Saturday, April 20, 2013

Boston Marathon Recap

Over the last few days I have grappled with a lot of emotions, mostly negative, and I've struggled with how to even begin to summarize what should have been one of the brightest days of my life.  I can't really think of a way to talk about the bad without talking about the good, and vice versa.  The day was the best and worst, so that's how I'll attempt to explain it.  Forgive me if I ramble.

How I got roped into this...
I can't start off talking about the marathon without giving some background.  Fact: I'm not much of a marathon runner.  Fact:  I never ran more than ten steps until 2009, except for the rare occasion when I'd have to chase a loose horse.  When I joined my running club I met people (real people!) who have actually run the marathon and I was amazed to even know people that could run that far.  Two years ago I brought my son to watch the marathon start in Hopkinton and was star struck by the elites, inspired by the mobility impaired, and dazzled by the sheer volume of runners out there busting their asses to raise money for worthy causes.  And I thought, I could never do this.  Could I?  I wonder, if I had enough training and time, if I could do it someday.  Fast forward two weeks, where in the span of a millisecond I tore my hip socket apart in an unfortunate misstep on a trail run, and my "Could I's" were replaced with "Never will's".

At last year's Boston Marathon, as I continued to mend from my hip surgery, I volunteered at the 2 mile water stop in Ashland.  Again I was star struck, again inspired, and again dazzled.  And I thought, I think I want to do this.  If I can stay healthy and my hip heals up right, I might just want to give this a try.  

Throughout last year's track season, I became very close to the other girls and we started running long on the weekends together in addition to our Wednesday night track ritual.  On these long runs we started talking about Boston.  About how great it would be if we could all get numbers and run America's greatest race all together.  We were elated when all of us received numbers through various means, and spent countless hours running, swimming, biking, talking, laughing, crying, eating, and drinking together.  They supported me when I broke my foot, we supported Coleen through her sicknesses, Jackie through her foot pain, Marie through her heel pain, Julia through her IT band pain.  We suffered together.  We froze together.  We were sandblasted in the face by salt trucks together.  These events all shaped us into stronger people and only created even greater excitement and enthusiasm for our upcoming marathon.  It wasn't a perfect training season for any of us individually, but collectively it was.  I can't imagine ever being able to replicate our amazing journey that led up to this day.

Marathon weekend
On Saturday, I went into Boston with Marie and her husband Anthony to the Hynes Convention Center for the packet pickup and race expo.  Just surviving the trip is in itself an accomplishment and test of endurance.  The city was in complete gridlock due to the expo and the Red Sox game. We finally made it in, got our numbers, and braved the crowds to do a little shopping.  The thick crowds deterred me from spending too much, but I did manage to get the essentials.

Yes, the stuffed unicorn was essential
After the race expo, we headed back to Marie's house for a pre-race dinner and manicure party with the rest of the track girls.  It was a great way to cap off our training season!

Marathon Morning
We met on Marathon Morning at Julia's house in Milford, and then went together to EMC in Hopkinton to get the bus to the start line.  I was surprised at how far away the bus dropped us off from the Athlete's Village, but the walk was kind of nice to "take it all in" and try to calm the nerves.  As we were walking towards the Athlete's Village, all of the runners in Wave 1 were heading to the start line.  It was great watching them head towards their race.  The crowds were very thick at the village but the buses were well organized and I dropped off my bag in the bag check with ease.  Despite the tens of thousands of people in the village, we found other members of our running club with little trouble.  I wonder if it had anything to do with our shirts.

Until this picture was taken I literally had no idea I was this short.  What an eye opener!

Want to hear a really bad joke?  Just before we left the Athlete's Village, Marie started making her race drink by pouring white powder into her bottle.  With the breeze and shaky hands, quite a bit of the powder ended up on the ground.  Ready for it?  So then I say, "And the 117th Boston Marathon is canceled when suspicious white powder is found at the start line, prompting a terrorist scare and evacuation!"  Not so funny now, is it?

The Race
We made our way back towards the start line, pee'd a whole bunch more times, and then headed into our corrals.  The feeling was electric.  We were super-charged.  Jittery, excited, chilly, anxious.  There were smiles, laughs, and tears of joy.  When the gun went off, I screamed like I had been shot in the ass, and we started the slow walk to the start line.

