Boston Marathon 2013
I’ve hoped to qualify for the Boston Marathon for 12 years since I turned forty. A year ago a friend encouraged me to try again so I started training seriously to run a fast marathon. Santa Rosa California was a small race that touted a large percentage of Boston qualifiers. My dad was at the finish line when I crossed running the fastest marathon of my life. Little did I know last August that this year on March 1st we would receive the devastating news that Dad had pancreatic cancer. By the time we found it, the cancer was stage four and had metastasized. It is also in his bowels. I flew to out to California to be with my folks on March 5th and we all flew home to St. Louis March 17. Mom, Dad and their dog Louie all share our St. Louis home now.
Every dream I have had my parents have been strong supporters helping me to achieve my goals. I’ve been blessed to have a husband, a son and daughter who encourage and share my successes. During the past few weeks they’ve all rallied behind me to go run that marathon. My brother Mike came and stayed at our home with my folks and Saturday Maurice and I flew to Boston.
This one was for Dad. The whole experience was meant to be shared. Saturday afternoon we landed at Logan airport so I called home. Went to the marathon expo and I text messaged pictures to the family and my support team of friends. Went out to eat a lobster roll, sent a photo home; Sunday went to the race pasta dinner, sent more pictures to the family.
Monday morning I woke at 5:30am and was out the door walking to Boston Commons by 6:15am. The whole Boston Marathon experience is amazing. I read that there would be about 27,000 runners and 500,000 spectators. Huge lines of runners snaked across the park. I picked a line and by 7:30 I was on a bus. There is no school in session since the race takes place on Patriots Day and that’s a good thing because there were oodles of school busses used to transport us to the start at Hopkinton. Busses line up along Tremont Street and beside each bus is a person holding a florescent orange flag. When the bus is full of runners the person holds up the flag in the air. When all the flags are up, the busses drive away and then another mass of busses pull up and fill up. Bus after bus streamed down the highway. People in cars would wave and give thumbs up to us as they passed us in the busses. In front of me were couple guys from Ireland. I sat beside a fellow named Ian who was from Canada but had grown up in New Zealand. He was the son of a rural sheep farmer. On the bus I sat surrounded by conversations in an array of different languages.
It’s a long ride to the start and after I while I found myself thinking oh my gosh, I have to run all this way back. It was an enlightening moment driving to the start which put the marathon distance into a new perspective for me. The bus dropped us off at the “Athletes Village” where I connected with my friends Janet and Flavia. There were huge tents with power bars, fruit, bagels, coffee, water and Gatorade. Tons of porta potties lined the area yet it still took me 30 minutes in a line to have my turn. An announcer blasted instructions from giant speakers and music filled the air.
For days I’d studied the Boston weather forecast. My suitcase held running gear for every possible weather combination. Unfortunately Monday was one of those borderline days where the weather could swing either way. Since I had such a great run in Santa Rosa I opted for those same thin split shorts with a t shirt. I also added a layer of “throw away clothes” on top of this. I wore some old warm up pants along with a long sleeve t shirt and then I threw one of Maurice’s sweaters that was too small for him on last. I had a knit cap, gloves and some trash bags. A bit before my wave was to start I reapplied sunscreen and optimistically took everything off except the shorts, t shirt and gloves.
Apparently some years ago a St. Louisan purchased a home in Hopkinton and every year before the race they would open their home to runners from St. Louis as a place to stop in and hang out before the start. The story goes that the home has been sold a time or two and the owners continue to do this. We had heard about the St Louis house so on the way to the start we stopped in and met Betty. This lovely woman graciously opened her home to us. She wore a name tag that said “Boston Betty” Inside her friends and family gathered providing food and most importantly a bathroom with no line. I told Betty about my dad and she pulled us aside toward another runner who “was a believer in prayer” and suggested that we all pray together. Tears filled my eyes as I left walking to the start beside Janet and Flavia.
A congestion of runners filled the streets which were lined with silver metal crowd barriers. The three of us slowly inched to our corrals. The people were squeezed tightly together and I wondered if I would make it to my designated starting place in time. I arrived with a couple minutes to spare and then we were off.
Veteran runners warned me to go slow. It’s a downhill start and it will deceive you, take it easy they advised. What I didn’t realize until around mile four was that you get sucked into a fast pace. This is no ordinary marathon, everyone is fast. My quads started to send distress signals and I realized that I needed to reassess the situation. I slowed down and concentrated on saving my energy for the big hills that you run into around mile 16. They call it Heartbreak Hill.
