As the planning for my run to honor Boston is gaining momentum, I going to attempt what I’ve started so many times before… My race report of the Boston Marathon 2013. I’ve struggled for so long to extract the happy moments of that day and so many times, I’ve come up short as I could no longer extract the good from the bad. I felt too guilty to talk about the amazing day I was having prior to the bombings. But in my heart, I’ve known that healing would come from sharing that day and to appropriately honor Boston, the 260+ who were injured and the 4 people who died (that’s including the MIT officer later), I have to talk about the good. So here we go.
The Boston Marathon. It’s the dream race for so many. Some people grow up hearing about the race. Others realize it’s importance once they start running. For me, I don’t remember when I was first introduced to it. I just remember the first time I saw the coveted blue jacket. I remember seeing it and saying to myself that one day I would have my own. The first time I tried to actually qualify, I missed the qualifying time by 5 min. And while some tried to pass along their sympathy that I missed it, I was thrilled because I had taken 40 min off my first marathon time and I knew that it was within my reach. When I qualified in 2012 to run in 2013 I was below the qualifying time by about 9 min. So I was going to Boston!!! When I moved from FL, a lot of folks asked me if I was still running and I’m sure they got a look like “is there any other answer other than ‘yes’? The move did make it difficult to think about the financial side of it, but I was going! And come hell or high water, my mom was too.
Me and Katherine Switzer~ My biggest inspiration!
Fast forward to race week… Mom and I fly into Boston and do the racey and touristy stuff. I had 2 goals when I got to the expo. 1) get my jacket 2) to talk to Kathrine Switzer again. She is the first woman to have officially entered the Boston Marathon and was tackled by the Race Director because he “didn’t want a woman running his race”. That was only 1967. She has become a champion and leader in women’s running. She was the force behind getting the women’s marathon as an Olympic event. It took her until 1980 to get the women’s marathon a recognized event. She is by far my biggest inspiration. We got to the expo and found our way to the “official” Boston Marathon gear and there were the jackets! The minute I tried mine on, tears rolled down my face. “That’s it! I’m an official Boston Marathoner! My mom cried too! Those of you who know my mom can say you’re not surprised. =) we made our way thru the maze of people and I knew that Kathrine was only going to be there for so long and I hoped we’d catch her.
We came around the corner and I see a line of people and the infamous pic of Kathrine being tackled. Mom and I stood in line and at one point Kathrine walks down the line to do a “count” of people and to let us know she was going to have to be leaving soon. One of the best things about Kathrine is she loves our stories, so much so that when you get your chance to talk to her she’ll tell you the story of the person in front of you. This time the women in front of me were from Saudi Arabia. Kathrine was thrilled and kept sayings thing about how she’s been trying to “get into Saudi and get women running there.”She was so patient as we fumbled with our cameras and took several pics with us. Thank you Kathrine for being so wonderful.
The Badger Sorority Pose
On to race day,
On race morning, I had mom take a couple of pics of me to share with my group that I coached. I eventually took a cab to the buses that would shuttle us off to Hopkinton for the start of the race. All morning I had been getting texts from friends giving me encouragement and wishes for my race. Sitting in the Athletes’ Village, I was overcome with a mix of humbleness and excitement. I was sitting among the best of the best. I qualified to be here. I coached athletes with little or no running to their first half-marathon, marathon and beyond. I celebrated their victories. Today was my day. It was the day for me to celebrate my victory. Today, they were cheering for me.
The mass of Runners
Eventually, I make my way to the starting line and boy were they serious about you starting in the right corral. Soon enough the elite runners took off. How exciting! There’s just something pretty cool about seeing the mass of runners ahead of you. Finally they get to my corral and we’re off! I notice pretty early that you have to run the pace that the group you are in is running. You have no choice as you are “pushed” by their momentum. I’m feeling great out there and I know that if I can continue to run that pace, I’ll requalify.
The crowds were amazing. There is not a space in the entire 26.2 miles where there was not a person on the sidelines. And that’s no exaggeration. If you can find a space bigger than a normal size person, you’ve gotten off course or something! Somewhere around mile 2 a guy is offering beer. I think “um, not at mile two! And it’s a glass bottle!” So I keep running.
