Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston Marathon 2013

Originally I had planned to write a short blog post on the Boston Marathon and its uniqueness from the point of view from a Boston transplant, but instead I’m writing to share my experience of that day.  If you do want to read on why Boston is so important to runners then please read what Toni Reavis has already said here.  This is a bit heavier than I would like for this blog and not as harrowing as some but its my story.

Entrance to the Boston Marathon Expo
On the Friday before the marathon I made my way down to the Expo from my office before it started to get too crowded.  For those of you who haven’t run a lot, the expo is where you pick up your number, t-shirt, and other swag your registration paid for.  In addition to that there are tons of health and running exhibitors selling everything from race tees to massage chairs (no I wasn’t able to try one out, I had to get back to work).  Marathon Sports, whose flagship store is at the finish line, was having a 50% off sale at the expo, so I was able to pick me up a nice new running jacket and help support a local business.

The atmosphere at the expo was electric.  You could feel the excitement and couldn’t help but be caught up in it.  For a couple of years now I have been thinking about running Boston, and this really strengthened my feelings about trying to run it.
For those of you who haven’t had the chance to go, marathon Monday is something uniquely Boston.  Other than in Lexington and Concord where reenactments take place to commemorate the start of the revolutionary war there is little fanfare.  In Boston the best comparison would be a warm weather St. Patrick’s Day.  The bars open early and people are in line to get in before that.   The Red Sox start their game at 11AM to allow for people to get to the game through the road closures.  What other professional sport has a start time before noon?  The spectators come early (there were a few lining the course down near the finish line when I arrived just after 8AM over an hour before it started over 26 miles away) and as the first winner comes across the line they’re as many as 10 deep in places all the way from the start to finish.  Oh and they are loud.  It’s been said that you can hear the women at Wellesley College a half mile away, and I knew when this year’s female winner Rita Jeptoo made the well known left turn onto Boylston as I heard the crowd 22 floors below me scream in delight.

A view from my office.  A Lone Runner completes that last quarter mile as fans look on.
Now as a rule of thumb, most people who work outside of the city don’t get it off as a holiday, and most of us who do work in the city do get it off.  Seeing as I work just past mile 26 and a half block off the course it makes perfect sense that I have to fight the road closures and crowds on my way into the office.  Being in the area and a runner I thought I would make the best of it, so just before lunch I left my computer in the trusty hands of one of our IT folks to fix an update issue, and headed down to grab some lunch and watch some of the race.  It was just after noon.
After an easy lunch I walked out and watched the race at the 26 mile mark for about a half hour until just after the 3 hour mark hoping to see one of my co-workers (he is OK).  I didn’t get to see him, but it was an inspiring scene to see all the people fighting their way through the 26.2 mile.  Loud cheers rose several times when fathers pushing their sons in wheelchairs came by, and I had to cover my ears when group military personnel carrying a full rucksacks and an American flag made their way by us.  Yes it’s that loud. 

The view from Mile 26
I took some pictures and starting texting my wife and my friend Brandon who is an avid marathoner and trying to do 50 marathons in 50 states.  I was trying to convince him to apply to a charity with me next year and run the Boston Marathon.  If you’re doing one in mass might was well do Boston!  Eventually I had to go back to work so I started my way back up to my office.  It was just after 1pm.

Up the stairs back towards my office
After arriving back in my office I talked to one of my co-workers and told her about what it was like down there and encouraged her to go down and check it out.  When she took her lunch she said she was going to check it out for a while.  She returned just before 2:45 and came over to talk about it.  She agreed that the warm weather and festivities merit a day off, and then our talk turned to our co-worker.  We looked up his time and based upon the tracking I just missed him by a few minutes.

