This is not the post with which I planned to launch Kicking it In.
It is the post I can’t avoid writing any longer.
I’m not really ready, but I have to reach out. I won’t get into hard race-reportesque analysis of my Boston 2013 experience here; I may share those details in a future racing-specific post. I will just go narrative.
It’s been one week since I ran the Boston Marathon. Like 27+-thousand others, I boarded a school bus for Hopkington the morning of April 15th with water, nerves – and in my case, my local training friend and rock, Lisa. All seemed in order, even the weather – not an easy task in these days of natural disasters and Mother Nature’s wild whims.
All we had left to do that morning was trust our training, work our plans, use the porta potties strategically and not forget to savor the experience that is the Boston Marathon. It was time to make our marks, make our families and legions of supportive friends at home proud – and then celebrate. Oh, did we have plans to celebrate.
As we hurried to our start corrals, I peeled off my throw-away jacket and lost an arm warmer. In it were two of my four onboard Clif Shots, my fueling choice for marathons. With less than two minutes until the gun and four corrals still to pass through to get into mine, I doubled back for the jacket and fished out my arm warmer. But my Clif Shot Bloks were missing. Roll with it, it’s time to go.
BOOM – the gun. Off and rolling, I tried to both monitor my pace (SLOW girl, slow) and unclench my brain so that I could soak in all that would happen to me in the next few hours. I didn’t want to cross the line a) physically wrecked and b) feeling as if I’d missed out on the experience of the race because my head was buried in the numbers.
The sun shone and the miles clicked by. Almost too quickly, in fact. I found myself constantly scanning the crowd, a little city in itself – raucous, engaged, supportive. I began searching for details to hang onto, as this race was just RACING by me. Screaming, waving, dancing — people didn’t care that I wasn’t their mom/sister/best friend. I didn’t have my name anywhere on my kit, but my “I Love Boston” shirt was enough for me to become “GO BOSTON, we love you, too!!” over and over. I enjoyed some fun conversations – one I jumped right into when a runner next to me said to another runner on his team, “yeah, I was dying in that race – I was wearing a three-piece wool suit.” (I guess somewhere in the Northeast is a half-marathon with only wine stops. No water. Get in touch if you know which race this is.)
I made a new friend on the course, an incredibly sweet woman named Pam from Pennsylvania, a mom of three who BQ’d at the Portland Marathon last fall – her very first 26.2. She’s got red hair a few shades darker than mine, and we WILL run together again this year. Period. (Oh, and she gave me two packets of honey once she’d heard about my Clif Shots going rogue. You know who your are, girl.)
Wellesley came and went, and though I still felt as if I were poking like a snail, by that time my terror of Newton and trashed quads had mellowed into an acceptance of sorts – I wasn’t going to have the race of my life by the watch today, but dangit, I was having fun and fighting back tears. These people of Boston BROUGHT IT – and they collectively moved the field forward in one peristaltic motion of sweeping support. Many races have crowds, and sometimes they cheer for strangers. Largely, though, they are on the race course to see their people. Bostonians come out en masse for everyone, and that is no joke. This is why I came to run Boston; like everyone else their first time, I just had to find that out.
Rick and Dick Hoyt at mile 15. Caught off-guard by a sudden rush of emotion, as I passed them I shouted “GO TEAM HOYT!” while choking up yet again. This roller coaster was becoming routine and I was done fighting it. I was letting it all in, as you never know – what if this were my only time?
A double-amputee rocking it on blades. High-fived him, too, as I passed.
Newton. Later, I’d find out that the first of the four fabled hills was lost on me entirely – it just never registered. The second one did, with a screw driver to my left quads. I loved the disco people, though, working it like no one’s biz to my left as I climbed the hill. I high-fived them and their disco kids on the way up. I hope I’m placing the gigantic bongo band made up of mostly women in the right place on the course here – let me know if not – just awesome. Now, I get it.
One more hill I missed somehow, then Heartbreak. Many of my Boston-vet friends say Heartbreak Hill wasn’t a big deal to them. Um…I disagree. TORTOISE up that hill. Seriously. Oh, well, it was technically still running.
