Friday, April 19, 2013

Boston

"Boston."  The word that is forever changed for me.

I've loved the City of Boston for most of my life, long before I was a runner.  For a long time I loved it from afar, never having been there yet always thinking of Boston as "my people."  A place where being Irish was a badge of honor and they took no guff.

When I became a runner, Boston took on a whole new meaning for me.  Like pretty much every runner ever to wear a timing chip, I dreamed of running the Boston Marathon and after running my first marathon (Big Sur) I made it my goal to qualify. 

I trained too hard and gave myself a stress fracture in my tibia, ran the race injured, and missed qualifying by just over a minute (St. George Marathon); I developed severe stomach cramps in my next marathon, forcing a port-o-potty stop, and missed qualifying by 32 seconds (County Music Marathon); then, after hooking up with coach Maureen Roben I had the best training cycle of my life but, despite being on pace to qualify until Mile 22, I faded in the 84 degree temps on race day and missed my qualification time by more than six minutes (Chicago Marathon).  Not even close.  As I crossed the finish line in Chicago, I burst into tears, doubting that I had it in me to try again.

But try again I did.  I finally qualified at the Eugene Marathon the following spring and ran Boston for the first time in 2010.  Then it took me another five marathons to qualify again and be able to run it this year.

While waiting for the race to start this past Monday, I felt such gratitude.  After several cold and rainy days in Boston, it was a beautiful morning.  The sun was shining.  I have a husband whom I adore, and who adores me.  We have the child that neither of us thought we'd ever have.  And that child is the most amazing kid; every day I wonder how we got so lucky to have him join our family.

During the race, I thanked every volunteer who handed me anything on the course and at the finish.  I'd reached a point in my life where I truly had never been happier, and I wanted to share that feeling with everyone.  Knowing Brad and Eli were waiting for me on Boylston Street near the finish line was the best feeling in the world.

Until it was the worst feeling in the world.

I feel like I've told our story a hundred times this week; the facts about what happened.  What I haven't really been able to tap into are my feelings about what happened. 

Until this morning, I felt kind of numb.  When telling our story it's been like describing something I saw rather than experienced.  Like I was a witness to something bad happening to someone else.  Just the facts, ma'am.  I've thought about it all intellectually, and run through the various scenarios of how this could've been so much worse for us, over and over again.

But seeing the photos of the two men who very nearly took everything from me triggered a powerful wave of emotions.  While trying to pull myself together to go to work this morning, I finally cried.  I could hear Brad down the hall, helping Eli get ready for school, and I thought about what I could've been hearing right then, but for a precious ten minutes on race day:  Silence.

Because that's all that may have separated me from living the rest of my life without them.  Ten minutes.  For those who haven't already heard our story, Brad and Eli had been watching the race on Boylston Street, across from where the second bomb went off.  I finished the marathon about fifteen minutes before the explosion, and thankfully they left the finish area to head to our meeting spot right after I ran by them.  So, for them it was probably only ten minutes' grace that kept them from harm.

This week those ten minutes and the "what ifs" have plagued me.

What if I'd run slower? 

I started the race with my dear friend Christine.  We were in the same start corral but had different time goals, and so had agreed to run separately and meet up at the finish.  Christine was on Boylston Street nearing the finish when the bombs went off, and the video clip that has been played over and over on the news shows her running in terror.  Thankfully she was not hit in the blast, but she is suffering both physical and emotional repercussions from the explosion.  And thankfully her family was not in the finish area; they'd positioned themselves at Mile 20 or 21 to give her a boost in those tough final miles.  But Brad and Eli?  The would've been right there.

What if Brad and I hadn't seen each other?

I knew generally where Brad and Eli planned to be on race day, but not specifically.  The finish line area can be very congested and so I knew he'd be looking for where in that general area would afford the best view of the course.  And Brad told me later he almost missed seeing me because he was checking his phone for the Athlete Alert text messages.  Everyone around him had received a text about their runner crossing the 40k mark, but the last alert Brad had received for me was at 30k.  He'd started to worry that something had happened to me between 30k and 40k, and looked up from his phone just in time to see me. And I only saw them because Brad was waving his arms at me.

If we'd missed each other, they easily could've been there on Boylston Street, still waiting for me to run by, when the bombs went off.

What if I'd started the race later?

Christine and I were in the first corral of the third wave.  Starting places are determined by your qualification time, with the faster runners starting first.  I qualified and registered for Boston using my time from the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon in January 2012, and then ran more than three minutes faster at the Rock 'n' Roll Denver Marathon in September.  I wasn't going to bother updating my time with the BAA because I really didn't care all that much about where I started, I was just happy to be running the race again.  But in February the BAA sent an email out reminding everyone to update their times if they'd run a faster race than they'd used to register and I thought "what the heck."  All it took was clicking on a link in the email, so I did it.

