It's so strange. We had a wonderful, fun, exciting and exhilarating day at the Boston Marathon. We watched my nephew Sam and his fiancé Danielle run the marathon, with Sam's parents, Cathy and JA, his sister Kate, and Kate's darling 8 month old baby Henry. In our little family world so many things could have gone wrong, yet none of them did. I feel like we walked through the parting of the waters in downtown Boston. It's very hard to explain but I want to try. Something sad and horrible happened at the Boston Marathon; we were there, very close, yet we saw and heard nothing.
I had every intention of writing a cheerful funny blog post about our crazy wonderful day. I still want to write that post, but now it's different.
So what do I do? Is it disrespectful to those that were killed or injured to write about our experience? If I don't write about doesn't that make the terrorists win? Should I stop running big marathons, not go watch Boston, avoid major events and big crowds? I say no! NO! Running in a big race like Boston, cheering on family and friends, experiencing the crowds and camaraderie, all of that can't be changed by a horrible act.
So here is that story of our family's day at the Boston Marathon. It was a joyous day, and I refuse to have that taken away.
After putting Sam and Daniellle on the Boston Express Bus early Monday morning the rest of us took our time getting ready. The theme throughout this day for me was worry; worry, excitement and joy. I am a world class worrier. I may never qualify for Boston, but if there was a qualifying time for worrying I would beat it every time.
Our plan was to drive to my cousin's house in Newton, one of the western suburbs of Boston, to watch the race. After Sam and Danielle passed us we would make our way downtown via public transportation, meet them at the family meeting area and then make our way home.
Our first challenge was getting to my cousin's house from New Hampshire. Many streets are closed in Boston on the day of the race, so we had to figure out how to get to their house without crossing Commonwealth Avenue, which is the route of the race through Newton. With some suggestions from my cousin we were able to do this, so my first worry was overcome. Secondly we had to make our way from their house to the race course. What did we ever do without smartphones? We spent a lot of the day following our little blue location dot on Google Maps as we walked the streets of Boston from here to there.
We got to Commonwealth Ave in plenty of time. The wheelchair and hand cycle participants were just starting to pass by. We were going to get to see the elite runners, and that was really exciting.
The wheelchair and hand cycle participants were very inspiring. No matter who you are and what category you fall into, qualifying for Boston is an amazing feat. We looked on in awe as they sped by, wondering at the callouses on their hands and the muscles in their arms.
The first elite runner, a girl, came by. The elite women start before the elite men in Boston for some reason. This girl was at least a minute out in front of the other elite women, and JA and I (the only experienced runners in the group) looked at each other knowingly. I said I would bet money she wouldn't win, and I was right. I think she came in 9th. At that level marathon running is such a tactical sport. Actually at any level that is true. Go out too fast and you WILL crash. Those women are running at the extremes of their sport. Nobody is going to suddenly blow the other runners out of the water by a minute or more. But it's a very hard lesson to learn, especially when you feel so good at the beginning of a race. Boy, I sure can attest to that!
The elite men came by, and then the regular men started appearing. We had an estimate for about when Sam should hit mile 19 where we were standing, if he was maintaining his predicted pace. And Boston, like many marathons nowadays, will send you texts when your runner hits the various mile markers. We were receiving texts on both Sam and Danielle, and it looked like Sam was doing great.
He was. He came by us running a 7 minute per mile pace, and he kept that pace until the end. We set up a relay. One of us stood a little ahead of the rest, to try to spot our runners early. I did this for Sam. When I saw him I started screaming and jumping up and down. This let the rest of the group know he was coming so that they could get their cameras ready.
We had signs, a couple of Go Sam! And Go Danielle! signs, but also a few funny signs. We got the ideas for the signs off the Internet. One sign said "Slow down, I'm trying to count everyone!" Runners had some smart comebacks to this sign. "What number are you at?" A lot of them yelled. Cathy would reply " I don't know, I keep having to start over!" The other sign we held said "Paul Ryan Finish Line." This was in reference to Ryan's notorious claim during the election that he had run a 2:50 marathon, an amazing time, when in actuality his time was over four hours. We got a lot of funny looks with this sign, but the ones that got it, really thought it was great. "Best sign of the day!" Several of them shouted. We felt very proud of our signs!
