First the back story and the good……
I was approached a few months ago by my friend Jon who works for the Connecticut Challenge and he asked if I knew anyone who might be interested in a charity slot to the Boston Marathon to raise funds for CT Challenge. I sent an email around and asked some friends that I thought may be interested. Nada…..”Too soon”, “don’t have time to train”, etc. Then the light bulb went off and I decided this was a sign that this invitation was for me….a kick in the pants, a goal, to start getting back into shape after taking too much time off. I had no excuse. I was healthy but I didn’t have a goal and didn’t have the motivation, until I told Jon, “YES, I’ll take it”. I researched the CT Challenge and found it was a great charity that had a valuable cause, helping a lot of people…..cancer survivors. I have cancer survivors close to my heart so this was the perfect combination for me.
I immediately altered my training to gear up smartly and began running. I stayed healthy and hit my key workouts. I never really felt great through any of it, but there was a simple answer, I was about 20lbs heavier than I should be.
Fast forward to race weekend.
I have done enough of these large events to know not to get sucked into listening to everyone else’s training and standing on my feet all day. I got to the expo 30min before it opened the day before the marathon and I think everyone else had the same idea. It went super fast. I cruised the expo, saw my friend Jess, then jetted to my hotel and started working on my plan to get to the starting line the next day.
I met up with some friends from Ohio race morning and we took a shuttle together to Hopkinton (actually it was shuttle followed by another bus ride). Actually quite easy. There were people everywhere and I’ve never seen more port-o-potties in my life. Hardly a line at any of them. So far, this marathon was very impressive and I hadn’t even started running yet.
They start the athletes in wheelchairs, the professional women, the professional men and then the masses. It was broken down into 3 waves, with 9 corrals in each wave, seeded from fastest to slowest…..well, kind of. I was in Wave 3, Corral #9. I thought I would be a little advantageous and attempt to get into corral #1 in my wave, however they had top notch security volunteers checking everyone’s bib so I turned myself around, took a deep breath and began my march back to corral #9. I then realized it would be a long day of passing people and not getting into a rhythm. I was there for the fun of it, so I was at peace with this. As it turned out as I began my walk to corral 9, passing 4, then 5, then 6, then 7…….WAIT. Then the volunteer says anyone in 7 or above can come into this one. I jumped in there so fast and now it’s like a mob of people packed in tight, I figured I would be walking the first mile. I think it took about 6-10 minutes to get to the starting line once the gun went off and was able to jog slowly. Then I took off on an adventure, running on sidewalks, dirt, trails, anything to get some space. It took close to 5 miles to have some free space and even the halfway point to get into a rhythm.
The crowds were absolutely amazing. It was so fun to run past Wellesley and Boston College……students are some of the best cheerleaders. The fans kept me going. I never felt great all day so I was just trying to do my best and tick off miles one by one. My plan to have about 10 gels turned out to not be the best choice for me. I wish they would serve cola at marathons……that stuff is magic and I was craving it to settle my stomach. I was starting to weaken during the hills (18-20) but still had good strength to power up and started slowing each consecutive mile. I walked for the first time around mile 25 for a minute or 2 to settle my stomach. I made it to Boylston Street and the crowds were electrifying, however my stomach said otherwise. It didn’t care about the crowds and the noise. My stomach revolted at the 26 mile marker and I proceeded to throw up 3 times. I felt so bad as it happened in front of all these people. No one likes to see the sight of vomit. My stomach was happy once again and running became somewhat easy again. I wish it happened a few miles earlier but it was nice to feel strong through the finish line. I got really cold immediately and welcomed the sight of a space blanket and bottle of water. This was the best and my favorite marathon to date, I had concluded at that moment……then it all got ugly.
I was walking after the finish line to get my finishers medal when the first explosion went off, then the second one a few seconds later. We all looked back and immediately saw a huge puff of smoke in the air. I didn’t know what to think at first. Was it some revolutionary war cannon or maybe some Boston Marathon tradition of firing blanks in the air like they do at Patriots games? Or maybe it was a utility transformer that blew. Maybe the power requirements for the race taxed the power too much and it blew…..it had to be that, I thought. My last thought was a bomb. It couldn’t be a bomb…..not here, but it sure sounded like what a bomb might sound like and there sure was a lot of smoke. I looked back and I couldn’t really see much. There were too many people behind me so I continued to walk, gather my things as fast as possible and meet up with my mom in the family meeting area which was our plan. Then the sirens began and more sirens and people running and crying and volunteers somewhat panicking, then I turn around and just see a wall of people running toward me, away from the scene. It was like watching the people from 9/11 running from the crumbling towers.
