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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Reclaiming Boston

I've been trying to find the words to adequately describe the experience that was the 2014 Boston Marathon...that has been my delay in writing this post.  Alas, I don't think that there are adequate words.  I don't think that you can truly capture what each and every one of us was feeling as we ran down the streets from Hopkinton to Boston.

With signs everywhere proclaiming "We all run Boston" and "We run as One" the attitude throughout the race expo was one of thankfulness- thankfulness for the ability to be there, to be a part of something so significant, to continue the tradition, to be there to represent the city, to run for the city, and for all those who were affected by the tragedy last year.

One of the many signs hanging in Copley Place

The elevator door at my hotel

Security was heightened and no one seemed to mind.  We all knew that it was in everyone's best interest and that all were there to ensure that the event went off without incident.

Staying at the hotel that served as race headquarters meant extra hoops to jump through for security- especially on race day.  No one was allowed in without proper race credentials, room keys, and having your name cross referenced with the hotel registry.

On race morning the ride to the start line in Hopkinton gave us time to reflect on many things- last year's race, how we planned to run this year, and how we were so thankful to have the opportunity to be here again.  Something that we all had decided was a MUST after last year.

Arriving at the athlete's village it was hard not to notice the increased police presence.  Uniformed officers canvassed the area while others manned the rooftops.

Regardless, everyone seemed at ease, just happy to be there.

We waited in the village for our waves to be called.  When they were we walked in our groups to the start area about .7 mile away.  Along the way we passed more police and military as well as volunteers collecting our "throw away clothes".  Due to a change in pre-race happenings, there were no athlete drop bags at the village.  This meant that anything that you did not want to physically carry with you- or wear- to the finish of the race must be discarded at the village.

Not to worry, those throw away clothes are donated to the homeless shelters in the area.  Just one more way that the marathon supports the communities it touches.

Boston Strong Daffodils were seen everywhere.
Especially along the marathon route where they had been planted.

The cool morning gave way to a sunny sky as we lined up for the race start, just as it had last year.  The Boston Marathon doesn't have a typical start time of 7am.  In years past it would start at 12 noon.  More recently that time has moved up with elite females starting around 9:30 am and the first wave of the rest of the field starting at 10am.

With roughly 11, 000 additional participants, this year's race was the 2nd largest in history.

Lining up in our corrals you could feel the excitement in the air-- from both the athletes and the spectators.

The gun went off and we were on our way down the hills away from Hopkinton.

Boston Marathon spectators are a special group.  They line the streets and spend countless hours cheering for people whom they have never met and will likely never see again.  Children smile and wave and high five everyone that they can reach.

But this year it was different.

Yes, people still stood for hours lining the streets handing out water, oranges, bananas, tissues, ice-pops, Twizzlers, and high fives.  They showered us with sprinklers and hoses and wet sponges. And they cheered.

They cheered for each and every one of us and we could feel it.  It was as if we were there running for THEM.  You know the kind of cheering you see and hear when someone is cheering for a friend or family member, or someone they really care about? You know THAT kind of cheering??? THAT was how they were cheering.

As if each and every step that each one of the 36, 000 of us took was bringing all of us closer to the finish line.  Together.  As one.

There were so many times that my emotions were in my throat. (And incase you were wondering it is next to impossible to run while crying)

I had to refocus on the road ahead and the goal of making it to the finish line.  Not for me, but for all of us.  It was a symbolic taking back of the streets, the marathon, the city, and the finish line.  As each person passed through the cities along the route- Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline, and Boston- we were slowly, one by one reclaiming the day.

I've run a few marathons and I've even had a few that made me want to quit.  I tell you what, there was no quitting THIS marathon.  It was like everyone was counting on you to do it.  To cross that finish line.

I have never experienced anything like this before, and likely won't again.  We truly ran as one.  We did it, we finished strong.

After the race and safely back in my hotel I placed an order for room service.  My food arrived via the hands of the very same gentleman who delivered it after the race last year. This year was a little different as we both exchanged smiles and not tears.

The next morning exiting the hotel I was elated to see the city just as it was the day before.  Alive and well, full of happy marathoners and void of any of the military vehicles I had seen last year.

Making my way through the airport I could over hear a conversation going on behind me.  A few of the gentleman who had come in from other areas to help with the security detail along the marathon route were discussing their experiences.