If I hadn't updated my time, I would've been assigned a later corral and it would've taken me several minutes --ten?  who knows?--to cross the start line.  So even running exactly the same race I could've finished later and Brad and Eli would've still been there when the bombs exploded.

What if I didn't have that faster time from Denver, to get me into that first corral?

As many of you know, although I ran a PR (personal record) in Denver, it was not the best race for me.  In fact, my "A Goal" for Boston was "Finish upright. No trip to ER, no black eyes, no skinned knees." 

I've never been one who could dig deep and push through pain, which I know has held me back in many races, and I didn't even have a lofty time goal for Denver.  I'd already registered for 2013 Boston and had no thoughts about 2014 Boston.  But something pushed me that day.  Looking back now, I think God helped me find the strength within to finish that race in record time.  Only He knew how important that faster time would later be to me.

And let's talk about God for a moment, because I felt the power of His grace in so many ways on race day.  I felt it in the love, concern and compassion I received from both friends and strangers.  I also felt it when something inexplicable happened.

I brought my phone to the start so I could take pictures of my friends and me getting ready for the race.  Like this photo of Christine and me waiting in Boston Common to board the bus to the start in Hopkinton.


And once Christine and I made it to Athlete's Village in Hopkinton, we found our friend Cristy and we had someone take another photo for us.


Then my phone died.  I tried to turn it back on, but it showed my battery was completely out of charge.  I tucked it away in my jacket pocket, and checked it with the rest of my gear before we started the race.

I was at the gear buses when the bombs exploded, and had just retrieved my bag.  After the first bomb exploded, a race volunteer, who had just handed me my bag, and I both looked in the direction of the sound.  In the direction of the finish line.  We had a clear view up Boylston Street, and could see the smoke rising above the crowd. 

At first I thought something connected with the race had just happened; as crazy as it sounds, I thought that fireworks had gone off to celebrate somebody important crossing the finish line.  Crazy because that would never happen.  They'd never set off fireworks, in the middle of the day, while people were still running.  But that's the only place my mind allowed itself to go:  It must be a celebration.

But the volunteer said "that's not good" and I immediately knew it wasn't a celebration.  And then the second bomb went off.  I panicked, trying to calculate how long it had been since I'd seen Brad and Eli, and tried to reassure myself that they would've already left that area by then. I got turned around in the crowd and couldn't remember in which direction was the family meeting area, where Brad and Eli were supposed to be.  And I had a phone, but the battery was dead.

I saw a woman whom Christine and I'd met while in line for the bus that morning in Boston Common, who was also looking for her family.  She said if we found them they'd have a phone I could borrow.  Then I lost her in the crowd.  Feeling totally lost, helpless, and panic-stricken, I pulled out my phone to just try it.  To see if I could squeeze one little call from my dead battery.  And when I turned on my phone, it showed half battery power remaining.

Explain that to me.  The phone battery is dead at the start, and then more than four hours later when I need it, I have half the battery remaining.

I wasn't able to get a cell signal, and found Brad shortly after that, but I was able to start texting my friends at the race to check on their safety, and start returning the many texts I had already received from those who were very worried about us.  That miraculous cell phone battery eased the minds of many people.

The word "Boston" will now be forever linked to this horrible tragedy, but my love of Boston and its people--my people--remains. 

There's so much more I want to say about Marathon Monday, but I'm exhausted.  I feel spent.  I'm grateful my friends and their families escaped injury, but feel such deep sorrow for those who weren't so lucky.  And I'm also grateful for those, like Maureen and David Manthey from Runners Edge of the Rockies, who gathered information from afar to confirm the Denver runners in Boston were all safe. 

I also feel such anger toward the people who did this to us.  Whether in Boston or not, we all feel the impact of this horrible tragedy.

While I'm writing this, authorities are conducting a door-to-door search for the one suspect who remains alive.  I am in awe of the law enforcement response, and am so thankful to live in a country where such excellent men and women devote their lives to the safety and security of others.  They are true heroes.

I pray they find the remaining suspect quickly, and I pray he is alive when taken into custody. 

Because we all need answers to this unfathomable incident.  And we need justice.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this story, Kathleen. My mind went straight to you when the news broke-- and when I started to get details of what was happening, I felt a severe sickness in my stomach. I am so happy that what you suffered wasn't more severe, but I hope that the emotional distress that you endured is soothed soon enough. Lots of love.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow. Very well written story. Glad you're all ok.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you for sharing your story. I've been wondering all week about your race. I knew you were ok, thanks to Brad and facebook, but it's not the same as hearing it from you. Love you friend.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Big hugs to you Kathleen. I'm so glad I was able to meet Eli. It breaks my heart to know that he, Brad, and other members of our running family were so close to danger.

    ReplyDelete