In my job as race director, I have learned not to panic. Running, chaos, yelling isn’t the best thing to do. It incites more panic and confusion. I saw police officers hustling around and on their radios, thinking I might be able to eavesdrop on what was coming from the speaker but it was all happening too quickly. I was now beginning to think something bad was happening. I pulled out my phone and texts and emails started flying in as the word quickly spread across the globe. I heard from friends in Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Now I knew something bad happened. I arrived at my family meeting area after getting detoured and hopping over a fence to meet my mom. She ventured up alone from RI so I began to worry since I didn’t see her. Was she anywhere near the explosion? Had she been affected by it? I realized she may have underestimated how long it would take for me to get from the finish line to the meeting area so I waited and waited, trying to call, text. I couldn’t reach her or anyone at that point. Nothing was going out, then my phone rang and it was her. I couldn’t hear her but figured she was safe since her phone was calling me. Finally, we met up and I walked her to the train station and told her to hop on the train ASAP and get home. Shortly after that, Boston police closed the rails and began to put the surrounding blocks on lockdown. I met up with my friends from Ohio at a restaurant and soon after, they locked us down and we couldn’t leave. We were fortunate to book a couple of hotel rooms before everyone else so we decided to have patience and leave on Tuesday. We shared stories and watched the news of the horror that took place. My friend at Bloomberg called me for my eyewitness account, and then CNN called me, followed by the Hartford Courant newspaper. CBS-NY did an interview with me as well as the BBC, and a few others.
It started to set in how close I was to being one of the victims of this tragedy. I thought what if I was just a few minutes slower? What if I walked more? What if I didn’t feel better after getting sick at the 26 mile marker, the point at which the bombs went off? What if I started in the 9th corral where I was supposed to be? What if? I was lucky…..very lucky. The reports are still early. It appears that almost all of the victims were spectators. There is a sea of people almost 10 deep on that stretch of road along with crowd fencing, so it appears the bombs affected those spectators and they shielded all the runners from getting hurt. What if my mom was there trying to get a glimpse of me finishing? What if my friends were there watching? I’m still processing what happened and counting my blessings. I am also blessed by so many friends and loved ones who sent me messages thinking of me. Thank you all!
I feel horrible for all those spectators severely hurt and killed and their families. Their lives will forever be changed. I feel sad for almost 5,000 athletes who were stopped in their tracks and told their race was over after 25+ miles.
The city of Boston will unite and be stronger because of this. The running community has already united and will be stronger too. These perpetrators probably didn’t care this was a running event. If someone intentionally did this I can only imagine they probably saw this as an opportunity to inflict pain, torture, and killings on innocent people where they can impact a lot of people and make a big statement. With an estimated 500,000 people watching the race, they targeted this event, not because it was a running event but a place with a lot of people who didn’t deserve this. We need to take notice. Large events like this need to account for this. Did they? Did they have bomb squads case the area? If someone wants to inflict pain like this, there is always a way even with bomb squads. As a race director I’ve been asked what I will do differently for my events. I may be naive but Rev 3 events aren’t (yet!) big enough to be targets. We will certainly coordinate with our local authorities and it will surely come up before each race. I will share my experience with them, however they are certainly the experts here and will lead the way in this area . If I was the race director for the London Marathon or NYC Marathon, I would be ramping up coordination with police to make sure additional measures are put in place to check for suspicious packages, bomb sniffing dogs, etc. The problem is, criminals don’t likely care. It happened in the Atlanta Olympics. It could happen at a rock concert next. I think we all need to be on higher alert for suspicious packages or bags left alone. It’s not someone else’s responsibility. It’s all of our responsibility to be on alert.
The volunteers, military, police, fire, EMS, and medical personnel in Boston need to be commended on their selfless actions. They acted swiftly and unselfishly to save lives. I bet they saved many lives with their quick response and compassion. I told my friend Mike from Bloomberg that if something like this had to happen, it couldn’t have happened at a better place for a quick response. It happened within a few hundred yards of the primary medical tent for the Boston marathon finish line – a place where critical supplies were within reach. It turned out to be very favorable running conditions that day so there were many medical personnel available to be on the scene within seconds. The close proximity of many outstanding hospitals also guaranteed that those injured were cared for quickly by the best medical personnel. Ambulances were already by the finish line on stand-by.
This is the 3rd major US attack within close proximity to me. The first being the attacks on the twin towers. I live an hour outside of Manhattan and knew people affected in those buildings. I live 40 minutes from Newtown, CT where Sandy Hook elementary school is located, and now this. I was talking to a friend whose kids are in middle school and high school, who have endured the events most recently in Newtown and now Boston. What do you tell your kids and young people when they ask why this keeps happening and how do you ensure them they are safe? It’s pretty intense when I think about it. I was asked if I would come back to race in Boston again or do another large marathon. I wouldn’t rush out to do another one tomorrow but I would, maybe after some time has passed. I will be on higher alert for suspicious activities or objects. I will hesitate to be in large crowds as I think they are easy targets. I’m sure this will lessen over time but for now, I’m happy to be back home surrounded by great family and friends.
See you at the races soon!