I turned and asked if they had worked the event.  They replied "yes".  I thanked them for being there and told them that we couldn't have done it without them. ( I may have failed to mention it, but there were police and/or military personnel stationed every 30 feet along the entire marathon route- along both sides of the street.)

They looked back at me and thanked me for running. They too felt the energy, the unity, the resolve, and the strength that flowed through the streets.  We were one.  We were Boston.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Boston Strong

It is hard to believe that tomorrow marks one year since this happened.  I had written this blog post a year ago and had never posted it.

I started writing it in hopes that it would bring me some sense of release or relief in expressing my feelings and experience.  It didn't. I didn't post it.

As I sat here today about to write another completely unrelated blog I stumbled across this post and decided that it was time...

There is so much that never made it in to this post... so many tears, sleepless nights, days spent staring at the news feeling numb.  So many texts, emails, calls from friends and people I hadn't talked to in years...

Yet a year has passed... some things have changed, some things haven't.

I will board a plan Thursday morning to head to Boston for this year's Boston Marathon.  I am certain many tears will be shed and many smiles will be shared.  This will be a race to remember for sure.  This year I am again praying for a "feel-good" race, and one that lasts.


I don't even know where to begin with this.  As I was running the Boston Marathon this year I was trying to decide how best to capture the experience...what words and pictures to use. What emotions to discuss, what lesson I would share. You see, it is nearly impossible to be a part of something and not have it affect you in some way.

The 2012 Boston Marathon was an ugly race for me.  While I was thrilled to be there,  just to qualify to be a part of the most historic, most prestigious marathon there is was beyond amazing.  The race experience itself was less about the race and more about the amazing support from the community.  With temperatures near 90 degrees, I am certain I would have collapsed on the course if it weren't for the spectators.

(Read about my 2012 Boston experience here)

The spectators at the Boston Marathon are not only spectators..they are participants as well!

If something cannot be completed without the aid of another person or thing, then those people or things become a part of the event.

Coming into the 2013 Boston Marathon I was focused on one thing- feel good.  I just wanted to feel better than I did last year.

The weather looked as if it was going to be perfect.  Highs were expected to be in the upper 50's, no chance of rain. Perfect.

Boarding the bus to Hopkinton at 6:30am went off without a hitch.  I even made a new friend on the ride over.  Audrey was from Maine and drove down with her husband and her running partner.  While we were on our way to the start of the race, her husband and friend were headed to Dunkin Donuts to have their own marathon...eating 26.2 donuts.  So far they had managed to eat one.  Audrey and I agreed that she would more than likely need to do the driving home since eating 26.2 donuts was going to be more painful than running 26.2 miles!

We arrived in Hopkinton at the runner's village and wasted no time finding a spot of grass to call our own.  It seemed like no time at all had passed before we began our journey to the start line. Once there we made our way into the corral and waited. Excitement was in the air as I could hear the many conversations going on around me.  Some mentioned that they were first time Boston Marathoners, others said they had been here many times.  Didn't much matter- everyone was just as excited and everyone seemed to be saying the same things: don't go out too fast down the hills and enjoy the crowds.

The day seemed almost perfect. The weather, the crowds, everything seemed to come together just as it needed to.

I was thrilled to feel good.  Like I said, after the 2012 experience I was just praying for a "feel-good" race.  "Perfect!" I was thinking.  In my mind I just kept saying "Boston, thanks for a great ride!" I'm not sure what my face really looked like during the run, but I felt as if I was smiling from ear to ear.

Somewhere around mile 12 or 13 I had decided that I would take my time after the race, and sit and have lunch along Boylston street and enjoy watching other Boston Marathoners complete their journey.

Yep, sounded like a great way to celebrate a fabulous day.

I'm not sure where I was when I changed my mind.  It was somewhere in the later stages of the race.. maybe mile 20 or 22.  I was hungry and just wanted to get back to my room.  I was still having a great race and feeling strong, but for some reason I really wanted to get back to my room.  Weird.

I remember turning the corner onto Boylston street, I cut the left pretty hard and was an inch or so from the barricades that kept the crowd back.  There I stayed, far to the left all the way across the finish line.  I was so far to the left as I crossed the finish line that you can only see half of me crossing the finish line in the race photos and videos.