During the race meeting and even on the tour bus, we are told to beware of the girls at Wellesly College around mile 13. We are told that you can hear them at least a mile away. I think I didn’t hear them until much closer but they were nuts. The Sirens of the Boston Marathon, they’re called. Screaming and cheering, trying to get runners to run over to them and kiss them. Just the sheer sound of them could blow you away. There were so many times that I had to catch my breath on the course because the number of people out there cheering for us was insane. It’s almost overwhelming at times. At some point I decided I “didn’t want to work that hard” and this was my first Boston, and I was going to enjoy it. So I did! I slowed down, I walked if I wanted, I gave high-fives to kids, took Popsicles from them, I even had my beer at mile 22. I soaked in every bit of that race and I enjoyed every minute of it! I loved reading all the signs like “Run faster, Ryan Gossling is at the finish with a puppy.”, “You trained longer than Kim Kardashians marriage.”, “Spoiler Alert, a Kenyan Won” ,”You have stamina, call me” etc. There’s a hill that you run prior to Heartbreak Hill that fools you into thinking that’s it. But as I’m running through there I keep thinking, “No, if this was Heartbreak it would be a bigger deal.” Eventually I see a running store called something like Heartbreak Runners so I knew I was close. We start running up the hill and I’m like “yup, this is it.” Once you get to the top there’s an inflatable arch that congratulates you on your summit of Heartbreak and of course there’s even more people at the top of it. Sometime after I had my beer, I realized I could still make it in under 4 hours if I picked up my pace. Out of all the things I’ve thought about since that day, the realization that if I had been any slower, my day would have been significantly different and I might have gotten caught in the bombings has been the toughest to come to terms with. But I pick up my pace and the crowds are getting larger- not that I thought it was even possible for them to get larger. But it’s just as crazy as the first part of the race. Boston truly loves their Marathon! I remember coming around one corner and for some reason I wondered if I might see someone I know. I finally see the Citgo sign and know I’m within a mile of finishing the Boston Marathon. Just keep your pace, get in under 4 hours. You did this. I start having those thoughts of what I want to do when I cross the finish line. It was still pretty cool so I wondered if I should leave my gloves on, but I didn’t want to fuss with them. Do I strike a crazy pose? What do I want my finishers pic to look like? Soon, I see the finish ahead of me. The emotions hit. That’s it. You’ve finished the Boston Marathon! I look to the sky as I usually do when I finish a race and I thank God for the chance to run it, for keeping me safe, for letting me accomplish one of my goals.
The moment my feet hit the line I wanted to kneel down and kiss the ground but didn’t. I bent over to catch my breath and to allow the emotions to flow. I quickly realized I had to keep moving, my body temperature was dropping. I needed my space blanket. Unfortunately they had those at the end of a very long station with food, Gatorade, water etc. all I wanted was to get my medal, my blanket and sit down. It felt like we had to walk an additional 1/2 mile to get our space blankets and medals. Finally, someone is in front of me with medals. I bow my head and let the person put it on. That’s it. It’s official. I move over to the curb so I can sit down. When I do, my body starts trembling and shaking uncontrollably. Another runner sees me and asks if I was ok and if I needed medical. I said I was ok and the guy said, “no you’re not. That shaking is not normal.” Before I knew it, I was in a wheelchair being hauled off to the medical tent. As they are wheeling me in, I can only think, “I’ve done four Ironman races, a DoubleIron, three 100 mile runs and several Ultras and never needed medical. NOW I need it? Oh boy. I couldn’t wait to post that on my FaceBook status.”
I wish I could end my report there. But I can’t. I just can’t. The healing will also come from what I experienced while I was in the medical tent across from the finish line. It will come in talking about my experience when the bombs exploded.
When we got to the tent, they asked my race number and scanned it. When I told them the number, I knew I must be ok because I could recite it. As soon as they scanned my number I remembered I had not written moms number on the back. Oh crap. She’s not going to know I’m in here. I sat down, people came and asked me questions, shone lights in my eyes. I was still so cold. I saw people with heavy-duty blankets and wanted one so bad. Others looked worse than I felt and none of the athletes spoke to each other. We were just trying to stay warm and do what was asked of us and work on feeling better. I felt kind of foggy so I decided I’d stay for a little while. I really wasn’t in the tent long before the bombs exploded. I think somewhere I’ve figured out I had finished 20 min before the first bomb exploded but I can’t say for sure.
