Boston 2013: my experience + the response of the running community

DSCI1756 (2)It has been quite a few days since I last blogged, and since I returned from Boston. I have told and retold the story of my experience numerous times, to friends in person, via text messages, Facebook, and over the phone. Each time it feels the same; the facts are still the same, the outcome was still the same, it is still as horrible as it was the day it happened. Being so involved in the running community, even at work, means there isn’t an hour that passes during which it isn’t brought up, either in my mind or out loud. I’ve read some other bloggers’ accounts of the afternoon; here is mine.

I woke up excited as ever to spectate my aunt and friends. I had stayed at the Sheraton the night before, and so I checked my bags downstairs and headed out with all my cheering essentials: water, Nuun, camera, phone, money for the T if I chose to ride it. I walked down Boylston to view the finish line, and snapped some photos of the colorful flags flapping in the early morning breeze. Having walked down to Brookline to cheer on Commonwealth last year, I decided to switch it up and ride the T out to a farther spot. First, I rode out to mile 18, miscommunicating with Nick and thinking he was headed there. He was actually at Boston College, but my stop at mile 18 wasn’t for nothing – I was able to snag a couple free cowbells, watch part of the “erg marathon” that was happening, and get pumped up from the music coming from the big PowerBar station. I was getting into the mood; it was going to be a great day to be in Boston.

I found Nick and his friend at Heartbreak Hill. It was my first time ever seeing such an

Elite women after Heartbreak Hill.

iconic landmark of the course. I must say, that stretch of road is beautiful.  If it wasn’t at such a painful part of the race I’m sure it would make for a great section of an ordinary run!   Then…I went camera crazy. I was looking out for a lot of people, and I hardly managed to take photos of the people I actually knew.  My logic was that I would look at all the photos later to get excited for my own marathon, and to motivate myself to get here next year. I cheered for everyone from runners I knew, to runners I sort of knew of, to complete strangers with writing on their shirts. I discovered this wile spectating last year: even when you’re all alone, you never use the words “awkward,” or “embarrassing” in the context of cheering on runners in a race. Definitely not Boston. You scream your heart out against those metal barriers, all you want to do is make the runners hear you and keep going, maybe even smile. In my right hand I had my cowbell, and I was addicted to ringing it. To supplying a small fraction of that energy found nowhere else but the streets of the Boston Marathon on Patriot’s Day.

I eventually left my spot and headed back to the T, where I hopped on and rode with hundreds of other spectators (and eventually, Red Sox fans) back to the finish area. When we were almost back, I started discussing which stop at which to get off with a father who was with his kids. We were both aiming to get to the family meeting area; it seemed like he was meeting his wife there. Initially, he asked me, “Are you from here?” wondering if the Boston-20130415-01921Copley station was closed today (it was). We soon realized that it hardly mattered. Everyone was from Boston today; that is just what this city does to you on this particular Monday. Deciding on Hynes, we departed the train and I headed up Boylston through a packed crowd. I called my aunt to congratulate her on her 3:30 finish, which was probably fifteen minutes before at that point. She likes to run marathons and then literally jump in the car and drive hours home – not my kind of post-race ritual, but on a day like this, I was very grateful she held true to this and was shortly thereafter ready to leave the meeting area. I asked where the car was, so I would know whether or not to get my bag at the hotel before seeing her. She told me she didn’t know, just go get my bag now, and hurry. So, I turned around and went back through the crowd, escaping down a side street to the Sheraton.

[Side note: I had mentioned it was pouring on my way to Boston. Well, I ended up taking along hour trusty store umbrella. The old thing was left by a customer years ago, and has been a lifesaver several times when it randomly pours when I get out of work. It’s bigger than my carry-on suitcase, so I knew I would regret taking it at some point on the trip. But, it kept me dry. It is so big, in fact, that I needed to check it separately from my suitcase at the hotel. Moving on….]

