I’m going to preface this by saying that I’m not writing this to be self-aggrandizing in any manner. I’m just trying to process everything that happened yesterday and figured that writing it all down might be a good way to do that. It usually is. So, excuse the verbal diarrhea, run-on sentences, poor grammar and foul language almost certain to follow…
As the sun came up on the morning of the Boston Marathon (April 15, 2013) I found myself driving to work instead of getting ready to toe the line in Hopkinton once again. Many factors lead to that decision, not the least of which was that the Boston Marathon’s punishing course had beaten me twice before (beaten, not broken) and caused me to swear-off road marathons altogether and start running ultramarathons on trails instead, as you do because well, they are easier.
Anyway, the night before this years marathon I contemplated (briefly) banging-out of work and running the course as a bandit. Instead I found myself headed down I-495 at 6am en route to the fire station. Instead of taking the Turnpike in, I found myself driving past the Turnpike and heading down to the Hopkinton exit to take the long way in. As I approached the center of Hopkinton I started to get chills up my spine, goosebumps on my arms, and felt genuinely as excited as when I first crossed that EPIC Starting Line. Even though it was just above freezing, I rolled my windows down and soaked-up the vibes. The feeling in the air was electric.
I thought to myself that it felt as-if running was going to be changed forever today, as I expected (and predicted) a win by Shalane Flanagan ushering-in the resurgence of American distance running (already well underway). I approached the hallowed ground of the Starting Line, slowed the truck to a crawl, and said a little prayer. As I crossed the Starting line I was suddenly and unexpectedly overcome with emotion. The tears welled-up in my eyes and I started to get choked-up (ok, I was bawling). Then I saw all of the ROTC and National Guard units who march the course every year setting-out on their trek. I pushed through the emotion and screamed “Woo-Hoo!” to every unit that I passed while honking like a lunatic, receiving fist pumps, waves, peace signs and “ooh-rah” in return.
As I drove the remainder of the first 14 miles of the course, I went over and over the moments of triumph and heartbreak from my previous two efforts at Boston, and realized that I in fact had unfinished business with that course. I decided that I would most surely make it back someday. But, most importantly it dawned on me that what has been missing in my running (and especially my training, or lack of it) lately was my emotional connection to running. I vowed to myself that I would dig deep and find that connection again.
It was a beautiful day, perfect racing conditions, and I had literally dozens of friends both running and spectating along the course. I was stuck at work, but I watched the entire broadcast (only interrupted briefly by one medical call). I was so filled with pride watching the American women run their race. It wasn’t their results (though impressive) that filled me with pride. What did it for me was when Kara Goucher crossed the Finish Line a full minute behind her teammate, I read her lips and the FIRST thing she said was “How did Shalane do? Where’s Shalane?” Now that’s a team. That is sportsmanship. That is AMAZING! Afterward, during their interview, Kara seemed more broken-up about the fact that Shalane didn’t win than Shalane did, and well, it warmed my soul.
I also have to mention here that it blew me away to see Jason Hartmann come racing to the finish in fourth place for the second year in a row, only about a minute behind the top three. Tell me again how this kid doesn’t have a single sponsor? And then to see the top-10 rounded-out by two more Americans?!?! Man! If they had a team competition in the marathon, the American’s would have at least made the podium in both the men’s and women’s elite division (and our supposed top-3 men had to pull-out). That my friends is awesome! What a great day. The good news only continued as all of my running friends were recording stellar performances (until my tracker stopped giving me updates).
My spirits buoyed by the marathon, I got dressed in my running clothes, laced them up and jumped on the treadmill for a one-hour hill interval run that I hammered-out like a man on a mission. Having run an intense workout, drenched in sweat head-to-toe, I got off the treadmill at 2:45, walked to my room to get ready for the shower. My wife called to discuss a couple of details about our upcoming move and I got off of the phone so I could email our realtor about an issue. As soon as I hung-up the phone, the “Breaking News” came across the TV with a camera shot obviously coming from a helicopter. I stared for a minute trying to figure-out what I was looking at.