When the first bomb exploded, everyone looked at each other as if to say “was that supposed to happen?” I watched the faces of the medical people and there was just enough uncertainty in their expressions that I had a feeling that it wasn’t. I remember thinking that was an odd time to shoot off a cannon. I remember listening for screams or more noises to give me an idea of what was happening. The reaction of the medical professionals was almost the same. It was like we were all trying to evaluate what just happened. I remember expecting someone to rush into the tent to give us directions or tell us what happened. I don’t remember if people started rushing into the tent before or after the second explosion. But from the reports of that day, there were only 12 seconds between the two explosions so they probably easily overlapped. Two of the first people to come into the medical tent was a man pushing a wheel chair with someone in it. They looked a lot like Dick and Rick Hoyt and my heart sank. I learned later that they were a mile away when the explosions happened and were not able to finish. I remember seeing blood on them. More people were being wheeled in and I looked at all of them because I was scared, so scared, that one of them was my mom. I tried to only look at their faces but I couldn’t help but to scan them to see how badly they were injured. I think there was a part of me that was trying to make sense out of it all and I think that I felt they held the story of what happened out there. As people started coming into the tent, I kept trying to move further and further out of the way. At one point one of the medical personnel was trying to move us all to the back of the tent. We didn’t know what was happening, but whatever it was, it wasn’t good. There was a young woman who had moved in the same direction I had and she was as horrified and scared as I was. She was on her phone and all I could think was I’ve got to get to mine so I can let people know I’m ok. The medical folks were trying to keep us calm and handle all of the incoming people at the same time. I didn’t want to be in there. I was scared and needed to find my mom. She hadn’t come into the tent. Did that mean something happened to her or was she out there somewhere? Oh God. This can’t be happening.
Eventually I notice that they are letting the non-seriously injured folks out of the tent. In a split decision I decided that was my only chance of getting out and finding mom. I was scared to see what happened out there, but I had to go. when I come out of the tent, my instinct drew my attention toward the finish line. I couldn’t see anything from where I was. I wanted to walk up that way but I also knew that there was probably only chaos up that way and that I’d probably be sent back the way I came. I knew my only chance of finding mom was to get my cell phone and head to the areas where we planned on meeting. She wasn’t at the first and not at the second. Things had been moved and now there seemed to be no rhyme or reason where they had moved our gear. I needed my bag so bad. I was freezing and needed my warm clothes and my phone. I kept getting pointed in different directions for our stuff. I must have been quite visibly distraught as I had several people stop me as I was walking by asking if I was ok. My only focus was finding my gear and my phone. After I returned home I had told a reporter that in a crisis people emerge as leaders and that was so evident as you could see the volunteers who were as scared as the runners and you could see the volunteers who took charge. After several wrong turns and backtracks I finally find my bag. I threw my clothes on as quickly as I could and grabbed my phone. I was still shaking. I remember seeing everyone around me trying desperately to reach loved ones on the phone. I had no service. We were told at one time that service had been shut off but I think that the towers were just inundated. I tried calling mom so many times. The call wouldn’t go thru. I tried my sister. Nothing. Finally, I was able to get a text out to my sister to let her know I was ok but I couldn’t find mom. I thank God for my sister that day as she became the relay agent between me, mom and the rest of the family. I am still overwhelmed by the number of people that reached out to me that day. The only problem was that the times I could actually get or receive text messages, I had to sift thru all of them to find the ones from family and my inbox was full so I couldn’t manage it. Every time I erased one message more came thru.
I told Annette to relay to mom that I was heading over to the park that we had been in the day before. It was a central location and should be easy for her to get back to. There were tons of people wandering around, sort of in a daze. Runners with their space blankets, people who had been on the sidelines. Some visibly more distraught than others. I opted to stay near the sidewalk near the road. There was a family near me. There were two runners, one of their moms and another person. We instantly connected and started talking. I am so incredibly grateful God put me in that spot because that family gave me so much comfort. We briefly shared what we experienced and even discussed how we felt about our race. I still believe that acknowledging and congratulating runners on their finish was an important part of that day. Yet, you could see that people were uncomfortable talking about their race and we simply got to the point of “I finished.” They often hugged me or just put their hand on my shoulder or rubbed my back. They kept reassuring me that I was going to be ok and that we’d find my mom. I’d spontaneously break out into tears.
once I knew that my sis had let mom know I was ok and we began the process of trying to find each other, I fired off a text to my friend Eric to let him know I was ok and I knew he could reach a lot people to let them know what was going on and that I was ok. I don’t know how he managed it, but he called and it came thru. Oh thank God! A familiar voice. We talked for a few minutes. I don’t know what kind of emotions were coming thru -especially my fear. I do remember saying something along the lines of how the Boston Marathon was ruined and now there was blood on the finish line. I knew that sounded incredibly selfish but the wonderful day I had was ruined. Things would never be the same.