I could tell my aunt was in a big rush, so I tried to hurry towards Beacon Street, where she was headed, as quickly as possible. There was no way I was wheeling a suitcase down Boylston, so I took Huntington, which ran parallel and was less crowded. There were still people everywhere, most of whom seemed to be trying to meet up with family, etc. I was walking on the left side of the street, on the sidewalk near Shaw’s at Huntington and Exeter when I heard it. There was a loud “boom” that echoed off the buildings, coming from the direction I was heading. Everyone around me looked around, confused. I heard a lot of

“what was that?” but for the most most everyone kept going where they were going before. It could be anything, everyone was sure it was nothing….Then it happened again, and this one was louder. I stopped in my tracks and a flood of panic came over me. “That sounded bad,” one person said. “Do you know what that was?” I frantically asked a woman next to me. “No idea,” she said. There was a look of terror in people’s eyes, and everyone started pulling out their phones. I didn’t want to keep walking that way. I turned around and started running. I called my aunt and asked if she had heard it, and if she was okay. She seemed to just be concerned at the fact that I wasn’t there yet and she wanted to leave. I was relieved to hear that; she must be far enough away to be out of harm’s way. If this was in fact something bad. “It sounded like a bomb,” someone said. It was the words we were all thinking and not saying. That’s something more often used as a simile. Not in real life. It

View from where I ran to, on the far side of the Common. My first glimpse of the smoke.

couldn’t literally be a bomb. Then hoards of ambulances sped by in the direction of the sounds, and everyone began to really panic. Runners in mylar blankets who hadn’t met up with friends and family yet, and vice versa, started bursting into tears on every corner. People started hugging each other. I was numb, I didn’t know what was happening and couldn’t let myself think about what it was. What if it happened again? Right here in front of me? What if this is the last day of my life, and everyone’s lives around me? Is Boston getting bombed? Nothing really can describe that it is like to hear two bombs go off on a city street, especially when the second is louder and closer. I threw the stupid umbrella against a building on the ground (sorry, Boston police) and continued running. I had called my mom right after my aunt, to let her know that if she “hears anything on the news,” I am okay. This was a good move, because in my phone’s typical fashion, it died right after. I heard someone say, “don’t go that way, there’s smoke.” That scared me. I found some quiet walkway and ran with my wheeled suitcase down it. I ran all through Boston Common. People looked at me running with my bags and seemed confused. Well, I was confused as to why they were playing catch? The next hour or so was a blur of stress and phone complications. Long story short: I did find my aunt, by staying put at the City Hall Starbucks and using a nice girl’s phone to call my mom to have her tell my aunt where to find me. Meanwhile, someone grabbed my aunt’s arm and told her to just leave the city, because they were closing the bridges and tunnels. When she panicked about not being able to find me, the man said, “I’ll help you find her!” Sure enough, the two of them did find me outside Starbucks, where the nice girl, Lucy, was staying with me until I found my aunt.   We left Boston immediately and stayed in the car all the way until New Jersey, listening to the horror unfold on the car radio, calling people (except not me because my phone wouldn’t turn on…), and just staring blankly as the city of Boston grew smaller behind us.

My aunt and me at the expo.

What a great day turned so, so, so bad. I’ve had some time to process my thoughts, though I still am very disturbed and not quite myself. Initially, there was fear. Even at home in New Jersey. Fear that this kind of evil exists in the world. At the same time, giving in to fear is the worst thing we can do. Runners are unique in the sense that we don’t take fear as an option. If we let fear overcome us, we wouldn’t run. Runners are also special people because we are all friends. No, we might not become friends with every runner we meet, but when we pass each other on the street or on the trail, or run alongside one another in a race, there is this mutual understanding, this unspoken recognition, that we are friends. That we would help each other if we needed help. Comfort each other if we needed comforting. Hug each other if we needed a hug. This is just who we are and always have been. Rarely do you find such a large population of people sharing a common interest who don’t even need to campaign, rally, or organize anything to show their support for others; we simply need to come together, be together, run together. And just like that, the whole country is now running for Boston. It doesn’t make the horrific events of this long week any better in the least, but it somehow makes me believe I can find solace in the community I identify with most, the running community. DSCN1101

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2 thoughts on “Boston 2013: my experience + the response of the running community

  1. Pingback: I guess I’m hurt…but here’s how I’ve kept busy | SHOE STORiES

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