Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Boston Strong

I'm still very much processing the events that unfolded at the 2013 Boston Marathon. But for me, the purpose of writing has always been to make sense of the world. So perhaps putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, is what I've been missing over the past eight days.

Lucky. That is was the overwhelming emotion leading up to April 15. I had a hell of a year. A year that I was still in very much in the process of healing from both psychically and emotionally. The Boston Marathon was to be my comeback. The day that I pounded pavement for 26.2 miles along with thousands of other runners and proved to myself that I had the strength overcome.

To overcome sickness. To overcome heartache. To overcome anything. 

And in doing so, I asked for your help. And you, my friends and family, responded in a way that took my breath away. You helped me raise $5,525 to help fight the hopelessness of homelessness in Boston. That's $125 above my goal. A goal that I looked at as almost unfathomable when I first signed my name on the dotted line of the Boston Marathon application.

You helped me train. We ran together through snow and rain and freezing temperatures. We ran the streets of Boston and got lost in Somerville. We ran through Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, and Newton, putting miles and miles and miles in our training piggy bank.

The weekend of the marathon, I had friends and family from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City travel up the east coast to watch me out on the Boston Marathon course. My closest friends from Boston and Scituate joined the crowds.

That day, I was representing Back on My Feet. The non-profit that changed my life. The place I work and the men and women who in their own way, each helped me get back on my own feet this year while dealing with the complex issues of homelessness in our city.

So as I stepped into the starting corral in Hopkinton on April 15, to say I was filled with gratitude was an understatement. I was overwhelmed with happiness, excitement, and the sense that this day belonged to me. I wasn't worried about my time -- with two major stomach surgeries in one year, the fact that I was toeing the line at the world's greatest marathon was enough for me. I was there to take it in, have a good time, see my friends, take photos, and if I just happened to finish around four hours in the process: fuck yeah! Just another excuse for those celebratory beers that were waiting for me at the finish line.

And then I ran a race that will forever be my favorite race.

Hopkinton was a blur of families and American flags that seemed to pass in a flash. Ashland's streets were lined with cars blasting Latin music. Framingham smelled like a barbecue of Brazilian meats. Then Natick, where firefighters perched from their truck's ladder over the sea of runners, taking pictures and cheering for the sweaty throng. I'll never forget the scream tunnel at Wellesley College, with girls holding signs: "Kiss me I'm a cowgirl" "Kiss me I'm an amazing user experience" "Kiss me I'm an average human being" "Kiss me I have a British accent" which seemed to stretch forever.

On to Newton, where I knew the infamous Newton hills were waiting for me. Well dressed families lined the streets holding out freeze pops and orange slices. I took the freeze pops. Because hell yeah freeze pops! I had been running next to my friend Mary the entire race. We were feeling good and picking up pace. So far, I had been smiling for an entire half marathon. Do you know how it feels to be smiling uncontrollably for 13 miles? We met up with Mary's dad who jumped in, loaded with enough goo and water for us both. That's what she said.

As we turned the corner onto Comm Ave and the hills rose up before me at mile 17, I said goodbye to Mary and decided to pull back a little bit to make sure I had enough steam to get through these hills and the ever-menacing Heartbreak Hill just a few miles away. I jumped in a photo with friends and was surprised at the surge of energy a familiar face can bring, even after 17 miles.

The crowds began to thicken. What was just a single line of spectators was now becoming rows. More freeze pops, more goo. At the bottom of Heartbreak Hill, one of my closest friends jumped into the road, intent to take me home. By then, my thighs were lead and I wasn't saying much, but I was still smiling.

Together, we conquered the hill and headed towards the screaming tunnel of Boston College kids. They screamed my name, written on my shirt, for miles. I reached out my arm and slapped hands and took pictures. I got goosebumps. Granted, this could have been my body temperature regulation completely shutting down with system overload, but I like to think it was in response to the cheers.

