Heartbreak on the Hill

heart shoeI can’t pretend that I have anything especially poignant or different to say in regards to the events that occurred at Monday’s Boston Marathon.  We have all read many personal narratives and beautifully penned posts from others who have shared the words I have struggled to find expressing what Boston is feeling and how Boston’s running community has been affected.   That being said, I began this blog to write about experiences as a runner and how it shapes my life.  What I experienced, as a runner, as a Bostonian and as a compassionate human being, on Monday afternoon will leave a mark that cannot be ignored so I feel it is appropriate to share my account and feelings.

I arrived in Newton Monday morning enthusiastically greeting my friends with a ‘Happy Marathon Monday’!  I had planned to spend the day with the Somerville Road Runners who set up their cheering station right along the famous hills at the 30k (18.6 mile) mark.  It was a little colder than anticipated but a chilly day for spectators means a perfect day for runners.   Before long we were cheering on the wheelchair racers, than the lead woman including our hometown favorite Shalane Flanagan.  The lead men came by not long after that and then the crowds of runners.  The energy at the SRR tent was infectious and all of the runners looked strong. I was so excited to see my morning running partner Chrissy who was looking strong as she headed for the last big hill.

A little while later it was time for me to start getting ready for Shifter.  Months ago I had committed to running at least one mile with my friend Rich “Shifter” Horgan.  He was celebrating his 20th consecutive marathon all with the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge team.  To make the day even more special he recruited 20+ women to each run a mile or so keeping him company on the race.  Around 2:30 we finally caught sight of him, took some photos and headed off to support him for the next couple of miles.  He was having a great day and we were all enjoying the run as we shuffled up Heartbreak Hill.  We were just approaching the 21 Mile Marker when we started to hear rumors of an explosion.  I was certain it was misinformation or someone teasing the runners.  There was no way it could be real.  I left Shifter at mile 21 as planned and he was determined to press on regardless of the scary information to at least find his family further up the course. It is not lost on me that I was on Heartbreak Hill when such a big part of my world and my heart came crashing down.

2:30 PM: All smiles anticipating the last 7 miles of Shifter’s 20th Boston Marathon

As I turned around to head back to my friends 2.5 miles back, I could see the  crowd who hadn’t received word continue to cheer the runners on.  I remember finding some calm in that, as if maybe it wasn’t true.  I checked my phone and saw reports of an explosion at the finish line and then saw a young girl run out of a house and across the street yelling ‘Its True!’  My head was spinning; who is down at the finish line, has Chrissy crossed yet, could this really be happening?

I found a friend at Mile 20 who coaches for the Stroke Association team.  ‘Laura’, he said stone faced, ‘what is happening?’  We called his friend who is somehow connected to the fire department (or something – I don’t remember) and some of the facts were confirmed.  Two explosions near the finish line, one at Marathon Sports and it’s bad.  Really really bad.

My phone buzzed constantly with texts, emails and Facebook messages from friends checking to make sure I was okay.  I tried to respond to them but was so shocked by what I was learning I didn’t know what to say and was desperate to find my way back to my friends on the course.  I started running to get back and was stopped by police officers redirecting me from the course due to more ‘suspicious activity’.  My God – what is happening?  I continued to run in whatever direction was available while taking a second to give my Facebook community a quick reassuring message that simply read ‘I’m Ok’.  Miles away from the finish, I felt confident that I was not in any danger but was terrified for the friends that might have been there and those that should have been at the end of their race.  Most thankfully, they were all safe and unharmed.

I finally made my way back to my friends.  What was a celebration of friends, family and teammates just an hour before, was now only a few people waiting for confirmation that friends were safe and packing up the last of our belongings.  There was nothing left to do but leave.  At home I watched the news hoping for some answers but there was nothing to report but the terror.

The Boston Marathon Finish Line –the destination of runners working to reach their goal of completing this special race – was now a crime scene.  Thousands of runners were not allowed to finish their race and those that did were too terrified to celebrate their accomplishment.  The day all of us looked forward to was now tarnished by violence.

There are many emotions I’m feeling.  I’m heartbroken for the victims and their families.  I’m sad for the runners who worked so hard to make it to race day only to have it cut short and end in such tragedy.  I’m also incredibly proud of the Boston community for stepping up and showing examples of bravery, selflessness and compassion.  Examples like my friends at Marathon Sports who did not run from the danger but pulled victims in to help, the runners who crossed the finish line and then ran straight to the hospital to give blood or the good people who simply gave stranded runners something warm to wear and something to eat.

human spirit

I’m overwhelmingly touched by the hundreds of friends and family who reached out to me to make sure I was alright.  As a runner in Boston who has completed this race 8 times over the past 10 years, many people associate the event with me.  While I was confident I was never in any danger, many of my loved ones assumed I was running the race or at the marathon and possibly close enough to be affected.  Even my best friend’s 7 year old son, who has been to most of my Boston Marathons (even as a fetus) had heard there was a problem at the Boston Marathon and felt compelled to ask if I was okay.

Most of all, I’m angry.  Whether I am running the marathon or cheering on my friends who are, for me this is one of the most important days of the year.  I know as well as anyone the dedication, hard work, pain and unimaginable effort that goes into training for and then running a marathon.  Those runners spent months preparing for this day to have it taken from them by a coward who has no respect or compassion for human life (which, by the way, is the opposite of a marathoner).   Journalist, Katie Lannan wrote that The Boston Marathon Is Everything That’s Right With The World and someone tried to take that away.  Marathon Monday, our day, will never be the same again and I’m pissed off.

real smaht

I know better than to cling to the negative and anger for too long and to focus on something more positive.  I went for a run this morning proudly wearing a Boston Marathon shirt from several years ago.  I couldn’t help but feel that the runners that shared the Charles River path with me smiled and waved a little more than usual, as if we all wanted to comfort one another and say ‘We will be alright, just keep running’.   That is my plan, to keep running.  I have the Vermont City Marathon to look forward to next month and I will proudly dedicate that race to everyone affected by Monday’s tragedy.  I will draw strength and courage from the city of Boston and its dedicated Running Community.  I will make Boston proud.  Who knows, maybe this is what motivates me to come back to the course where it all started for me.  Boston 2014?

It’s a blessing that no one I know was hurt on Monday but not everyone is so lucky.  I pray for them and their families and pray that the person or group responsible is brought to justice.  My responsibility is to stay strong and move ahead.  One running stride at a time.

2009 Boston Marathon – If you are wondering how tough and resilient marathoners are, look closely – I have a black eye in this photo.

3 thoughts on “Heartbreak on the Hill”

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