Boston Marathon Reflections

I can’t recall another day when I have experienced the wild spectrum of emotions that I did on Monday, April 15th, 2013.  I had run many a race, endured many a disappointment, and learned many a life lesson to earn a spot in the Boston Marathon, and the highs and lows of my journey from Hopkinton to the finish line quite accurately mirrored those of my BQ chasing odyssey. Those hard fought 26.2 miles are story that is worth telling and an accomplishment worth celebrating for all of us who poured so much of ourselves into making it to both the start line and the finish line of Monday’s race. It is sad and infuriating that such a great triumph of the human spirit has been overshadowed by a hideous and senseless act of violence, and it is devastating knowing that lives were lost and families torn apart at the event that was, up until the moment when disaster struck, a wonderful, iconic celebration of the sport that we love. My heart breaks for the city of Boston and those who were affected by Monday’s bombings, and my thoughts and prayers for comfort, healing, and justice continue to go out to the victims and their families.  But as I reflect on this tragedy I am comforted by the fact that one does not have to look very hard at all to spot the beautiful displays of humanity that rise up from the ashes.

As I’m sure you can imagine the words that compose the previous paragraph of this post hardly scratch the surface of the myriad of thoughts and emotions that I am sorting through as I struggle to process my Boston Marathon experience.  At the moment, I am feeling utterly physically and emotionally drained by the events of the last several days. However, as gesture of love, support, and solidarity for the tenacious people that are Boston and the magic and tradition that is the Boston Marathon, I would like to share with you the things about this experience that I am grateful for.

First and foremost, I am tremendously grateful and relieved to know that everyone I know who was in any way involved in this event – every friend, every teammate, every social media acquaintance is safe and accounted for. I am also incredibly moved by the outpouring of concern from friends, family, and co-workers for my personal safety and that of my friends. And I am thankful for friends old and new who were there with me and for me in the midst of the chaos and confusion: those who dried my tears of anger, sorrow, and relief, welcomed me into their home, and graciously shared with me the comforting cuteness of their pugs.

The comforting cuteness of pugs is a powerful thing.

The comforting cuteness of pugs is a powerful thing.

To all of you who reached out to me on Monday, thank you. I honestly cannot think of another time when I felt so much love from so many people, and I am deeply touched by this beautiful display of humanity. Furthermore, I apologize for not responding directly to all of you. I was completely overwhelmed by the volume of messages I received, but I saw and appreciated each and every post, text message, voicemail, tweet, and email.  Please continue sending your concerns, thoughts, and prayers to the people of Boston. They need them so much more than I do.

Secondly, as heartbreaking as the situation is, I find it so inspiring to watch the running community, the people of Boston, and the nation as a whole rally around this tragedy with such a spirit of love and support. As I contrast this experience with my last major marathon encounter, the cancellation of the New York City Marathon due to super-storm Sandy in November, I am grateful that the events in Boston have served to unify people and communities rather than polarize them. (I know you are thinking it, so  feel free to insert your statement about how I should give up major marathons forever here.)