We turned the corner into Brookline and again the crowds thickened, pulsing against the police barricades four and five people deep, screaming for runners, perhaps never realizing how much their rowdy screams of encouragement brought chills to the exhausted masses, pushing them onward towards Boston.

And then: Boston.

At mile 24, I saw my Scituate friends, my heartmenders and some of my best girls. I stopped for pictures and gave kisses. I was at a total loss for words. It could have been the emotions. It could have been the fact that I had just run 24 miles and was slowly going brain dead as my body shut down on itself. Who can tell?

At mile 25, my college friends who had traveled in to see me and my mom. More pictures, more kisses, more smiles, more mostly caveman-like grunts from me. And that was all I needed to take me home.

I ran past the Citgo sign and came out from the overpass and knew my first and perhaps my only Boston Marathon was almost over. And than I made that turn: right on Hereford Street, left on Boylston Street. And it was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. The wall of sound reverberated in my chest. The crowd was five, six people deep. I no longer heard my name called, it was a roar. I picked up the pace as I ran down the final few blocks on Boylston Street, looking from one side of the street to the other, trying to take it all in, smiling from ear to ear. My legs were painful slabs of lead but they carried me forward. Leaving it all on the street. My heart felt like it was going to burst from my chest in happiness. Or maybe a heart attack. Tomato to-mahto.

And then I was home. I looked up at the cameras capturing my image, arms raised in triumph. I looked down at the yellow and blue finish line forever painted on the street as my feet touched it, with an official time of 3:57:08. I had been thinking about this moment for a very long time.

My friend Ali ran to the barricade of the finisher's corral and as we hugged I began to cry. The type of cry that shakes your whole body. I had done it. I had done it. This was not my first marathon, nor did I expect it to be my last, but it was certainly my most important. I had done it.

What happened after that will be remembered by thousands of people for the rest of their lives. The thousands of runners and spectators will each have their own story of where they were and what they were thinking when the bombs went off. Who they tried to call first and what they said to them when they finally got through.

For me, I had turned from Ali and was walking towards the table staffed with volunteers hanging medals around necks and what promised to be the best post-marathon celebration ever when the first blast went off. I froze in place, watching the plume of smoke rise. People began to scream. 

"It's not a bomb." I kept repeating to strangers around me. "It's okay. We're okay." And then there was a second blast, a second plume of smoke rising to the sky.

The rest of the day and for many days after were a blur or horror and sadness. My heart is broken. I cry, like, all the time. There is still a whole mess of sad to sift through. But in the midst of it all, and while I continue to process what happened and reconcile my greatest triumph with our city's greatest heartbreak, I remind myself of all the good that was April 15. Of the friendship, laughter, smiles, cheers, and motivation that made me run the best -- certainly not the fastest, but absolutely the best -- race of my life.

And that matters. The months of training and fundraising and wind and cold and snow matters. The entire Boston Marathon course and the amazing people who line the roads to cheer us on matter. The thousands of runners who crossed that finish line, and the thousands who didn't, matter. This is still our (fucking) city. This is still our race. We are still runners. We'll prove it. We'll be back next Patriot's Day. I know I sure will be. As of 2:50 p.m. last Monday, I'm in. And so will all the spectators along the course who make this race so very special. And that matters.

Boston Strong.


Meghan Goughan said...

Not the blog post you wanted to write but I am glad you did write it. I think it helps us all. #asof2:50imin

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing B, I reposted to my Facebook running group. On On!

John Coffey said...

What???? Google calls me an unknown?

Coach Vic said...

Lovely Beloved, just lovely.

Shelley Senai said...

I'm so glad you were able to finish and weren't in harm's way! It was nice reading this, remembering that Monday was about the marathon first and foremost, not just the bombings.

Deidre said...

Thank you for writing this, I'm sure it was really hard. I could feel your jubilation as well as the sadness throughout the whole thing.

RuthWells said...

You have had a hell of a year, girl. I'm so glad you're safe. Rooting for you!


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