The first mile was extremely crowded and nearly impossible to maneuver around anyone.  That was probably a blessing because otherwise I think a lot of us would have sprinted off the start line and down the hill.  We all settled into a slow pace and were completely amazed by the thick lines of spectators on both sides of the street.  My son and sister were at TJ's bar in Ashland so I stayed on the left side of the road so I could see them.  That was a fun section since everyone at TJ's had been there since 7am and were pretty riled up and sauced.  Just after passing TJ's, Jackie and I edged our way over to the right side of the street to wave to Kerri who was working at the 2 mile water stop.  After that, it was time to settle in.  I wouldn't see anymore familiar faces until mile 13.

Funny comment from a spectator that I overheard: "Oh my God, is this ever going to end?!"  Clearly that person isn't cut out to be a marathon runner, if they can't even stand in one spot and watch a marathon go by.

Down, down, down the course went through Hopkinton and Ashland and into Framingham.  Some sections of road were bare, but most were full of house parties and huge groups of spectators.  We saw lots of drunk people and smelled lots of grills.  During our training run on the course I commented on how ugly Framingham was.  Well what a difference a day makes.  I loved running through Framingham on race day!  The streets were packed with spectators, huge sound systems blasting Latin music, and smells of food that were so good it made my stomach growl.  I also decided at this stage of the race that I liked being a back-of-the-pack runner.  These runners are more fun.  I got passed by a guy wearing a tutu, a guy whose entire body was spray painted red, and a guy dressed like Pesky's Pole.  At first I got a kick out of Pesky's Pole.  Every spectator did too.  But after running near this guy for 10 miles, it wasn't fun anymore.  How many times could I bear to hear, "Oh look, it's Pesky Pole!"  I just wanted to beat them to it and yell, "Yeah let me guess, Pesky Pole right?  Big F'ing deal!"

I didn't even mean to take a picture of Pesky, but he managed to photo-bomb just about every picture I tried to take of the Wellesley girls.  What a jerk.  (Is it now considered in poor taste to use the term "photo bomb", particularly as it relates to marathons?  I just don't know).

Other popular get-ups were cheeseburgers.  And if you're sitting there thinking, "hey I have a great idea.  Next year I'm going to be super original and dress up like a cheeseburger and run the marathon, because no one would ever think of doing that", let me save you the trouble.

Another funny spectator comment I overheard: "More cheeseburgers?  I can't believe how many cheeseburgers are running today!"  Translate:  I can't believe how many people are wearing cheeseburger costumes and running faster than me.  Sigh...

Funny spectator moment:  The sign that said, "Smile if you're not wearing underwear!"  I smiled, because I couldn't help it, even though I was wearing underwear.

At mile 13 I was excited to see my friends Anthony, Joe, and Jeff guarding the 13 mile clock.

All smiles heading at mile 13
After a quick hug, I took off for the second half of the race.  I knew the next familiar face I would see would be my mother, who was going to be "somewhere after Heartbreak Hill and wearing a bright yellow jacket".

Funny spectator moment:  There were dozens of trampolines lined up along the road and spectators were jumping on them.  I have no idea why.  But it was hysterical for some reason.

Shortly after leaving Anthony's crew, things started happening that I didn't expect.  My legs got really weak and tired.  I started craving Gatorade, which I don't usually drink. I took a freeze pop from a spectator.  I started walking through the water stops, and then found myself walking for about a full minute after the water stops.  I did everything I could to preserve the energy I had and fuel myself the best I could, but I knew that today wasn't my day to run hard.  I can't explain it exactly, but I was really okay with it.  My only other marathon was Disney, with a semi-broken foot in a time of 5:24, so really anything would be better than that.  While out on the course, I mentally adjusted my original goal of 4:30, and decided I would be totally fine with finishing in 4:45 if it meant I would finish the race upright and happy.

Funny spectator moment: The lady that said, "Hurry up and finish this damn race!"

The Wellesley girls were every bit as awesome as I've heard!