Suddenly there was a loud boom and the building shook.  I thought to myself that it was strange only to be shocked into realization of what was happening when the building shook again a few second later.  I jumped up from desk to the window.  Below us throngs of people ran in one direction, to our left away from where the blasts had occurred.  To my right a cloud of white smoke rose above the buildings.  I ran back to my desk and turned to twitter but saw nothing indicating what happened.  I typed a hurried and misspelled warning to Boston followers who might be in the area.  I specifically didn’t use the word “bomb” because I wasn’t sure and was hopeful that was not the case.  I quickly headed over to the other side of the building to see if we could see anything.
The office was fairly empty due to the road closures and more than half of those remaining were in the stairwells heading down to the street as soon as they processed what happened.  The remaining group looked out over the windows that faced Boylston Street.  Most of the street level was blocked by a building but what was visible was a clutter of fallen barricades, discarded signs and lost belonging.  Emergency vehicles raced up the street towards the finish.  Sadly the view from the window that I posted above remains the same but eerily empty of people, the dunkin’ donuts truck standing empty.  A better blogger would take a picture for this part but I choose not to.  This is not how I want to remember Patriots day, the marathon nor Boston.

I quickly called my boss to fill her in on what was happening.  I called so soon after the blasts that the cell network was not yet overwhelmed.  After that I wasn’t able to call out on my cell again for over two hours until I was in Brighton, but strangely text and data continued to work.  It appeared that the attack was on the marathon and so I quickly made a plan to stay in place until people had left the area and police swept it.  I threw my sneakers then called my wife from my work phone and let her know that I was OK and that I was going to stay for a while.  I charged my phone and filled a water bottle figuring I would have to walk the 6 miles home. About fifteen minutes later an announcement came in urging us to stay where we were.  A little late but thanks.
Work was done for the day.  Those of us left in the office mulled around and talked about what we had seen and heard.  I tried to update my friends and family as best I could.  The sirens were non-stop for God knows how long.  Whenever I hear a lot of sirens I’m afraid I’ll be taken back to those twin blasts.

Around 4pm I decided it was time to go.  I packed up my things and was greeted with a third announcement asking us to “shelter in place”.  Thanks but no thanks, so I headed out to the elevator and down to the prudential center.  They had my wing closed off blocking access to Copley mall and Ring Rd, but allowed be to exit towards the Pru.  As I made my way to the center of the mall I was greeted by about 100 people waiting for loved ones.  Some people were crying, some consoling but all looking scared.  This was a scene that would repeat as I passed large groups of people on my journey home.

I made my way through the Sheraton and out to Mass Ave taking a right towards the Charles.  As I passed through groups of people and the sun bore down I started to get hot, but I thought better of stopping to put my back pack down and take off my fleece.  I would have to sweat to the esplanade.  I passed Comm Ave which was barren except for a few marathoners with medals and Mylar blankets, and a pair of drunks in Sox gear.  One was trying to move his friend along while the other seems to want to talk to every police officer he passed trying to wrap his mind around the day’s events.
A few minutes later I was at the bridge and down to the esplanade. I walked leapfrogging a mother and daughter as each of us stopped for a break.  They were making their way to Harvard Business School the only way that we could as public transportation was shut down and cabs full.  I thought about making a sign that read “Watertown” to see if anyone would pick me up, but decided against it.  Over the next hour or so I trekked away from the city until I reached soldiers field road and was picked up by a friend who took me to my car.  The next morning when I checked my e-mail there was a message from Bandon asking how we could sign up for next year’s marathon.  Damn right!  Barring an injury we’ll be applying this September to run Boston in 2014.

Today is Wednesday my first day back to work after the bombing.  We go to work amid SWAT teams and national guardsmen.  Marathon Sports where I purchased some new shoes exactly one week ago is heavily damaged and only open to law enforcement.  Some of my co-workers appear shaken but we’re here and defiant.  At lunch I went down and purchased one of the last remaining Boston Marathon running shirts I could find.  To honor the victims and my city I will wear it at the remainder of my races this year starting next Saturday in Nashville, and if all goes well next year as I cross the finish line at the Boston Marathon April 21, 2014.  Mark your calendars and remember right on Hereford left on Boylston.  See you at the finish.
My New Race Shirt

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