Mile 21, let’s get ‘er done. Now it was time to make up for my uber-conservativeness for 17 miles and enjoy some downhill, right? Wrong. I won’t get too far into it but let’s just say, you need your quads and you need your fluids to go 26. A pokey pace early and water at every table doesn’t necessarily ensure that you can blast the end of Boston, no matter how badly you want to. Working on that for next time.
I ran on. Crowds got thicker. Louder. Happier. More determined. I observed a few walkers getting “chanted” by the crowd until they broke into a run once more. Wasn’t gonna be me – I kept my eyes forward and my head up (a bit too high, along with my shoulders, some soreness would tell me on Tuesday). Gimme some Hereford street, right now.
Finally, after a long 23-25, the expanse of Hereford street revealed itself, with its amazing architecture, blooming trees and even more screaming meemies and it was time to put this one away. Just keep moving, girl. Ugh. I was cursing life a bit but also trying to grasp that I was coming to the end of my Boston. I was missing it already and hadn’t even crossed the line yet. So very me.
I now wish I’d known, as I “sprinted” down Boylston street, that my dear friend and coached runner Dara Michalski, aka the Cookin’ Canuck, had waited insanely long after her speedy husband finished to snap me approaching the finish line. She screamed herself hoarse, but of course, I never heard her. I never saw her after I finished, either.
Stopped the watch. Got the baked-potato wrap, medal, water, food. Found out who won the race. Now it was time to get my gear back from my designated school bus, wait for Lisa to finish and reconnect with everyone. Let the fun begin!
Literally, as I extended my arms to receive my gear bag from the cheerful volunteer inside the school bus, another BOOM jerked my head to the left toward the finish line. “Oh, it’s a Patriot’s-Day-cannon-thingy going on,” I thought in the first nanosecond. But that’s way too much smoke to be a cannon, and way too freaking loud. Brief pause. BOOM. More smoke. “What the…?” I looked at the finisher to my left, who ticked up his eyebrow and offered, feebly, “maybe a transformer blew?”
Lisa, you’re done now. Right? Where’s my phone? Shaking from cold and a fast-growing sense of dread, I pulled on my sweat pants, coat, and my gloves. Wait, get these gloves off, I can’t type on my phone with these dumb things.
Texted my family and my friends. “Two explosions at the finish line. I don’t know where Lisa is.”
I veered right and immediately, there was a bull horn in my face (shades of Chicago marathon 2007) and a volunteer on the other end of it yelled “MOVE!”
We all moved forward while constantly glancing back at the finish. By now, I can hear crowd noise and make out individual screams. I, like everyone else, know what’s going on.
“RUN!” yelled another volunteer. I can’t even describe how it felt to hear that. Won’t even try.
Down the street, through the park. I’ll just get on the T and get out of here. Nope – as I neared the Park Street station, a woman was yelling at a man to get out of it because it’s closed. She locked the building. Black Tahoes with blue and red lights appear seemingly out of nowhere and race down the street every few seconds. Ambulances. Sirens whaling constantly. More glancing back – as if we’d be able to see anything.
Lisa will have her phone back any minute and she’ll text me.
I ducked into McDonald’s and found a seat. A small group of young Bostonians gathered around me, disregarding the salt all over my face and asked me if I was okay. They scroll through the social media and news streams on their phones and report, while mine melts from a constant stream of Facebook messages, posts and texts. Calls won’t go through; I can see my family’s numbers popping in but I can’t answer – the calls drop immediately. If I don’t get to my mom, she will literally have a heart attack. How am I going to get back to my hotel? Where’s Lisa?
Finally, right before my phone loses battery charge, Lisa texts me. She’s locked inside a department store somewhere near the finish. They aren’t letting anyone in or out. The news says hotels are being evacuated.
An hour in McDonald’s, and I was done shaking and ready to try to get back out to my hotel. I walked up the street, where I learned from a transit worker that I could walk about two miles to the Silver line at South Station and make my way out to the Renaissance Boston on Congress. Upon entering the train, a small woman with brown hair, one of only about three passengers, saw my gear bag and asked me if I was okay.
