I could sit around for weeks trying to process the events of April 15, trying to remember every detail, trying to bring into focus so many fuzzy moments that too easily fade into the background.
But I want to share this now, before it becomes a distant memory, before life goes back to its normal, though now seemingly glorious routine.
I love Boston. Bostonians are the toughest people you will every meet, but they also have so much heart. It is a rare combination, and one I grew to adore with every moment that I spent in that city. From the moment I landed I was embraced by it, enveloped into its routine, and charmed by its inhabitants. Not once did I experience a cold shoulder from a stranger. Not once.
I spent my four days in Boston with one of my best friends who lives in Florida. We met in the 7th grade and have been close ever since. We were in each other’s weddings, we talked on the phone right after the birth of our children; in short, we have talked each other through many of life’s ups and downs, for decades.
For this moment, the moment when I would finish the Boston marathon, she wanted to be there. She is not a marathoner. She is not a runner. She is a friend.
We looked forward to spending some time together, catching up, laughing and generally enjoying some time away from our caregiving routines.
We rented an apartment in Cambridge so that we could spread out, cook our own food, and have some time to ourselves between the big events of the weekend.
Monday morning we woke up early, walked to the subway and then separated at the Boston Common where I would meet my Dailymile friend Kristin.
Tonya planned to have breakfast at a café, take a few tours and then meet me at the family meeting area after the marathon.
Kristin and I rode the shuttle to Hopkinton together and discussed all things running. We talked about upcoming races, PRs, fueling, training. We are both shameless running nerds and had so much to share.
Finally, we arrived at Athlete’s Village nervous yet excited.
In no time we lined up for the race.
I had no expectations for time-wise for the race due to some achiness I have had in my right leg for the last few weeks. I really wanted to finish, but other than that, my plan was to be conservative in the beginning and then to run by feel for the second half of the race.
We ran the first few miles quite evenly, around an 8:15 pace. (We were aiming for 8 minutes flat, but it was impossible– even if we had wanted to speed up, we wouldn’t have been able to due to the crowded streets.)
We clicked off the first few miles easily, with Kristin reminding me to hold back a bit on the down-hills as my legs wanted to speed up.
After a few more miles, I was feeling steady but unsure. Kristin and I lost each other a few times, but I came to recognize her footsteps and every time I thought I had been separated from her at a water stop, she would pull up beside me again, or vice versa. I felt sure we would run the entire race this way.
Somewhere between miles 8 and 11 we got separated. Running in a sea of people was hard enough, but trying to stay near one person was even harder. I was having trouble with my fuel belt, which was flapping up and down as I ran. Eventually I just grabbed it and held onto it while I moved forward. It wasn’t ideal, but there was nothing to be done.
I pulled over and grabbed some Gatorade around mile 11 or 12. I wasn’t certain if Kristin was ahead of or behind me, so I decided to keep pushing forward, confident that we would see each other at the finish line.
Around mile 13 I began to feel the benefits of starting off conservatively, and so I began to tell myself to keep running like a metronome, steady and strong. I did not want to push too hard because I feared my leg would not cooperate.
With each passing mile I began to feel stronger and stronger.
I cannot explain how powerful the crowd support was. Even in the most remote parts of the course, there were people lining both sides of the streets cheering for all of us. I have never experienced anything like it, and I still get chills thinking about it.
Besides Gatorade, in this race I only ate about six Cytosport chews, yet I never fell off pace. If that isn’t an indication of the power of encouragement through crowd support, I don’t know what is.
I rode the wave of the day and ran evenly through Wellesley, Newton and back into Boston.
I had no idea what my overall time would be and I did not care. For the first time in a marathon I did not hit the wall. I cannot explain the elation that that brings, especially after such a bonktastic race in Long Beach last fall.
In Boston, I was able to let go of my worries and just run. I soaked up the atmosphere and truly enjoyed every single step.
When I finally crossed the finish line, I remember thinking that finishing the Boston Marathon was one of my life’s best moments, hands down. Up there with my wedding day and the birth of my children. I still didn’t know my time, and I still didn’t care. I was smiling from ear to ear and eager to get my medal and meet up with my friends again. I would later learn that I ran 3:37, not a PR, but not too shabby (for me) either.