The part of the race I dreaded the most wasn't Heartbreak Hill.  It was the 95 overpass.  This section of the course was a source of extreme anxiety during the training runs.  Again, what a difference a day makes.  Without traffic, dodging people coming on and off the highway, and navigating up and down huge curbs, I got up and over the highway with no issue whatsoever.  When I turned right at the fire house onto route 30 and started up the first of the hills, I welcomed the change of direction.  Finally, a bit of a headwind hit me.  Some people hate the headwind, but I enjoyed the breeze.  It cooled me down and brought me back to life.  I started making my way up the hill and caught up to Justin, one of our club members.  I walked with him for a few seconds to say hi and tell him what a great job he was doing, and then I continued on.  I had been talking myself out of believing that I had to pee for quite a while, but after the second hill I realized that maybe I actually did have to go, and since at this point I knew I wasn't going to win the laurel wreath or even a scrap of prize money, I made a quick in-and-out.  I also started keeping my eyes peeled for Mom, just in case she found a spot earlier in the course.  She ended up being very easy to spot, right at mile 21, on a street corner all by herself.  Which reminds me, I saw the funniest sign from a spectator.  It said, "It's called a marathon!  If it were easy, it would be called 'your mother'!"  I stopped at mom, gave her a big stinky hug, and drank half of her bottle of water.  I told her I was tired but feeling good.  She said just 5 miles left to go, and with that I was off and running with energy restored.

The final miles
Two great things came out of doing training runs on the course.  1. I was very familiar with the beginning of the course, so I was prepared for the long downhills and was prepared for the uphills when my legs were gassed.  2.  I had never run past mile 21, so from that point on everything was new and exciting again.  After mile 21 it heads downhill again, straight past Boston College.  This turned out to be my absolute least favorite part of the course.  The spectators were rowdy, shitfaced coeds that seemed less "motivating" and more "disorderly".  This is the only time in the race that I wished I had brought an iPod to tune out the crowds.  Of course, at this point I was also very tired, absolutely starving, and I had a blister on the bottom of my foot that had been bothering me for about 10 miles.  At mile 23, that sucker popped, and holy crap did that hurt.  After a minute of searing pain, it didn't bother me anymore, probably because at least the pressure was relieved that had been building up.  Also, adrenaline kicked in when I spotted this welcome sign.

It took me two days to go back and look at the pictures from the Boston Marathon.  When I did, I was struck by this picture.  At the time, I thought I was just taking a picture of the Citgo sign.  Looking back, I believe this was shortly after the bombing, as the cops were starting to get questions from the spectators.

Mile 24
Hitting the mile 24 marker was exciting, because I said to myself, "I only have to run for about 22 more minutes".  However, my foot was killing me because my feet had swelled and my shoes were tied too tight.  The decision to be made was, do I grin and bear it in pain for 22 minutes, or do I stop and fix my shoes.  At this point it wasn't about my time, because I was only going to waste about 30 seconds and really, what's the difference.  The concern was, if I stopped, would I be able to start again.  I had decided a couple miles back that I couldn't take anymore walk breaks because it was so hard to start running again, and I was worried that stopping now would be a disaster.  But, the top of my foot was screaming at me, and I saw an empty spectator chair, so I ran over to it, plopped my soggy butt in it, and fixed my shoe.  Then the weirdest thing happened.  Another runner came up to me, phone up to her ear, and told me she heard there was some sort of explosion at the finish line.  I said, what does that mean?  Like what kind of explosion?  She didn't know, and we thought, well maybe it's a hoax, or some punk with a firecracker, or the clock fried, or a manhole cover blew.  So weird.  Anyhoo, time to finish up this race.

Mile 25
We all know I don't run well when under stress, so it seemed a little cruel for the last two miles of my Boston Marathon to be stressing out over what was happening at the finish line.  We're lucky I didn't crap my pants right then and there.  I had wished that lady never said anything to me, since obviously nothing was wrong.  If there was any form of danger at the finish line, none of these cops or National Guard lined up along the course would sit and watch us march toward doom.  The volunteers wouldn't still be handing us water and saying "almost done!" and the spectators wouldn't still be standing there cheering us on.  I saw the sign "1 mile to go!" and was kicking it up a notch to finish strong.  Less than 10 minutes left to run, I told myself.

My first clue that something was really off was when I noticed a significant shift in behavior from the cops and National Guard.  Up until this point in the course, they had all been watching the runners.  Now they were watching the spectators.  They were analyzing crowds, looking for suspicious activity.  The cops wore frowns, and the National Guardsman looked like they were going to war.  I saw runners running with phones up to their ears.  I heard sirens.  Not the occasional ambulance siren that we sometimes unfortunately hear during these types of races, but armies of sirens.  Helicopters hovered over us.  The mood of the race changed from jubilation into confusion and terror.

