish, but just far enough away for me not to know just where. What!? It wasn’t fathomable. But then it happened again right in front of my eyes — another bang and poof of white smoke way down Boylston Street.. Holy crap, this is bad. But what is it? This is the Boston Marathon — the finish line. Surely something horrible hadn’t happened — so many people still had to finish? People around me shared looks of confusion, concern, shock, and disbelief. I’m sure I was one wearing a face of confusion. By now my legs were feeling ok and I was hustling as fast as I could to the family meeting area where, I so thankfully, found Steve, my kids and our au pair (who might as well be my adopted 20 year old daughter).

I almost cried when I saw them but was too concerned, again in a motherly way, about getting the hell out of there. When I finally met up with them, it was about 30 minutes after I crossed the line. What if I had been in the third wave of runners that departed 20 minutes later from the starting line? What if we had arranged to meet closer to the finish line? No sense in asking those questions, but you do.

We made our way to the car and it was quiet initially but within minutes sirens started blaring and emergency vehicles were everywhere trying to get close to the marathon finish line. It was all so surreal. I had just completed a marathon, but felt like we were running for cover. We really had little idea of what was happening at this point, but as we got closer to the car, the looks on peoples’ faces we passed started to tell a story that seemed worse and worse. Once in the car, I retrieved my phone. Texts and calls started streaming in, but also we could start to learn of the initial reports — that two explosions went off, that the race was over, that it seemed to have been a planned event.

We got home and were greeted by concerned neighbors and friends. They hugged us, we hugged them, and we shared shock and sadness. But it still hadn’t really sunk in for me. By the end of the evening though I was worn out, emotionally and physically.

Yesterday we tried to keep busy. I spent the day with my kids, we went to the zoo, and tried to enjoy a beautiful day of their spring break together, mostly outside. Then last night I kept an appointment I had made months before and found myself right near the barricade at the far end of Boylston near Berkeley Street. Reporters and generous individuals paying respect and creating a memorial stood around looking down a long empty corridor we call Boylston Street, that would typically be bustling with cars, tourists, and city dwellers.

I stood there for a while. I thought about the victims — Martin and Krystal and their families. And the third victim who we now know was an international student at BU from China. Turns out 8-year-old Martin lived probably 2 miles from home. And Krystal went to high school with a favorite pre-school teacher and babysitter of ours. Too close. Too close to home.

I thought about all of the staff in the medical tent including those that treated me briefly, and how the relative calm in the tent turned into to scenes of carnage just minutes later. Those kind and selfless individuals’ lives were also changed forever in an insurmountable way.

My family stood no more than 50 yards away from the second explosion about 25 minutes before the blast. I have no words for how relieved I feel, I can only say I consider myself blessed. I weep for the families of loved ones who are suffering and in pain, and especially for those who are gone. Such an injustice. Such a disgrace. I wish to God I could take some of their pain away.

Many thoughtful friends have said to me they’re sorry my accomplishment was undermined by this horrid event. They remind me that I should be proud for finishing. And I am. I’m glad I ran, and was lucky to finish before the bombings. But it’s really not about that now and that’s more than ok by me. We runners of the world need to carry on. My husband and I have both spoken with friends in the past day who’ve said they want to run it next year. This lifts my spirits, because that’s exactly what the running community needs to do. You see, what runners and Bostonians have in common is that we are resilient. We may not always stay calm, but we do carry on.

A memorial at Boylston St. the day after the marathon.

We runners, and we Bostonians, we will all pull together and prevail. This will not stop us, because really, nothing does. We will fight. Not to say we’re not feeling sad right now. I’m devastated for the victims and their families. And for the race that will never be the same. But, just as I was inspired by the people of Boston who came out to support the runners in the race, I’m inspired by all those who jumped in and have committed beautiful acts for one another, whether they risked their life and ran towards the violence, hugged a stranger, or came together at a vigil to support friends and the victims. Carry on, Boston. Carry On.

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