What happened in my adopted hometown on Monday defies belief. Many people have already said many profound and moving things about it, in better words than I ever could, so instead I thought I’d just share my small story.
I was a little too far away to see the clock at the Boston Marathon finish line, and my phone had strangely stopped sending me the athlete-tracking text messages. The last one I got, at 1.34 pm, about an hour earlier, said Hubby was at 30K. His time was 2.44.44. In the two marathons he’d run previously, his time was just under 4 hours, so I began to get excited. I knew he had a bad cold though, so I couldn’t be sure where he was.
I started bouncing up and down, partly from nerves, and partly to stay warm—my spot was on the un-sunny side of Boylston Street. When I arrived downtown, around noon, I tried to figure out how to get to the other side. I walked around for about 40 minutes, 10 of which were spent inching through a crazy human traffic jam. When I realized my sunny-side hopes were futile, I settled on a spot that was only a few people deep, hoping that their runners were faster than mine and that they would eventually move away so I could at least be at the front. They did, and I found myself on the barricade. I was right opposite the Forum restaurant.
It was a pretty good spot. The only teeny hiccup came when a woman decided to hold up a homemade sign right in my line of vision. I jokingly groaned and she shifted it with a smile. Previously, a woman had asked me if my runner was coming in and did I need to switch with her to get closer. I thanked her and said I had some time. Everyone was good-natured and so excited. They were all there for the same reason.
I’ve stood near the finish line at plenty of long-distance races now, but there was something special about this one. Many runners sported huge, silly grins; they almost looked too relaxed, given what they had just done. Others were expressionless and focused, some were grimacing in pain. The crowd clapped and hollered every time an army recruit ruck-marched past in full uniform. One runner, injured, was helped to the finish in the arms of a soldier and another athlete. Runners who looked as though they weren’t going to make it got an extra loud push.
At 2.33, I got a text message from a friend saying she had just seen Hubby pass the 40K mark. Then a picture. Blue shorts! She had asked me earlier what he was wearing so she could spot him, but I didn’t know. When he said goodbye to me at 5 am, he was covered up in a black jacket and track pants. I had been scanning shoes as I figured he’d be wearing his new, vivid orange Newtons, easily spottable. Turns out he was in his pale army green Newtons instead. Not very helpful at all.
He finally passed by at about 2.41 pm, albeit on the other side of the street. I yelled his name, but he didn’t hear me and kept going, focused. I got the text message a minute later saying he’d finished, in 3.53.13. A five-minute PR! With a cold! I was so proud.
I stayed for about a minute or so and then turned and started to make my way to the “W” section of the meeting area, where we had agreed to reunite. I stopped in at a grocery store for about 3 minutes. Just after I walked outside, there was a loud, piercing, thunderous boom. It was a wholly unfamiliar sound. My heart didn’t really start to thump until I heard the next one, which was much, much louder. Closer, as it turned out. I immediately looked to the sky, horrified, expecting another. There were a couple of seconds of shocked silence, and then, sirens. I have never heard so many all at once.
I knew Hubby had crossed the finish line but I had no idea where he was and assumed he had no phone. I tried to get to our meeting place, but I was having trouble navigating my way there. Cops had materialized, seemingly out of nowhere and were yelling at everyone to clear the streets. My heart was still thumping. I didn’t know what had happened. I called a friend in Quincy and asked her to put on the TV. I went on to Twitter but it was too early for anything concrete, and besides, my hands were shaking.
About 10 minutes later I got a text message telling me to meet him at the “W.” Relief. Then I got another text asking me where I was. Then another asking me if I was OK. He didn’t know where I had been standing. I kept trying to reply and call but nothing was going through. I have a string of undelivered texts on my phone. We spent the next little while trying to connect. It was probably only 20 minutes but it felt like longer. We finally met up. His lips were blue he was so cold.
Turns out he was at the water table just beyond the finish line when the bombs exploded. He turned in time to see the second one. Then there was a stampede. He said later that he really pushed hard to get the result that he did. Five minutes …
We’ve lived in Boston for seven years. We knew the marathon was a huge deal, of course, but it wasn’t really a part of our New England experience. We’d never gone as spectators. Then we started running races. Hubby tried to get a number in 2012 but it didn’t work out. This year, he got one through the National Guard and couldn’t have been happier.
Given all the preparation and training, and talking and stressing about the race in the weeks prior, I had joked with him that, after this experience, his life was going to be forever split into two: what came before the 2013 Boston Marathon, and what came after.
I guess that really is true now, for so many.
The running community is full of amazing folks. They’re hard core and spirited and tenacious and resilient and friendly. They don’t care if you’re a complete slowpoke like me. I doubt I’ll ever run the Boston Marathon, but I’ll definitely be on the streets in 2014 to watch the city reclaim its marvelous race.