Then Danielle appeared. Poor Danielle. She is a very good, tough little runner. She had the absolutely most horrible blisters I have ever seen. She finished, but was disappointed in her time. Frankly I have no idea how she managed to run with those blisters on her feet. That's the thing about marathoning. No matter how hard you train, it's such a long race and there are so many variables. You just never know what might happen.
Once Danielle had passed us by, it was time to make our way downtown. We knew we couldn't get there before they finished, but we still wanted to be there to be sure they were both okay, and to help them get home.
The crowds at Boston are just incredible. Most big marathons have good crowds here and there, but Boston has huge crowds all along the route. We needed to make our way to the closest available T stop (Boston's subway is called the T). There was one at Boston College, about a mile and a half away. We started making our way along Commonwealth Avenue. Everyone in our group was fit, so there wasn't any concern about that, but we did have an 8 month old baby with us. Henry is so good though. Kate and JA passed him back and forth and he was mostly content and a good sport about the noise and the crowds.
When we got to Boston College, the noise and the crowds were just incredible. This is at mile 21 of the race, the infamous Heartbreak Hill. I have mixed feelings about seeing this hill. I have ambitions to run Boston someday for a charity, since I can't run fast enough to qualify, and seeing that steep and long of a hill that late in the race was very intimidating. Maybe seeing it, however, will help me remember when the time comes not to go out too fast. We shall see.
The other thing that happened was that when we got to BC we realized that the T stop was on the other side of the street so we couldn't get to it. The next T stop was another mile down the road, so on we trudged.
At Cleveland Circle every train that stopped at the station was already packed. Finally the station master put another train in service and we were able to get on that one. Another logistical problem solved! I was starting to worry again, however. I had to pick the dogs up at daycare back in New Hampshire before 6:30 pm, or they would be boarded for the night. It was probably around 2:45 when we boarded the train. Kate (the only person with young ears) thinks she heard a boom while the train was still above ground, but the rest of us heard nothing. At this point we were maybe 4 miles from the finish line.
Boy, that was a packed train. It stopped at Fenway Park, and even more people crammed their way on. The Red Sox play a day game on Patriots Day too. A couple of happy inebriated baseball fans had lots of loud observations to make, but for the most part everyone was in a calm and happy state of mind.
Shortly before Arlington Station, the train stopped in the tunnel. It sat there for quite a while. It's not the greatest experience in the world being stuck in the dark on a crowded train, but this happens a lot on the T, especially on the Green Line, which is very old. Finally we pulled into the station. This is where we intended to get out anyway, but all of al sudden they put the train out of service and told everyone to get out of the subway as quickly as possible. I was the first one of our group off the train and a policeman told me to keep moving but I ignored him until I was sure we were all together. Someone said something about an explosion, but we thought that sounded crazy, and the last thought in our minds was terrorism. We just wanted to find Sam and Danielle and make our way home.
I know now the news said the cell phone service was shut down, but we were able to make calls. The service was sporadic, however. We did get ahold of Sam, found out where he was, and followed our little blue dot on Google maps to find him. While we were walking toward him, I started getting texts. "Are u okay?" "Where are u?" "Please let us know" family and friends all over the country were trying to contact me. I couldn't respond to them all fast enough so I started texting one person and asking them to tell others. It was crazy! I must have received 20 texts in 20 minutes. I felt loved, and also strangely disconnected from it all. Then the NY Times headline flashed across my phone, and we knew it was real.
We found Sam and Danielle, tired, dazed, and sore. Sam had a great time of 3:05. Danielle was disappointed, but we were very proud of her anyway. The main worry at this point was whether she could walk to the bus station with those blisters. We decided we would carry her if we had to. We also decided we were going to put the runners back on the Boston Express bus so they wouldn't have to walk to the cars. We still weren't positive how we were going to get back to Newton. The Green Line was shut down so were were going to try to catch the commuter train to Newtonville Center and walk from there.