At that moment, everything shifted.
I went from stressing over how to get out of there to realizing I was now part of what had to be a terrorist act. And I’d escaped unscathed when who knows how many hadn’t. There was not going to be any more good news. I had been worried about only me and my friend. What a selfish person I was. This all came crashing down on my mind when I looked into her eyes.
“Not really,” I replied, sinking into the seat in front of her. And there it was – a gigantic tear started rolling down her right cheek.
“It’s okay. I understand. I was in the World Trade Center on 9/11.”
We both cried. Didn’t stop. Coincidentally, her apartment was off the same stop as my hotel. We hugged. She gave me her card and said, “this may not be okay for you. If you want to talk in a few days, call or email me.”
I had no idea how right she was.
Needless to say, there was no post-race celebration. Even without a lockdown, I wouldn’t have ventured out of my hotel. Tuesday came early and I was on a five a.m. flight home. I barely slept Monday night after replaying what I knew for friends and family and plastering myself to social media and television. Get me out of here.
It wasn’t that simple, though. I left Boston feeling very guilty, like I had skated out on it. Bostonians had supported me on my day, made me feel welcome and dare I say even loved, and I was bailing. I’m feeling that way as I write this.
Back home in the Midwest Tuesday afternoon, I picked up my daughter from school. I don’t normally get out of the car to greet her, but on that day I stood by a brick pillar, waiting to see her taller-than-me frame glide through those glass doors. We hugged for what seemed like forever. We went home.
My son, a young man in his own right, hugged me tightly upon arriving home from the high school, but remained more subdued than his sister, who promptly swiped my Boston-specific Saucony Kinvara 4 for reasons that weren’t computing. (See her artistic expression, below.)
I’d missed the bombs by 15 minutes. If I’d gone out fast and bonked to the point of walking for that or another mistake, I could have been there. My daughter now proclaims 15 to be her new favorite number.
This post is publishing at exactly 2:50 p.m., one week after the bombing of the Boston Marathon. I’ve connected with an almost countless number of people, both survivors and those who weren’t there, over this tragedy. I wasn’t physically hurt. I am thankful beyond words. Honestly, though, that’s not a feeling I can keep foremost in my mind.
I get mad. I get SO angry, several times a day and moreso at night, that evil has invaded my personal space, my passion, MY HOUSE. Terror has ripped through my family and friends’ lives, through me. “It’s personal now” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Focusing is not easy right now. I’m trying to harness this event’s aftermath and galvanize myself to do something good, to make something positive grow. I have moments of clarity followed by self-doubt and guilt like I’ve never felt before. Yesterday, I admit to feeling a moment of resentment toward a woman in the grocery store who almost perfunctorily and unemotionally remarked “so scary,” when a clerk asked about the bombings after seeing my jacket (THE jacket). Then, I felt guilty over that, too.
The bottom line is, I think, I’m still processing. What I do know is, like most Boston 2013 runners and spectators, I won’t let terror rob me of my passion. I will run Boston – and other large marathons, like NYC 2013 – again. I will honor the four who died and those who lost their limbs. I will also continually thank Boston’s finest who hunted down terror and all first responders at the scene who selflessly ran into the chaos to help victims.
I can’t forgive yet. I’m not even addressing that part of healing right now. I am lucky. I am grateful. I’m eager to connect with others. I won’t tell anyone else how to feel or what the great lessons of life are because I’m now so wise from my experience. That’s not my place.
One thing I DO know is absolutely no cliché: Life is too short. I’m adapting it wisely, I hope, but I’m going with that.
For now, I will work hard to build Kicking it In into an informative, enthusiastic and hopefully entertaining source of fuel for your own athletic/healthy/happy pursuits – in the spirit of and to celebrate the people of Boston. Even those temporary ones.
And my new favorite number is 15.
And I want to run with EVERYONE who wants to run with me.
See you soon.