Somewhere around halfway the wind decided to kick up and the clouds rolled in covering up the sun. Hello headwind! Sharp cold air blowing right at you, through you, I didn’t appreciate it. In the meantime I stopped and took a few photos. I sent a few text messages. I took some walking breaks. Some say the Boston course is made to humble you. I tried to race smart tapping into all my prior experience working towards that finish line. I thought about the special people in my life who were tracking my progress. I felt their love and support trudging on as my quads protested. The wind blew and my head hurt. I remembered that my Dad was in pain and suffered every day. I said a prayer and kept moving my feet.
Around mile 18 they gave out power gels and a lady shouted caffeine. I grabbed a Latte power gel with double caffeine and my head felt better. I kicked it up a notch, mile by mile making my way to the finish. Maurice sent me a text message asking how I felt and I replied COLD. When I was about a half hour away he asked if I wanted him to get me a jacket I said yes if he had time.
Finally I saw a sign saying less than one mile to go I ran for a while and then remembered to take off the sweatband I was wearing. I twisted and wrapped the soggy terry cloth band around my wrist making sure I didn’t have that band across my forehead during my Boston Marathon finisher’s photo. I’m almost there, this is the moment I’ve waited for and suddenly everyone stops. Runners in front of me are standing still. We just stop. People are saying they closed the race. They shut down the race. Then someone shouts out make phone calls while you can, soon you won’t be able to. There’s been a bomb at the finish. Everyone who had a phone starts trying to make calls. A few people around me are crying, a fellow beside me starts throwing up. Sirens scream out and get louder as they seem to be arriving from every direction. Police cars with lights flashing and horns blowing drive through the street as the mass of runners step aside. Nobody knows what is going on and cell phones are not working. I try to find out if Maurice was at the finish. We wait for a long time and everyone is cold, although no one says a word about that. People try to tuck their arms into their shirts and then neighbors, people nearby start to bring trash bags out of their homes. Strangers appear with pitchers of water and cups, Gatorades, sandwiches, trail mix anything they could find to help. A woman gave me a white kitchen size trash bag and that helped immensely. Eventually the crowd starts to move and I follow along walking. I could see metal crowd barriers blocking the course as we walked one street over parallel. Crossing looking down the side streets I could see emergency vehicles with their lights flashing. We ended up being funneled around to the bag check busses where they handed out bags of food, water and the Mylar blankets. It was odd because nobody knew where to go. I couldn’t get the map on my phone to work so I kept asking people how to get to the Marriott.
By this time I had found out that Maurice was ok. When I look back on the day I am thankful that God kept us out of harm’s way. Every time I stopped and slowed down moved me back from that fatal moment of the explosions and Maurice was at the hotel retrieving my warm up pants and jacket when the bomb went off. I have never run with a phone, and this time I took a phone and charger so I could keep in touch with the people I love. That phone was vital when I was trying to find Maurice and find my way back. I had a few frightening moments of uncertainty but the horrible reality is that people had terrors and losses no one should experience. Innocent people suffered and by intention. It wasn’t an accident or a natural disaster, it was planned to harm and that is what grieves me the most.
What wasn’t planned was the response. Strangers helped me. Everywhere you heard stories of people helping other people. The next day Bostonians would say to us “Don’t let this keep you from Boston.” Maurice and I received loving messages of care and concern from family and friends. My daughter Kelly went to the Schnucks store to get flowers and a balloon for us. After she shared her story the florist gave her a beautiful floral arrangement and said “This one is on Schnucks, we are just happy your parents are coming home safe.” Tuesday night as I walked through the airport wearing my Boston Marathon jacket a TSA agent gave me a thumbs up and said “We’re glad you guys are back safe.” Over and over unplanned goodness shared by strangers.
Monday night after the race when I settled in at the hotel, I phoned my dad. “Well Dad, you were going to be the first one I phoned from the finish.” I said.
I could tell the tears were falling as he told me how happy he was to hear my voice, to know I was ok. He told me how special it was to see that I had Dad written on my arm. I was able to talk once more to the father that I love. I had one more occasion to say I love you to the people that matter. That is my biggest take away from this marathon. We have opportunities every day to tell the people we love that we love them. We have the chance to let our friends know just how much they matter to us; this is what’s really important. People.