This is my column/race report from today’s paper. I added my splits at the end.
The Boston Marathon is one thing.
The Boston Marathon 2013 is another.
One is a historic, prestigious, invite-only event that attracts the world’s best runners — and the best of the rest of us, who claw our way to the starting line and feel, for once, like the elite.
The other will go down in history as a tragedy at the finish, a triumph of the volunteers, medical personnel and runners.
And for the rest of my life, when I wear a Boston Marathon shirt, the question I get asked won’t be, “Wow, you ran Boston?” but instead, “Did you run the year the finish line of the Boston Marathon got bombed?”
And I finished in 3:51, 18 minutes before the first bomb went off.
Our entire family flew to New England for a reunion with my three sisters, their husbands and children and my dad.
I spent six years trying to qualify for Boston. We saved our money, made our plans, got out of Sioux Falls in the middle of an ice storm. I was undertrained, insanely excited and overly emotional.
When you get ready to run Boston, people want to know where you qualified (Twin Cities 2012), what your time was (3:39:13), what your Boston number is (17040) and how many times you’ve run it (zero, until Monday). It’s a litany of questions I was asked and that I asked others over marathon weekend in New England.
‘She’s running in Boston!’
My sister Kim introduced me to her friends in Williamstown with, “She’s running Boston!” Her friends who had done it stopped to talk about it and offer advice and high-fives. Kim and her husband, Steve, were watching our kids, Jack, 4, and Viv, 2, on Sunday and Monday, so Philip and I could have a tiny vacation, complete with a Red Sox game for him and a dream race for me.
We drove through the Berkshires drinking Dunkin Donuts coffee on our way into Boston. We hit the expo on Sunday, and I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I couldn’t even say “thank you” when the race volunteer handed me my bag with my official number, drop bag, Boston Marathon sticker and shirt.
Philip patiently took my photo in front of the official Boston Athletic Association marathon signs, the weird unicorn logo, the Citgo sign and every other clichéd thing you can imagine.
And everyone around us was doing the same thing. Runners proudly wore their “Runner Passport” lanyards over their royal blue and gold marathon shirts(every year there is a different color combination). Others wore jackets from past years, with patches on the sleeve showing how many times they’ve run Boston.
The city crawled with marathoners. And everyone you talked to was running it or watching it — even at the Red Sox game. We sat next to two women who watch it every year and wanted to know what I would be wearing so they could try to find me. Signs all over warned of delays Monday. They had runners on them, and said, “Marathon Monday,” reminding people not to park there.
Monday morning, my alarm went off at 4:25, and we were in the car by 5 to get to a train station where I was catching a bus with the Colonial Road Runners. You have to take a bus to the starting line in Hopkinton, which is completely closed down. Justin Schweitzer and Mike Waldera of Sioux Falls were on the bus, too, and we chatted briefly about the day and our hopes.
At the last minute, I threw my iPhone, a charger and $20 into the drop bag to pick up at the end of othe race.
Everywhere I looked in Hopkinton, runners tried to keep warm in the hours before the race. They looked nervous, but excited. Friendly. And full of questions about where you were from and how you ended up here.
I made my way to the starting line and decided to follow my brother in law John’s advice: All the work was to get here. Now? Just have fun.
I relaxed. Settled in to what I hoped was a fair pace and started to look around.
An intoxicating atmosphere
The beginning of the race is downhill, and I had been warned about it. I tried to rein it in and, in the end, I am thrilled with how my race went. I feel terrible writing that, in light of what happened later. But at the same time, I don’t want the Boston Marathon to be remembered for that. Before anything else, and after anything else, it’s one hell of a road race — with a nonstop party for 26.2 miles full of screaming spectators, high-fives and community on and off the course.
And before I crossed the finish line and heard the first explosion as I got my bag from the drop-off, I experienced the very best of the Boston Marathon. And as I made my way through after the explosions, I witnessed the very best of Boston itself.
My husband told me he would try to see me around mile 3 — so I looked and looked for him in his new Red Sox cap. I didn’t see him — and later discovered he actually made it to about four different points on the course, but kept missing me.
At 11 a.m., people were cooking hamburgers in their front yards, college kids were completely hammered and yelling hilarious things at runners, and kids were holding their hands out for you to slap as you went by.
I saw three friends from Massachusetts at mile 10 — and it was awesome to hear someone calling my name. I saw a woman holding a “Go Jackie!” sign and ran up to her and said, hey, that’s my name! And she said, “Then go!” And we laughed.
