Why I will never stop running.
Today’s blog post wasn’t going to be about weight loss, or calorie counting. I wasn’t going to talk about triathlon training, or swim class either. Today’s post was going to be a recap of an incredible weekend celebrating athleticism and how great it is to be a runner in Boston. I had plans to talk about my first trip to the Marathon Expo, about getting the experience to take a right on Hereford, left on Boylston in the B.A.A. 5K, and about watching my friends cross the famous blue and yellow finish line after conquering 26.2 miles. But unfortunately- the finish line is where my story takes a terrifying turn of events.
After following our two runners throughout the course, my friend’s father and I made our way to Boylston Street and pushed our way through the massive crowds towards the VIP bleacher seats. We were lucky enough to have scored a pair of passes the day before and were so excited to see them end it from there. After spotting their running singlets we proudly cheered and screamed, and I snapped a picture of them as they took their last exhausted steps towards the finish line. The time clock in the picture eerily reads “4:04:38”.
Excited that they had finally made it we bounced down from the bleachers and began to make our way to the family meeting area. What should have happened next were joyous hugs, “Congratulations!” and “I’m so proud of you!” and lots of pictures of them holding their medals proudly. I don’t have any of those pictures.
As we made our way to meet them we stopped to quickly use the porta-potties. Standing inside, I suddenly heard this awful boom that sounded almost like a clap of thunder. The entire porta-potty shook, and I remember thinking that someone must have jumped on top of it. I heard a second boom, followed by screaming. A man’s voice started yelling at me to get out (my friend’s dad) and I opened the door to a cloud of smoke and the smell of burning. He told me that we had to run and grabbed my arm. I remember almost stepping on a little boy as I flew down the concrete steps, the police telling us to “walk slowly and calmly”, and the echo of sirens off the buildings. I remember dropping my friend’s inhaler, and having to make a quick decision on if it was worth it to go back and pick it up. We sprinted to the family meeting area and as I tried to catch my breath, I anxiously scanned the crowd, trying to find our runners.
What I’m sure was only a few minutes felt like the longest hours of my life. I’ve never known relief like that until I spotted the two faces I had been praying to see. What should have been a moment of celebratory hugs and pats on the back became a terrified embrace. We were all alive, and we were together. With what little battery I had left in my phone I was able to text my mom, dad and fiancee with the two words I hope to never have to use again: “I’m Okay.”
I think that I was in shock until I got home later that night and started to decompress. I took a hot shower, and sat on the couch with wet hair watching the news clips. As horrific images flashed on the screen, the actuality of what had happened that day hit me like a bag of bricks. An attack happened not only happened to my beloved city, but just feet away from me. I could have lost my limbs. I could have lost my friends. I could have died.
A lot of “what if’s” have been going through my head since then. What if we hadn’t had those passes to the bleacher seats? We probably would have been on the other side of the street- right where the bomb went off. What if my friend’s mom had had the day off from work, and they took the passes …and I was on the other side of the street with my fiancee instead? What if my friends had slowed their pace down, had stopped to stretch, had made their way to the finish line just 5 minutes later?
After a terrible night of little sleep and a lot of staring at the ceiling, I finally let myself get up once the sun was up. I felt confused, terrified, angry and upset. I needed to run. So I laced up my sneakers and I headed out towards the beach.
I wasn’t sure how running was going to make me feel. Part of me was worried that the events of the last 24 hours would take away what running had just so recently given me. But as I made my way down the familiar streets I felt my heart beating, I felt my breathing become a pattern, and I felt so, so incredibly lucky. Lucky that my friends crossed the finish line when they did. Lucky that I left the bleachers when I did. Lucky that I was inside a smelly porta potty and didn’t actually see the explosion. Lucky that I was with someone who stayed calm and got me somewhere safe. Lucky that when my phone finally regained power, I had multitudes of text messages, voicemails, and Facebook messages from people who were so worried about me. Lucky that I was able to come home and kiss and hug my fiancee so tightly. Lucky to still have legs to run with. Lucky to be alive.
I was afraid that the tragic events that happened at the Marathon would ruin running for me but in fact, it has made my love for it that much stronger. The running community has taken me in with open arms,- with tips and training, with inspiration and guidance. To stop running now would be to let them down in some way. All of the participants in yesterday’s Marathon, whether they were able to finish or not, are absolute heroes in my eyes. They set out to do something that only a select and special few are actually able to complete in their lifetime.
Just a few months ago I learned the symbolism behind the Unicorn in the Boston Athletic Association logo…“An ideal: something to pursue, but which can never be caught. In pursuit of the Unicorn, however, athletic competitors can approach excellence (but never fully achieve it). It is this pursuit to push oneself to his or her own limit and to the best of one’s ability which is at the core of athletics.”
What happened at the Boston Marathon has changed all of our lives in some way. But it doesn’t have to all be negative. And it shouldn’t be, for that would be letting the enemy win. I’m taking the feelings that I have from that day, and using them in a positive way to better my running. I have always said “I have absolutely NO interest in EVER running a marathon.” And now? I can’t say that it will definitely happen…but I can’t say that it’s completely ruled out either. I’m gonna add it to my bucket list and think about it. What I’ve experienced in the last few days has given me a new perspective and drive and it just might someday lead me towards that Unicorn.