What follows is a post originally published on my (now shuttered) running blog several months after the 2013 Boston Marathon. To read more about my return to the race ten years later, read posts tagged Back to Boston.
June 27, 2013
This is the first time I’ve tried to put my 2013 Boston Marathon experience into words. Hell, it might be the first time I’ve challenged myself to really think about it. Mine bears no comparison to the stories of the thousands whose lives were broken on April 15. But I’ll write, selfishly hoping for a little catharsis.
Truth be told, I wanted off that race course almost from the starting gun.
Boylston Street multiplies the noise and excitement that is Boston by factors of ten. My MP3 player had lost its battery by the time I reached the home stretch, and here I experienced one precious moment of joy. The finish line in sight. The intense noise of the crowd, reflected off columns of concrete and glass, focused directly on me. The finish line in sight.
I crossed at 3:09 on the race clock… Almost exactly one hour before the explosions.
One is rarely comfortable after finishing a marathon. If you feel good, you didn’t run hard enough, right? But this was a different, “don’t feel good.” As I stepped over the blue-and-yellow asphalt on Boylston Street, I was overcome by nausea and the desire to leave. Quickly.
Of course, you can’t just step onto the sidewalk and be on your way. Tens of thousands must be herded in a controlled fashion. Water, finisher’s medal, space blanket, nausea, dread.
In the family meeting area, still lost in the absolute crush of humanity, I spotted my wife, flowers in her hand, and experienced another moment of joy. It was fleeting. “Get me out of here,” I said.
After five or six blocks, the crowds thinned and I began to feel like it was okay to celebrate a bit. We ducked into a hamburger joint, ordered cold beers, and snapped photos for the obligatory Facebook updates. The restaurant music stopped abruptly, overridden by a public address advisory to “shelter in place due to criminal activity in the area.” Restaurant televisions changed from sporting events to the recorded finish line footage which we’ve all seen. Over and over again those ten seconds played, smoke and chaos, voiced-over with speculation about electrical explosions and other unlikely calamities, and eventually with the obvious and awful reality.
Ambulances queued outside, then began to move toward Boylston. Several minutes later, the first exiting ambulances passed by, and thus continued the terrible, circuitous parade. Ambulances in, ambulances out.
With all transportation in and out of downtown Boston at a standstill, my wife and I walked the three miles to our room, turned on the news, collapsed into a heap, and cried.
The gravity of what happened on April 15 is still gathering. Maybe someday I’ll be able to write or talk about it with an authoritative conclusion. For now, my 2013 Boston Marathon experience is more question marks than footnotes. What I do know is runners always come out stronger on the other side of discomfort and adversity.