On Marathon Monday Christine, Leticia, and I arrived at the Boston finish area pumped to cheer for our friends at the mother of all long-distance road races. Many nonrunners “get” that qualifying to run the Boston Marathon really makes you “serious” runner, but anytime someone has asked me what exactly sets Boston apart from, say, the NYC, Chicago, or LA marathons, I’ve explained that “Boston is like the Olympics for us mere mortal runners.” It takes work to get there. I’d heard great things about the energy surrounding this local holiday, and I couldn’t wait to experience it for myself. The streets were lined with flags bearing this year’s race slogan: THIS IS YOUR MOMENT. It wasn’t my moment in that it wasn’t my race, but I smiled each time I saw those flags and considered the possibility that one day it might be. But on that morning I was excited to be a spectator, and I was sure April 15, 2013, would be a day I wouldn’t forget.
The first thing we did was walk right up to Boylston and Exeter—the intersection where the explosion occurred—to see about staking out a spot near the mile 26 marker. The crowds were already a few people deep, so I urged my friends to move farther down the street. Three blocks farther, to be exact. If you know anything about the final stretch of the Boston Marathon, you know what it means to make a “right on Hereford, left on Boylston.” Despite the crowds, we somehow ended up perfectly positioned in the front row, just a few yards past the final turn of the course. It was exhilarating to watch the elite winners and lead wheelchair finishers and then eagerly await our fast friends, Susan and Celia. After each of their 40K alerts we craned our necks to the right and kept our eyes peeled for our runners, who were supposed to pass by at any minute. When they arrived, it was absolutely thrilling to see how great they looked, particularly when Celia zeroed in on us screaming for her and broke into a huge grin as she powered forward. After we got the text alerts for their finish times we decided to head to the next block, Newbury Street, to find some lunch. As we walked away from the race, we chatted about how strong Susan looked in her comeback race, how happy Celia seemed, and how amazing it would be to someday become fast enough to qualify for Boston and run it ourselves.
The restaurant we picked was predictably a bit crowded, but we were seated on the second floor fairly quickly. We placed our orders, and then I headed to the bathroom on the first floor. On my way back upstairs I felt a slight rumble, like being in a NYC building directly above a subway when a train is passing through. I didn’t think anything of it. We were near the T, after all.
When I returned to our table, neither one of my friends was seated. Along with everyone else on the floor, they were crowded against the front windows, staring at the parallel view of Boylston. I asked them what was going on, and they said they had no idea while motioning toward all the spectators frantically running in our direction. Running away from the race. Many of them were crying. I squinted at a pack of runners dressed alike and still running up Boylston. I quickly realized they weren’t marathoners at all; they looked alike because they were police officers dressed in identical uniforms. It was undeniable: Something awful had obviously happened. We immediately pulled out our phones and began seeing news alerts about an explosion. “Do you think that’s what we just felt?” we asked one another. The bartenders then turned on the news, which depicted the finish area in flames with headlines about bombs going off. We exchanged horrified looks as we realized we were wrong to brush off what we’d felt as “probably nothing.” That’s exactly when the calls/texts/emails/tweets/Facebook messages began rolling in. I have to say, aside from the moments when we were waiting to hear from our runners, the scariest part for me was being next to the scene when it happened, yet learning exactly what had happened at the same time as everyone else outside of Boston. The uncertainty was terrifying, especially when people began contacting me to say that the police were finding more bombs in other locations and we should get out of the city.
By this point we were back at Christine’s cousin’s apartment on Newbury, where we quickly collected our belongings and got ready to walk to our train at South Station. It was a couple of miles away, but we knew better than to mess with the inevitable chaos on the T. Along the way, we encountered a depressing sight: hundreds of diverted runners walking in the middle of the street in what looked like a death march, freezing without their foil blankets and still mostly in the dark about what was going on since they couldn’t access their checked bags containing their phones. As we continued across Boston Common we heard one siren after another as ambulances and fire trucks sped by, and I felt sick knowing exactly where each one was going.
When we reached the station we saw that our train was still scheduled to depart on time, but we were worried about making it out since we had heard that no planes were leaving Logan Airport and other forms of mass transit might be shutting down. Our train did end up departing, but we had only traveled a few miles when it suddenly came to a stop and the police came through with bomb-sniffing dogs. Leticia and I looked at each other uneasily without saying anything during this time. Thankfully, the train began moving again a few minutes later. We could not get back to New York fast enough.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking What if? since Monday. We were just one block away from the blast. One. What if we had stayed at the race just a few minutes longer? What if we had watched at Boylston and Exeter after all? What if our friends who ran had been running slower? What if this had been a marathon I was running? (To put this in perspective, the explosion happened around the time that runners were clocking in at about 4 hours and 10 minutes. My marathon PR is 4:05.) This long weekend in Boston happened to fall right before I started a new job. I thought, What if I had ended up missing out on this new chapter in my career? I know nothing good will come from speculating about how much worse it could have been, but I can’t help it. It was a close call like no other I’ve ever experienced, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have emerged from it alive and injury free. I’m extremely grateful to be able to say the same for every single friend of mine who was also spectating or running Boston.
Once again, thank you so much to everyone who reached out to me in the minutes and hours after Monday’s events to find out if my friends and I were safe. It breaks my heart to think that someone could use such a happy sport, my sport, to express hate. One thing’s for certain: This will not bring us down. I’ve made so many great friends through the NYC running community, friends I adore racing with and cheering for. To quote Susan (read her whole post here), “The running community, the runner family, is a great one. I know we’ll run strong and that we won’t be deterred. We are strong in that final 0.2, and we will be after as well.”