I was on a mission when I crossed the finish line-- find my drop bag and get back to the hotel.  I'm not sure if you've ever been at the finish of a marathon, but people aren't generally moving too quickly.  I was almost pushing through the crowd trying to find the bus that served as my bag transport.

Finally I found it and collected my bag.  I sat for a moment -- only long enough to put my warmer clothes on and I was on my way.

I remember looking around almost helplessly "how do I get out of here??" I finally found someone who was working the race and asked "How do I get out of here?"

"You have to head back that way, " she said pointing back in the direction of the race finish line.

I didn't hesitate.

I felt like a salmon swimming upstream dodging and weaving through the runners as they were streaming across the finish line and down through the chute.

Dodging and weaving all the way back to the Fairmont.  I had almost made it there, but the street was closed, I had to make my way around the back of the building.  "Sigh, just get me back to my room," I thought.

Finally I made it to the hotel door and was inside.

I was on a mission and it was evident.  As I made it in the door someone looked at me wrapped in the mylar race blanket and said "Wow, you're really moving well for just finishing a marathon!"

"Yeah, " I said, "I just want to get back to my room."

I hurriedly made my way to my room, turned the heat on and started the shower.

As I was in the shower I heard the heat turn off, and then turn back on.

"Huh, that was weird," I thought and carried on with my shower.

Getting out of the shower I had decided I would order some room service and watch a movie.  I grabbed the remote and turned the T.V. on.

I have no idea how long it was that I was standing there staring at the scene on the T.V. before it started to sink in.

What I saw was an image of where I had just been-- the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  Except the image on T.V. looked nothing like what I had experienced.  The scene on the T.V. was of a deserted area.  Cups were strewn everywhere and the road was soaked.  No people.  It didn't make any sense to me.  Was I watching a movie? What was this?

It could have been 10 minutes, it could have been 45 minutes, I really don't remember...but at some point I realized what they were saying.  Bomb.

I grabbed my phone and called my mom.  Thankfully she had been napping and hadn't seen the news.  I told her, not to worry, I was ok and go back to sleep.

Then as I was calling my husband, I was posting on Facebook and twitter to let everyone know that I was ok.

I sat there not really knowing what to do.  Do I try to leave? Do I stay? What do I do.

Then I saw it on the news- we were on lockdown.  I couldn't go anywhere.  I just sat there watching and listening.  Over and over again the reporters kept saying "bomb".

Slowly more information trickled in.

Putting it all together in my head I realized that I had run right past where the bombs had been placed on the left side of Boylston street.  Literally inches away.

The noise I heard while I was in the shower that I had assumed was the heat turning off and then back on... that was not the heat... those were the bombs exploding.

I felt sick.

For hours all I could do was watch and listen to the reports.  I wanted to turn it off, to make it go away, but I couldn't.  I needed to know if I needed to take action.

To say that was a sleepless night would be an understatement.

The next morning as I emerged from my hotel I felt like I was in a third world country- or what I imagined it would feel like. There were armed military personnel everywhere.  Tanks and military vehicles of all kinds, police officers, police cruisers, and TV cameras and crews everywhere.  The streets around my hotel were blocked to traffic and minus the military and police they were deserted.

The hotel Bellman helped me lug my suitcase to the next black where traffic was open in hopes of finding a taxi or someone to take me to the airport.  It all felt so surreal.

I was thankful to be leaving. Yet somehow I felt like I shouldn't be happy about anything. How could you be happy after what had just happened?

I was just kind of numb.

Arriving at the airport the security was beyond heightened.

After passing through security I was approached by personnel from Homeland Security as well as the Boston Police Department.

"How was your race?" they asked.

I couldn't even respond, I just looked at them and started to cry.

I'm sure that wasn't the first time that morning that they had encountered that response.

They were looking for any information that would help in any way- asking for all photos and videos to be sent in to be scrutinized-- anything that we thought might help they took.

Sitting at the gate with other runners waiting for my flight gave me both a sense of relief and more anxiety.  A relief to be around other people, to share what we had gone through, the be thankful that we were all there.  Yet more anxiety as I heard people recounting where they and been and realizing just how close we all came to NOT being there.