I know and respect that my personal experience running the marathon was far less significant in the grand scheme of things than the events that occurred shortly after I crossed the finish line. However, for what its worth, my Boston Marathon experience was nothing short of epic and was an emotional roller coaster in and of itself before any bombs were detonated.  As anyone who has read any recent race report of mine surely already knows, my little local running community is kind of my everything. I am always so grateful to have them in my world, and there was never more truth in that statement than there was in those miles between Hopkinton and Boston. In that span of roughly three and a half hours I experienced the sheer thrill of running 25K of the freakin’ Boston Marathon in the company of some my favorite people on the planet and the demoralization of being separated from my pacer/ running BFF. Additionally, I delighted in watching a soft-spoken teammate plant a big old kiss on some lucky Wellesley girl, and I narrowly escaped utter heartbreak on Heartbreak Hill thanks to the compassion and encouragement of that same teammate and her husband. (I guess he wasn’t too upset about her smooching that Wellesley chick.) But the ultimate highlight of the entire race came at approximately mile 24.5. My pace had fallen apart after tearing through Boston College on the way down Heartbreak Hill, and I had waved my teammates off after crossing the 35K mat with them. Then low and behold, my aforementioned pacer/ running BFF pulled up beside me. We had been separated for the better part of 15 miles. She had originally gotten ahead me after making a pit stop, then missed me when she stopped to wait for me, putting me at least 7 minutes ahead of her. I am fairly certain that are few people out there who could chase a friend down at a ridiculous pace for the better part of 11 miles of the Boston Marathon, and there are probably even fewer people out there who would actually do such a thing, but Allie Bigelow did that for me on Monday. This sort of friendship does not come along everyday, and I am very grateful for it. Furthermore, I cannot imagine how much more frightening and upsetting the events the followed my marathon finish might have been had we still been separated when they occurred. Which brings me to the next element of the Boston Marathon experience that I am grateful for…

So incredibly thankful that all of these beautiful Oiselle Team birds (as well as those not pictured here) are safe and accounted for. And they are even more lovely in person than they are on Twitter.

So incredibly thankful that all of these beautiful Oiselle Team birds (as well as those not pictured here) are safe and accounted for. And they are even more lovely in person than they are on Twitter.

This is how much fun we were having at mile 14. By the way, this pic can also be found on the front page of the Wednesday, 4/17 edition of my hometown's local newspaper.

This is how much fun we were having at mile 14. By the way, this pic can also be found on the front page of the Wednesday, 4/17 edition of my hometown’s local newspaper.

Reunited and it feels so good...

Reunited and it feels so good…

As I continue to process this situation my mind keeps returning to the timing of it all. The timing of Allie catching me, the time on the clock when I finished the race vs. the times of my marathons of yesteryear and how similar those were to the time on the race clock when the explosions happened. The timing of our departure from the finish line area, the timing of the phone call I received from a friend back in North Carolina giving me the news. The fact that I was able to get through to my mother to let her know that I was safe before she heard of the bombings elsewhere, and the timing of us leaving the city just ahead of the lockdowns and road closures all seems far to complex and close-cut to be merely coincidental. Whatever higher power might have been watching over us in those moments following my finish of the Boston Marathon, I am grateful for it.

I am incredibly relieved to be back home in North Carolina and I am happy to report that my Boston Marathon race shirt, my finisher’s medal and I made a beeline directly from the airport to our favorite local watering hole for a much-needed evening of laughs, tears (most of which were mine) and beers in the company of the wonderful friends and teammates with whom I shared this unforgettable experience.

So happy and relieved to come to the company of these very special people.

So happy and relieved to come home to the company of these very special people.

However, my heart and my thoughts remain in Boston, and especially with those who lost love ones or are fighting for their lives in the wake of this unthinkable occurrence. The Boston Marathon is a magical celebration both of distance running and an iconic American city and it’s people, and I am already looking forward joining Bostonians far and wide and the global running community in reclaiming it in all its glory in 2014.  In the meantime, as I work through my own processing of and emotional recovery from Monday’s bombings, I will continue to seek out ways to help and to express my support for Boston, and I urge you to do the same.

Things You Can Do to Help:

Donate to The One Fund

Donate Blood in Your Community

Comprehensive list compiled by Runner’s World

“6 Ways You Can Help Boston” Blog Post from Saucony

Donate to the Challenged Athletes Foundation to support victims in need of prosthetics.

Additional Posts and Articles:

“Runners, The Marathon Does Matter,” Boston Globe

“Bring on the Next Boston Marathon”, The New York Times

“At My First Boston, My Heart Aches Most…” Megan Hetzel for Runner’s World

Allie’s (as in the Allie who chased me down for 15 miles of the Boston Marathon) reflections on the bombings, the marathon, and wonderful parts of our trip.