The entire course was like that.
In Wellesley, all the college girls stand, screaming, with signs that say, “Kiss me, I’m a twin,” or “Kiss me, I’m barely legal,” or “Kiss me, I’m from Minnesota.” I laughed so hard in Wellesley, when this wall of sound hit me, that I was crying as I ran.
The entire time, I ran within my limits, looked around, took in every stone wall, every bending, bare tree, every little New England town that runners have passed through on this day for more than 100 years. I laughed out loud. I cried more than once.
I never turned my headphones on and never was bored or tired or anything but in complete awe that I finally was here. I walked through the water stops, but that was it. I wanted to show up as a real marathoner in Boston.
The relentless downhills hurt so badly, I was grateful when the Newton hills started. They come around mile 20, a series of rolling hills that ends with Heartbreak Hill. I slowed down a little, but powered up the hills and never stopped. When I got to the top, I was proud that it didn’t shatter me — like the hills at the end of Twin Cities do almost every time I run it. Finally, I had conquered some of the mental toughness that is marathoning.
Around mile 23, I saw my nephew and his girlfriend and my niece leaning over a fence, screaming my name. “Go Aunt Jackie! Go!” And about 100 feet up, my sister Pam and her husband John were screaming as well.
I ran through with a huge, huge grin on my face, and high-fives all around.
I saw the Citgo sign and cried. A mile to go. I have never run this far in a marathon — even my fastest ones — without having some kind of mental breakdown around this point. But I wasn’t breaking down. I was speeding up and passing people.
I was slapping more hands, and a guy yelled, “Hey, would you call me later?” If he could smell me, he wouldn’t have said that, but it was good for a few minutes of laughing for me.
At the expo, I had bought a blue shirt that said, “Right on Hereford St., left on Boylston St.,” which is how the race ends. And on the course, a man ran by and said, “Two more turns, and we’re done.”
Everything I had ever hoped for
And I ran on the left side of the road, next to these white gates I remember watching the elites hug on their way to the finish when I watch the marathon on TV every year. I’m in their footsteps, I thought. I’ve watched them do this, in their tiny shorts, compression socks and bibs with their names on it.
Here’s Boylston Street, and the finish. All the photos of me at the end of other races I’m looking down, stopping my watch. But this time I didn’t care how stupid it looked, I was going to raise my hands in the air.
Celebrate this finish. This town. This race. I looked up, put my arms up and put on a huge smile as I came across that finish line.
Then I hugged the first volunteer I saw and cried on her shoulder. And she didn’t skip a beat and told me congratulations.
That race was every single thing I had hoped it would be. It was fun. The course was hard. The crowds were hilarious and were all in for Boston, as the logo says.
After the finish line, a crush of runners tried to make their way through – past water bottles and sports drink. A volunteer handed me my medal.
Another one gave me a space blanket and a piece of tape to keep it on. I was freezing as I shuffled to the buses to get my drop bag. I got it and put on my sweats and pulled out my cell phone. Philip had left me a message saying he couldn’t get to the finish, so I called him and told him I would head to the family meeting area.
Like a train slamming a building
Then I tried to call John, to see if he could help direct Philip. In between the calls, I heard something and looked back toward the finish. At first I thought a train had somehow hit a building.
John answered his phone.
“What just happened?” I asked him, as I started to hear the sirens.
“You are amazing,” he yelled, clearly having spent his afternoon watching a race and maybe hitting a pub or two. “You looked so happy at 23. You were great!”
“John, stop,” I told him. “Something just exploded?”
I pushed my way through to the family meeting area, but volunteers began telling runners to go back into the finish area. Then they changed course and told us to get out, get as far away as we could.
The entire time, my phone is popping with texts from John and Philip, who can’t find each other. John calls to tell me he just saw about 25 cops on motorcycles scream by, and told me to get somewhere safe. They were going to try to get on the train to get to me. His main concern was that I would be cold. I assured him I was fine, but my phone was dying .
The doorman of an upscale apartment building opened the lobby and let a few of us in to charge phones and wait. But then we had to leave. I went next door to a small restaurant lobby and banking area and plugged in next to an ATM.
People were milling around, starting, holding up iPhones and asking what happened. Then I couldn’t make any outgoing phone calls at all. To anyone. I heard various rumors they shut down services, and others that the lines were just all jammed. Whatever the truth is, it was disconcerting. A worker in the bank offered landlines to anyone who needed one. I stood there and watched runners eat in the restaurant next door wondering what to do.