I walked slowly to the family meet-up area where I was to reunite with both Tonya and with Kristin.
I stood there, on the corner of Stuart and Clarendon Streets, looking for them both.
First I found Kristin. We hugged and she told me more about her race, which so closely echoed my experience in Long Beach. Cramps. Fueling problems. Frustration.
We talked for a while and then we met up with her husband, her sister and another friend.
I began texting Tonya frantically, who still was not with us. I began to worry about her as she wasn’t answering my messages and still hadn’t arrived at our agreed meet-up location.
Around that time we heard a loud boom. We froze and looked around. The crowd began to speculate about whether it had been a bomb or a construction catastrophe.
Soon we heard another one.
And then the sirens.
“That is bad news,” someone said.
Our group agreed to walk towards the hotel at which they were staying to wait out the situation.
Unknowingly we were walking towards the chaos.
We were stopped by officials who told us that there had been a “situation” and that we would not be able to go to the hotel.
Instead we holed up in the Copley Square Hotel lobby to wait for further instructions. We were cold and needed to get out of the elements.
At that point I was on the verge of tears, now certain that my friend had somehow been involved.
Inside the lobby people were crying.
For a few moments we sat and tried to put together what had happened. We kept hearing snippets of information.
A bomb. A boy dead. A man had lost legs.
Just as we were beginning to realize the gravity of the situation, the hotel was evacuated.
We were back in the street, disoriented, cold and confused. I still hadn’t found my friend, and now I was afraid I would be calling hospitals instead of finding her.
Through all of this Kristin, her husband, her sister and her friend carried my bags, helped me write down numbers and generally kept me focused.
We walked aimlessly until we found a restaurant to duck into for shelter.
Before long rumors were circulating that we would be evacuated again, moved further away.
My friends and family began texting me with more information, and we also watched TV in the restaurant for updates. Things looked grim. We were all displaced, fragile and crestfallen.
We remained in the restaurant until finally I heard through communication with her mother that my friend was okay and that she was trying to make her way to find me.
Moments before the bombs went off, she had been standing in the exact location of the first bomb. She stood there for a long time watching the marathoners come through the finish line.
She had began walking towards the bag pick-up busses to find me when the first bomb exploded. Her phone had lost charge, and so she resolved to meet me around the finish line area instead of going over to the family meet-up area, the location of which wasn’t clear.
When she heard the loud noise, she turned around and said that her brain could not process what she saw.
Not until the second one exploded did she associate the plume of smoke with a bomb.
She began asking people to use their phones so that she could find me, now thinking that I had walked back to the finish line to find her.
Cell service was spotty and she had no luck finding a functioning phone.
She began wandering the streets, constantly being diverted due to the emergency.
Finally she found an ATT emergency phone on the side of the rode and called her mom. Her mom then found my number and texted me.
Through her mom we arranged for her to meet me at the restaurant.
By the time she made it there, the restaurant was not allowing anyone in or out.
She no longer had a way to get in touch with me.
Inside the restaurant I sat with Kristin’s family, afraid that if I left the location we would be back to square one.
Three hours after the first bomb we finally connected. For two of those hours, we weren’t certain that the other was not involved in the tragedy.
Tonya walked around Boston until she purchased a phone charger in a random store in Chinatown. She then took it to a subway station and plugged it in and texted me.
“I am right across the street at the subway station. I will wait for you here,” she wrote.
I ran out of the restaurant, across the street and we reunited.
We made our way through the subway system, finding a circuitous route to Cambridge that bypassed a closure.
One stop before we got off, the subway shut down again.
We had to walk the rest of the way home, but we were happy to do so.
(I found out later that Kristin and her family were displaced for the night as their hotel was declared a crime scene.)
Though we all felt fragile, uncomfortable and afraid, we were all grateful to be alive and well.
In fact, having finished the Boston Marathon now pales in comparison to the heroic efforts of the runners, medical personnel and policemen who bravely ran in to help the victims of this tragedy.
I will write much more about this and share photographs from the weekend in the days to come.