Dropping Sam, Danielle, Kate, Henry and JA at the bus station, Cathy, Lee and I started walking VERY fast over to the train station next door. We bought our tickets and looked at the schedule. There was a 4:25 train leaving for Newton in about a minute. What track was it on? Where was it? There it is! RUN!
We made it! While on the train I had a chance to call a few people and answer a few more texts. Finally I had the bright idea to post our status on Facebook. After that things started to calm down a little, at least for us.
We made it back to Newton at a little before 5 pm. Google said it would take 10 minutes to walk to the car, but we made it in 7. We walked really fast! Once to the cars Lee and Cathy hopped in his car and headed to Salem. I hopped in mine and did the same. I hoped to have enough time to stop at the Bus Station in Salem to pick some people up, but I wasn't sure what the traffic would be like. If I was running too close to 6:30 I might have to go pick the dogs up first.
In the car I turned on the radio, and the full horror of what had happened started to become a little clearer. My first reaction, frankly, was indignation. How DARE they mess with a marathon! Would this mean future races would be canceled or severely curtailed? Would it be harder to watch and cheer runners on? I hoped and prayed that would not be the case.
My second thought was for all those runners that did not get to finish. If you don't run, or have never run a marathon, it's a little hard to explain how emotional and exciting it gets as you near the finish line. I'm alway filled with a mixture of joy, surprise, pain, and determination as the finish line comes into view. I can't imagine what it would be like to come so close and have your goal snatched away. I realize this sounds trivial and selfish compared to losing a limb or a life, but it's what I thought.
We successfully picked up everyone, including the dogs, and made our way home. Tired and dazed, we cleaned up, ate dinner, and sat around the living room, calling friends and family, watching bits of news online, and trying to process what had happened.
I felt very split. There was the day we had just had, and then there was this horrible terrorist attack, and apparently we all walked right through it peacefully, untouched. It didn't feel like the attack happened in the same place as where we were, and it still doesn't to some extent.
Yesterday Runner's World asked all runners to wear their race tshirts in honor of Boston, so I put on my Marine Corp shirt for the day. We got everyone to the airport, and slowly started to catch up on some of our normal daily tasks. We had been out of the country for two weeks, and then had visitors for almost a week after that. We needed to remember what normal was!
This morning, Wednesday, two days after the attack, I woke up, got my coffee and read an article by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times. He said, much better than I ever could, what I was feeling about the attack. Click here to read the article. Whoever did this awful thing picked the wrong group of people to try to scare. While walking up Heartbreak Hill I was having second thoughts about keeping Boston on my marathon bucket list. Now I'm determined to run it someday, if the fates allow. I've signed up for a half marathon in Boston at the end of May, The Run to Remember. I'm thrilled and excited to be running this race for a second time, and proud to be running it in Boston.
This morning Lee told me a story that one of his friends had told him, about a runner that was prevented from finishing at mile 26, which means she had less than a quarter of a mile to go. Another runner came up to her and asked how she had done and she told him she was not allowed to finish. He took off his finisher's medal and put it around her neck. "You are a finisher in my book," he said. I burst into tears at the conclusion of that story.
It is a beautiful day in New Hampshire today. There seem to be lots of runners out, more than usual. Every runner I see I feel like waving and clapping for them. Tomorrow I will be out there as well, doing my usual Thursday morning run. When I do, I'm sure I will be thinking of Boston, and my beautiful messed up country, born of a noble experiment right around where I live, over 200 years ago. We are far from perfect, but we have good hearts, creative minds, and kind souls. We can't be stopped so easily, not by terrorists, not by guns, or bombs or threats. We have heart, all of us.
See you in Boston, next year. I'll be there to cheer on the runners, and someday I'll run up Heartbreak Hill too. How about you?