It looked like sheer chaos. All I saw was what looked like blood all over the sidewalks and street and trash strewn everywhere. People running around, the grandstands emptied, ambulances, fire trucks police cars everywhere, and smoke… It looked like a war zone but yet there was an eerie familiarity to it all. Then I saw it. The Finish Line. And it all started to sink in. Everything was in slow-motion, then I noticed the caption on the screen that read something like “Boston Marathon Explosion,” and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I could no longer stand. I collapsed on my bed, still naked and sweating. Staring in disbelief. My phone rang again and it was my wife. I answered it “WHAT THE FUUUUUUUCK!?!?! Please tell me this is all a joke. This can’t be real. Oh. My. God.”
My thoughts immediately turned to all of my friends running and spectating. I knew some had finished, but had no idea about the rest of them. I knew some were spectating in front of Marathon Sports and the ticker at the bottom of the screen repeatedly said “Marathon Sports windows blown out by explosion…” I immediately turned to Facebook and Twitter looking for updates from everyone to make sure they were safe. I found most of what I was looking for. But for a few friends I found no such assurance, and I immediately started calling and texting them. My wife called back we talked about the few that I couldn’t find, she suggested I keep calling and she would use her resources on the ground (EMS is a small family) to try to get word of any kind.
By 11:30 pm all of my friends and running family were safe and accounted for. But 3 people were dead and over 130 people in my extended running family weren’t so lucky. I call it my “extended running family” because that’s what it is. Runner’s and their families all have a REAL connection with each other. I started going over all of the “what if” scenarios as information about the victims came to light. The one that really hit home with me was the 8 year-old boy who died and his family: His father was running, and they were there waiting to greet him as he came into the finish, as so many families do. His mother now has a severe brain injury and his 6 year-old sister lost a leg. There was no information available about the father at the time of the report.
That could have been me. That could have been my wife and kids. I run a 4-hour marathon (my PR is 3:58:25, my slowest marathon was 4:14:09) and would have started in the third wave (most likely as I would have run for charity again), and the first bomb went off when the clock was at 4:09:27 (the other just 15 seconds later). Considering it always takes several minutes to cross the Starting Line, I would most likely have finished sometime within a 10-minute window of the bombs going off. I know you shouldn’t dwell on the “what if’s” or try to connect yourself to tragic events like this, but this is MY home. This is MY community. This is MY family (running family included). And this particular race is so much more than just a race. It is the thread that connects so many runners.
Already people are saying that this isn’t an attack on runner’s or the running community, this isn’t an attack on Boston, this is an attack on America and all that we hold dear. Well, that may be true, but the Boston Marathon is an International event (was is just a coincidence that the first bomb went off right by all the international flags that line the Finish?). The Boston Marathon is all about connecting with each other, through each step and touching upon greatness through witnessing and performing feats of amazing endurance. For some, its just called running or a day on the job. For others it is a transcendent experience. The Boston Marathon is the penultimate event in all of running. So, yes, an attack on the Boston Marathon was an attack on Running.
Running doesn’t see race, color or creed, sexual orientation, religion, age, size, politics or any of our many differences. Running brings all who run together and levels the playing field. For all but the Elite’s (and even them to a certain extent), running isn’t about how fast you are. Running isn’t about who you are better than. Running is about being better than you were yesterday. Running is about finding the strength to go on even though you want to quit. Running is about pushing yourself beyond your perceived limitations. Running is about sheer will and persistence. Running is about heart. Running is about soul.
An attack on Boston is an attack on my home. So, yes, I take it personally. As-if you attacked my family (because you did). One of the greatest feelings that there is in this World is knowing that my wife and kids are waiting for me at the finish line of ANY race, but especially a race in which so much emotion and hard work is tied-into. I don’t want to forever have to worry about their safety while I am running. I don’t want my kids (and wife to a certain extent) to have worry for my safety while I am running, and most importantly to worry about their own safety while waiting for me to cross the Finish line. The worst thing that could possibly happen from all of this is that they will no longer be waiting for me at the finish line. I won’t let any of these sick motherfuckers take that joy away from me.
I went to bed with all of these thoughts (selfish as they may be) and concern for all of the victims and their families swirling around in my head. And as the Sun came up this morning I made the hour-long drive home in complete silence. Just me and my thoughts. Alone. And then it hit me…
The Sun came up.