Meeting up with Philip and John
Philip texted that he made it to the family meeting area. John texted that the trains were down, and that I should stay put. My boss texted that I needed to go get eyewitness video. I felt conflicted and confused and kept falling back on the lesson my dad taught me as a kid, “If you’re lost, just stay in one place.”
Eventually I stepped outside and saw Philip where we had agreed to meet. He gave me a huge bear hug – maybe the best I’ve ever gotten from him – and apologized for not being at the finish. I’ve never been so happy for someone getting lost in my life.
We went back to the lobby so I could charge my phone a bit more, and then headed out to shoot a little video. I confess cursing my boss for wanting me to go back into an area officials had told us to flee.
At the same time, I believe in what I do, and what I ask my reporters to do, so I went. Philip held my drop bag and understood what was happening. Being married to a journalist teaches you very quickly that news happens all the time, and you stop and take care of it.
I shot some pretty raw video, and tried to text it in 30-second increments. I didn’t even watch any of it — just sent it. I shot some photos that I’m sure were unusable, but I couldn’t get close enough. And after five interviews, and the fire at the JFK library, which later was determined to be unrelated, I just wanted out.
I interviewed several witnesses and we did a quick video of ourselves to send and then headed to the parking garage.
The entire time, ambulances, SWAT teams, police cars, fire trucks and golf carts with race volunteers on it sped past us from every direction. Officers yelled repeatedly to get out of Copley Square. People looked so strangely calm. Watching those runners eat lunch reminded me of the scene in “A Clockwork Orange’ where the character kicks someone while singing “Singin’ in the Rain.” Incongruous and weird, and uncomfortable and eerie.
John texted me, “You finished 18 minutes before the explosion. Thank you for running as fast as you did.”
As we got underground in the strangely empty parking garage, an announcement came on that said people were being asked to stay where they were. We sat in the car for a while, with no cell service. Debating. Finally, Philip said he wanted to try to get out, and I’m glad we did. I felt helpless and scared and completely creeped out sitting under a parking structure in a big city where two bombs had just gone off. I wanted to crawl out of my skin.
We pulled up out and paid the $28 parking fee — which infuriated Philip. “Why are they charging people? Just let us go!”
It took us an hour to get to the Massachusetts Turnpike. But we made it. We drove out of Boston, as I followed Twitter and heard reports of officials asking people to stay out of crowded areas. My sister and her family were stuck at mile 23 for hours, but eventually got out of the city about 9 p.m.
A hug and a cry with a volunteer
We stopped at a rest stop, where I saw a volunteer. I asked her where she was, and she told me she was handing out medals – probably 500 feet from the explosions. She cried and hugged me and I told her I was glad she was OK.
“I’m safe,” she said. “I’m not OK.”
And we hugged again. So different from the hug I gave the other volunteer earlier in the day.
By then, Philip and I were back in Williamstown, hugging my sister Kim, peeking in our sleeping kids, and turning on a TV for the first time to see the day unfold in vivid color.
We flew out of Albany, N.Y., on Tuesday morning. There were a few people on our plane in Boston Marathon gear. We all asked each other, “Did you finish?” And they had. The course was closed after the first bomb, and runners were diverted.
In Philadelphia, four other women were on our flight to the Twin Cities, all in marathon gear. They all finished. They looked shell-shocked and the conversations were hard. It doesn’t feel right to talk about your race, when everything else happened.
But it’s still a race. And it still should be a race.
I hate that for the rest of my life, this day will be marked not by the storied, amazing history of the Boston Marathon but by the tragedy at the finish.
I hate that my finisher medal is going to be a collector’s item for all the wrong reasons.
I hate that innocent people were killed or injured doing something as pure, as unifying, as cheering people on at the finish of a race.
I hate that the people in the back probably are the charity runners who raise tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of running the Boston Marathon.
But I don’t hate Boston. And I don’t hate marathons. And I don’t hate Monday, April 15, 2013.
For those who are interested, here are the splits because, after all, part of Monday was till a race:
Mile 5: 8.42
Mile 10: 8.37
8.56 — 1:53 for the half
Mile 15: 8.51
Mile 20: 9.10
1.50 for 0.2
Finish: 3:51:28, watch time
Average pace: 8:50
Finished 14, 168 overall (so, for veterans, does that mean I passed 3,000 runners out there, since we’re seeded by bib/time? Kind of cool to have finished with a higher number than your bib … .)