Shortly after I got off the phone with him there was a third explosion. I learned later that was something in the JFK Library and not a bomb. I sent a message to Eric and he basically told me to “get the F**k out of there!
After several texts with my sister, I finally received one that let me know mom was close. I told the people that were waiting with me she was close and I turned to run down the road. The female runner that was standing there with me ran with me. We get to the corner and run across. I don’t see her. Dammit! I quickly turn and she’s on the side where I was. I run up to her and we grab each other and start sobbing. Thank God we were both ok. The flood of emotions. All we could do was hug and cry. People around us also extended their gratitude that we were both ok. At some point I turned to thank the woman who ran with me. From my calculations after that day, it took us at least two hours to find each other. What a horrifying, horrifying day.
Location of explosions in relation to where mom and I were
Now that mom and I were back together, we had to get back to the hotel. Unfortunately, this also took a lot longer than we intended. All we wanted to do was get to the hotel, get our stuff and get to the airport. We needed to get out of there. I wanted to get us a cab and they were all either full or not taking passengers. I felt so bad because Mom has bad knees and I kept making her walk further so we could try to get a cab. We ended up walking all the way back to the hotel since we couldn’t get one. Once we got to the hotel, we got our luggage from the concierge and finally flagged down a cab. When we finally get to the airport and thru security the bombings were all over the news. I couldn’t watch any of it yet. I wasn’t ready to see the destruction. Mom and I sat down to eat as far away from others and TVs as we could. I started to respond to some of the texts. We wander over to our gate and sit down. At that point I couldn’t take my eyes off the TV. Another couple that ran was sitting next to us and we shared our experience. I was in so much of a fog I don’t even remember their story. I think she ran and he was on the sidelines but that’s all I can pull from my memory.
I don’t even remember the flight home. When we got thru the airport and were in the parking garage, a gentleman saw me and my jacket and said “you’ve had a helluva day” he told me to take care and be safe. I cried myself to sleep that nite. Woke up sobbing several times. It had to have been a couple of weeks before I stopped crying myself to sleep it might have been longer~ I really don’t know. There were so many days I’d just start crying for no reason. I still do. There are still runs where I’m overcome with emotion and have to stop running because it’s physically impossible to sob and run at the same time. The emotions run deep and I try to tell myself that it could have been worse and I just need to pull it together. It’s like I don’t want to give myself permission to grieve or feel badly because there are people who experienced much worse things than I did. Even my mom~ who we’ve figured out was about 100 feet away from the first explosion saw worse things than I did. I constantly try to downplay my emotions and in a weird way I think if I express those emotions that I’m trying to make my experience worse than it was. I have a ton of survivor guilt and I don’t know how to let go of it. I know that I have some PTSD. I’ve gone as far as trying to get an appointment set up to talk with someone but when they called me back I was feeling ok and didn’t feel it was an issue. I was talking to one of our employees the other day and he said if he had been there he’d have to talk to someone. Maybe I should take that as my cue. I know that anytime I have a conversation about Boston, I thank the person for letting me talk about it. But I also know I have to do something. And the only thing I know how to do is RUN.
After the attacks, I forced myself to get out and run. My mantra was “if I don’t run, they win.” There were many days where there were “just not enough miles” to work through the pain. In the weeks that followed the bombings, I could feel the weight of Boston with every step I took. As I worked through the pain, I kept thinking about what I needed to do for Boston. Again, the only thing I knew how to do was run. I had to heal. Yet, the one thing I knew that would bring comfort was damaged. How could doing the one thing I loved bring so much pain? I shared this thought with some runners during a 50 mile race one weekend and when they expressed an understanding, even though they didn’t know me, I think it finally sunk in. It wasn’t about me ~ I’ve said that all along. I just wanted to honor Boston. But it goes so much further than that. If I do this run, I am honoring every single runner. I am honoring every single person who at some time, toed the line for a race, who said to themselves “I will do this.” I am honoring those who want to run and can’t. I am honoring those who have said “I will run.” I am honoring the solidarity between runners. I am honoring the strength, the resilience, the compassion runners have for each other. I am honoring all runners. This run is for Boston, the running community and for anyone who was affected by that day.