I love running the Boston Marathon – 42 kilometres from out in Hopkinton all the way into downtown Boston. It is the Holy Grail of runners from around the globe. It demands a qualifying time in another marathon to even apply for entry. And this is what makes it so cherished by marathoners everywhere.
This past weekend, 27,000 runners came into Boston to fulfill a dream that is both hard-won and, if you happen to be a Canadian, the culmination of months of training in the ice and cold. So, I was grateful for the blue sky and balmy breezes of Boston this weekend.
It’s not an easy marathon to run, 25 km downhill, then four gruelling hills to run up, past the infamous Heartbreak Hill at Mile 19 and into Boston itself. That is why most of us are flagging but joyous to see the finish line 400 metres away as we turn left onto Bolyston Street. Blue arches ahead, grandstands bracing the entry on both sides to the finish.
You speed up, not quite sure where the effort comes from but itching for the arch. I finished in 3:48:57 and gratefully walked forward to collect my water, blanket, food and the precious medal. The family meeting area is three blocks away and streams of blanketed racers pour out through the gates looking for relatives at the designated meeting areas.
By agreement with my husband, Bob, I never go to the “M”. He meets me at the “A” right out the exit. Clearly, there are lots of people who think as we do and the congestion is staggering. Within 10 minutes of my exit two loud bangs went off. The first caused us all to look back toward the course, though we were two blocks of high buildings away. The second went some 20 seconds later. Again we looked toward the source of the sound.
It was another 10 minutes before a runner with a cellphone standing next to a group of us, said there’d been two explosions at the finish line. We were silent.
And then I started to hear sirens – a lot of them and, as it turned out, continuously. The wind sharpened. I chilled. I begged a phone from a bystander and called Bob, leaving a message that I was getting too cold to stand there and would start walking back to the hotel which was 5 km away. Most of us there had really no idea what had happened. But the mood of the day had suddenly cooled.
I walked back to the hotel, arriving ahead of Bob, and as soon as I was in the room, I heard there were two dead and 22 injured. Even as I showered and packed up, the number of injured started to rise, to 40 then 70 and by the time we left the hotel, 100. Bob was frantic to find me, and when the lady at the front desk said I’d already arrived, he burst into tears.
It was hard to talk to our family when we phoned them. The tears came as a release – from the effort spent, from gratitude and luck, from the love of loved ones, from relief.
Bob had been in New York on 9/11.
I remember how panicked I had been about his safety.
I remember he had rented one of the last cars in Manhattan and driven home the next morning, leaving at dawn and driving out across the George Washington Bridge as the Army units and doctors drove in.
We knew then that our world had changed and safety could and never would be assured for any of us again. But somehow until yesterday, we believed that this celebration of determination, this manifesto of pride and grit called the Boston Marathon would elude this horrific inevitability.
Will I run Boston next year?
Well, when we first took our group of 75 Toronto women under the banner of JeansMarines to run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, it was just days after the sniper attack in October, 2002.
Many of us and our families were afraid to go. But it was [former Toronto mayor] Barbara Hall who wrote us all days before to say: “We have unfinished business to attend to, and we will not be stopped by a man with a gun.”
So yes, of course I’ll run Boston next year, as should we all.