For me, the day started out like any other Patriots’ Day on which I’ve run the Boston Marathon, but it ended not with the anticipated feelings of joy and accomplishment. Instead, I went to sleep that night restless, worried and overwhelmed by a sense of sadness and shock over the two devastating bombs that had exploded near the finish line on Boylston Street.
It was going to be the 11th time I had run this historic race, my eighth time for charity, so the routine was familiar to me.
Little did I know at the time that this would not be just another Boston Marathon.
I woke up early, ate a good breakfast and made sure I had everything I needed for the long day ahead. I was proud to be wearing the new singlet that was given to me by Christopher’s Haven, a nonprofit organization that provides housing for families whose children are undergoing cancer treatment in Boston. This was my charity. This was my cause. On that shirt, I wrote my name in big, prominent letters and attached my bib number, 22391, with four safety pins. In a small waist pack I wore, I had squirrelled away some gum, ibuprofen, GU Energy Gel, ChapStick and a bag of PowerBar Energy Blasts, in addition to my cellphone. And finally, in a yellow plastic bag that would be bussed into Boston along with thousands of others, I packed a set of warm clothes to wear at the end of my journey.
I was all good to go.
As it always is before the start of the race, the mood was spirited and festive in Hopkinton. All was well with the world at that point and place in time. I wandered around for a while, watching a growing congregation of media people, race officials and volunteers who were preparing for the event. I was especially glad to see the new bronze statue of Dick Hoyt and his son, Rick, who has cerebral palsy, a legendary, inspirational duo who were about to compete in their 51st Boston Marathon together.
I was excited. I was happy. I was ready as I have ever been to run 26.2 miles.
And run I did, starting in corral five of the third wave around 10:40 AM and moving along at a really good clip for me, passing through Ashland, Framingham and Natick, reaching the halfway mark in Wellesley in a time of 1:57:01.
Someone had asked just a few days before the marathon if there was a moment during the race when I knew whether or not it was going to be a good day for me. This was that moment. As I was making my way through Wellesley and approaching the Newton hills, I was confident my feet weren’t going to fail me in my quest to run a time under 4:30.
I saw a number of people I know along the course of the race, including a number of my fellow members of the Greater Framingham Running Club. I even saw someone else who was running for Christopher’s Haven; we stuck together for a couple of miles.
However, I can’t tell you how good it felt to see my family in their usual viewing spot between miles 19 and 20 on Heartbreak Hill. In addition to my wife, Barbara, and my sons, Scott and Ben, my cousin, Lynne, and my second cousin, Kaylee, were there to greet me along with Scott’s girlfriend, Gaby.
As I was making my way through Kenmore Square, I was alone in my thoughts despite the other marathoners around me and deafening loud cheers from the huge crowd lining the course. I was looking forward to crossing the finish line.
But that preoccupation didn’t last for long. As quickly as I began what I thought might be a strong finishing kick, I noticed a large pack of runners at a standstill ahead of me. I may have been disoriented from running 25 miles, but I could easily tell that something was wrong. We were forced to come to a halt.
Word quickly spread that there had been explosions along Boylston Street. Given the cacophony of sirens around us and all the emergency vehicles racing down the streets, clearly something terrible had occurred.
Like many other runners, I had my cellphone with me, but I couldn’t respond to the calls and texts I was getting from my family. I learned later that because there was such a high volume of cellular activity in the area at that time, service had slowed to a crawl. There was also next to no charge left in my phone’s battery.
I did manage to take a few pictures, though, and capture a little video. I was also able to log onto social media. Reading some of the tweets about the awful tragedy that had taken place near the finish line, I didn’t feel like a marathoner anymore. I felt like a mere mortal, frightened and worried about what to do next.
Knowing that people were concerned about me, I shared a picture of the scene where I was along with a status update on both Twitter and Facebook, something in retrospect I’m so glad I did. After all, that’s how my wife and kids, along with many others who had been tracking my progress in the marathon, first learned I was safe and sound.
Eventually I managed to be taken with a group of other runners by bus to the Boston Common, where we waited on board for a while to keep warm. By that time, my phone wasn’t working at all, but another runner from out of town, who I had walked back to her hotel from the bus, was kind enough to let me borrow hers to call my wife.
I didn’t realize how worried my family was about my safety until I talked to Barbara. They knew I was closing in on Boylston Street at the time of the explosions. They could only imagine the worst.
I had no idea how I would get home, so we agreed she would head into town right away with Scott, Ben and Gaby. We agreed to meet on the Common. Yet shortly after I hung up the phone, I realized that wasn’t such a good idea. National Guard soldiers and heavily armed law enforcement officers had begun to assemble there, so I made my way up Beacon Street looking for a place to get warm and charge my phone while waiting for my ride home.
During my walk, two different people approached me asking if I needed help. They may have been complete strangers, but to me they were saints, a pair of good Samaritans who were looking out for others in the wake of the bombings.
I finally found a restaurant that was open, The Red Hat in Scollay Square, where I called Barbara to give her my new location. I can’t thank the staff there enough for their friendliness and hospitality. They even treated me to a cold beer.
I didn’t get home until about 8:30 PM, tired, sore and cold, but realizing how fortunate I was to be about seven tenths of a mile away when the two bombs had exploded near the finish line. I called my parents, who had already heard that I was okay from both Barbara and Lynne, to talk about my experience. And I wrote a brief update for my Facebook friends.
I may have been relieved, but I was also sad and shaken by the awful tragedy that had just taken place. I couldn’t stop thinking about the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks, about their suffering and pain, about the fact that so many of them had been hurt so badly and that lives had been lost.
On Wednesday evening, only two days after the marathon, I went into Boston with my wife to pick up my plastic yellow bag from the Boston Athletic Association. It was an incredibly uplifting experience. Not only were we greeted warmly and enthusiastically by the B.A.A. staff, I was given the opportunity to cross a small, mock finish line and be presented with a medal that is customarily given to those who finish the race.
To say I was touched by the outpouring of support there would be an understatement. I was euphoric.
Following our experience at the B.A.A. office, I didn’t think I could feel any better about my participation in the marathon. After walking a block or two, we had stopped to watch the live media coverage in front of The Westin Copley Place Boston hotel when someone in in the crowd turned to me and thanked me for running the Boston Marathon. I didn’t know how to react. I told her how nice it was of her to say that, while thinking to myself that I didn’t deserve any credit, I was just another runner toward the back of the pack, not a heroic first responder or one of those who were in harm’s way near the finish line at the time of the explosions. But this woman’s kind words helped me realize just how important this race is to not just to the runners, but to everyone in the country, especially those of us who live in the Boston area. Held on Patriots’ Day, the third Monday in April, the Boston Marathon is the oldest annual marathon in the world, a legendary celebration of athleticism, human spirit, resilience and will.
All was certainly not well with the world on April 15, 2013. My heart aches for those who were victimized by the senseless and destructive acts of terror. The pride I feel over running from Hopkinton to Boston this year for Christopher’s Haven may be overshadowed by sorrow and sadness, but I know that the steps I took that day are meaningful and that the race must go on. I know that I’ll run the Boston Marathon again.