My Garmin watch is stopped at 25.74 miles. That’s how far I made it in this year’s Boston Marathon. Another year, another blog post about how the race didn’t turn out as expected. But this time it’s far more devastating and heart wrenching than I could ever imagine last year, when all I was doing was moaning about the crazy hot weather.
I was having a decent run- a good first half, then a little bit of trouble just before the hills in Newton. But I rallied in Brookline and once I passed the “1 mile to go” sign I knew that I had this one in the bag. I was just soaking in all the sights and sounds that make this marathon so special- the screaming crowds, the cowbells, the kids offering water and candy and popsicles, the mass of other runners all sharing the same road but striving for their own individual goals. It was exhilerating and exhausting and I was loving it. But I was thrilled to be less than 1o minutes from finishing. I was psyched about seeing my loved ones and meeting up with my BCH marathon team. Dreaming of a nice cold beer and my flip flops. I picked up the pace because I could see the turn onto Hereford… the final stretch.
And then, unbelievably, everyone in front of me just stopped running. It was like a solid wall of people suddenly materializing out of nowhere. We were all confused and frustrated. What the hell? Then we heard someone say that they were stopping the race and that there was no finish line. Right then my heart sank. They don’t just stop the marathon- not unless it’s for something big. And then we heard the sirens and saw the helicopters. Right after that the news started spreading that an explosion had happened near the finish line. I immediately thought of my husband, who I knew was about 20 minutes ahead of me, and my parents who I knew were in the bleachers at the finish line. Everything sort of seemed to go sideways. I worried about where my kids and cousin were and about other dear friends I knew were going to be at the finish. I grabbed for my phone – grateful for my last minute decision to bring it- and started frantically dialing my husband, my parents, my friends and the cousin my kids were with, and when I couldn’t reach anyone, I started to panic. Those were the worst minutes of my life.
I was the only one near me that had a phone so I let as many people as I could make calls- and no one could reach anyone. People started freaking out. We were all just leaving messages and hoping to connect with a live voice. We didn’t know what to do or what to believe- we heard a million different things. Finally my cousin called, and then thankfully my husband. They were safe and thought my parents were too because they heard no one had been hurt in the bleachers. It helped a little to know that they all were safe, but I needed to see them to truly believe it. I needed real arms around me and their beautiful faces in front of mine.
So many minutes passed and still no one knew what to do. We were all still standing where we’d stopped running. No one really made a move to leave. I was dying to meet up with my family so even though I wasn’t sure I should, I ducked around the barricades and started walking. I was cold, nervous, tired, sore, sick to my stomach and anxious to see for myself that my family & friends were unharmed. I knew it would take a while for everyone to make their way to our designated meeting area (it was total chaos- so many people on the streets and cops trying to direct everyone away from Boylston St and the surrounding area) so I thought I would first head to the Westin where my bag was stored with the Boston Children’s Hospital team but I got half way there and decided it was too much. I kind of just stopped walking. The sight of so many ambulances lined up and so many police cars screaming by paralyzed me. Some wonderful woman touched my shoulder and asked if I wanted her sweatshirt. She had finished the race and had her bag and said she had an extra one, so she took the sweatshirt off her back and gave it to me, even though I tried to protest. She also gave me a big hug and let me cry. We cried together for a few minutes and then parted ways. I wish I knew who she was because I would love to thank her for that moment of kindness. It really helped.
A short time later I was finally reunited with my family at the Hilton where we had planned to meet. There were many runners and people looking for runners milling around the lobby. The staff was amazing- bringing water, bananas, cookies, things to entertain the kids with. They really went above and beyond to help everyone. I hope they know how much it meant, how comforting they were in a time of high stress.
It wasn’t until after we got home and the kids were in bed that I learned just how much worse it could have been for us. My husband didn’t want to talk about it when they could hear, so he was vague about where he had been when everything happened, but when they were safely asleep he shared his story. He had just passed mile 26 and had moved over from the left side of the road to the center in anticipation of crossing the finish line. He saw the first explosion ahead and thought at first it was fireworks or a canon of some sort…but he knew that wasn’t quite right. Though his memory is quite foggy he believes he stopped running or maybe started running back and then seconds later the second bomb exploded just yards from where he was- directly to his left and just slightly behind him. Fire, debris and smoke licking at his heels. He immediately jumped the barricade on the right hand side and ran down past Lord and Taylor where he spent a bit of time with another runner trying to figure out what was going on. He eventually made his way to the baggage claim and his phone. He was able to reach all of us and assemble a plan to get everyone together and home safely. His ability to remain collected and rational in such a chaotic and terrifying time awes me. He held it together for all of us, though inside his head he must surely have been frantic. I know how confused I was, and I was much more removed from it than he was. The fact that he, my parents, two of my closest friends, and my infant godson, his beloved brother and dad were all in the same block that two bombs exploded on was- and is – mind boggling and frightening. I cannot believe how lucky we are.
We are beyond fortunate that none of us were harmed. Being so close to an act of terror is surreal. People always say you never think it will happen to you and it’s true. Even when it’s happening it doesn’t feel like it’s real. But it is real, it has happened and regardless of how close we came to losing so much we are safe. We are together today and we are safe. We will eventually overcome our feelings of grief, fear, terror and anxiety. But we are heartbroken for the victims, survivors and families who were not as lucky. We will forever be changed by our experience and by what happened to them. We will live with their pain in our hearts always. So many lives have been forever altered by a senseless, random act of evil.
I cannot stop thinking about how the day unfolded. It began as a beautiful day meant to celebrate the strength of the human spirit- triumph over challenge, perserverance, hope, and joy. There was a shining sun, a glorious blue sky, cool brisk air. It was hour after hour of being moved by the sheer dedication, determination and drive of runners I encountered all along the course. It was overflowing with good will and humor from the enthusiastic crowds that lined the route en masse from Hopkinton to Boston. And all of that, all that joy, all that glory and celebration of spirit ended with a devastating, unfathomable, sickeningly evil act. And for what? What reason? What cause? What message could whoever is responsible for this possibly be trying to send? I will never understand. Never.