At mile 25.7, Jackie spotted me, ran across the street, grabbed my arm, and pulled me off the course.  She told me the race was over.  Something bad happened, and they were diverting runners.  In hindsight, it seems hard to believe that I didn't comprehend what she was saying, especially after everything I had witnessed over the last mile.  But my nearly 26 miles of running, sheer exhaustion, and determination to cross that finish line left me bewildered.  I questioned where they were diverting runners to, because that's where I wanted to go, to cross wherever the new finish line was.  I didn't stop my watch, because I couldn't grasp that this really was the end for me.  After several minutes of her explaining the situation, and seeing Julia's somber face, and realizing that neither of them finished the race, I shut off my watch and sat on the curb.  And then I nearly froze to death.

The bitter end - refugee status
Quickly I stiffened up and got really cold, really fast.  My heel seized up on me.  I hobbled over to a medical tent and grabbed a heat sheet and wrapped myself in it for a tiny bit of warmth, while Jackie, Julia, and Mike tried frantically to call people.  Our cells weren't working to make calls or send texts, but I could receive texts.  Being unable to reach our friends that were on the course ahead of us, or any of our friends that were spectating at the finish line left us in a state of complete panic.  We couldn't get to the bus that had our checked bags, and we couldn't get to the shuttle bus back to Hopkinton.  Maybe we could, I'm not really sure.  It was so confusing and the cops weren't up for playing tour guide, and I don't really know my way around Boston.  My shivering turned into groaning as I rocked back and forth to stay warm and clutched my heel that was in extreme pain.  Jackie (bless her) tossed me a bottle of Ibuprofin and I took 4, and leaned against her for warmth.  In a matter of minutes, I went from near-triumphant Boston Marathon finisher to refugee in survival mode.  We spend months planning not only how to run the race, but how to recover from it.  I had a bag packed and waiting for me at the finish line with warm clothes, salty snacks, and a recovery drink.  Instead, we sat there feeling very vulnerable.  Julia's husband found us, and he literally gave me the shirt off his back (which went to my knees) and his kid's peanut butter sandwich.  I continued trying to use my phone and although I still couldn't make a call, I was able to put an update on Facebook saying that I was okay.  A cop stopped by and searched Mike's backpack (which we later speculated he was probably very happy to only find some face wipes, Ibuprofin, and Jackie's underwear) and then told us we needed to get off the street.  Where, we asked?  That way, he pointed.  Away from the finish line.  Kind of a broad definition, we thought.  We're just simple country people.  We contemplated taking the green line out of the city, but I refused to take any form of mass transit.  Not an issue, it turns out, since they shut down the green line.  We tried to get a cab, but they were all full.  We even flagged down a limo, but he wasn't up for a field trip to Hopkinton.  So we walked.  Slowly, still panicking, still trying to use the phone, with purple lips and agonizing footsteps, we walked down Comm Ave away from the city.  Eventually we were far enough out of the fray that our phones worked, so we made a couple critical calls to make sure our friends were all accounted for, and to our families to let them know we were safe.  Jackie called her sister to come pick us up "in the biggest vehicle you can find".  And then we found a bar.  I've never been so proud of myself for packing my phone, my driver's license, and a 20 dollar bill in my race belt!

When faced with terror, we revert to something familiar...
After about a half hour sitting at the bar, Jackie and I realized that not only did we look like refugees, but our faces were caked with salt from sweating.  So we washed our faces.  Right on our bar stools.  Who's gonna say no?

Classy :-)
Jackie's sister and family arrived, and true to word, they showed up in the biggest vehicle they had. A roomy van, tall enough to stand in, with a TV, cushy seats with arm rests, and lots of blankets in the back to keep us warm.  I think the only thing missing was the stripper pole.  I jokingly said the only thing that would make this van better was if it had booze in it.  Guess what, it got better!

The aftermath
It's hard to put into words how I feel about the day.  I'm angry.  Sad.  Scared.  Depressed.  Empty.  Lost.  Disappointed.  And on top of that I feel guilty for feeling all of those things.  Things you aren't supposed to hear after you run a marathon: "I'm so glad you're safe".  "I'm so glad you're alive".  You aren't supposed to hear phrases like "The Boston Marathon Massacre".  "The victims of the Boston Marathon".  "The Boston Marathon Memorial Service".  People are showing resilience and saying, "I'll be back next year, and it will be better than ever!".  I'm just not there yet. Right now I don't want to be in a city.  I don't want to be in a crowd of people, and I don't want to run down Boylston Street.  It's a road race, it's not supposed to be scary.  It's not a violent sport, or a controversial one, and people aren't supposed to be murdered.  I couldn't wait to cross the finish line because one of the first things I was going to do was call my friend Scott and tell him to hurry up and qualify for Boston because this was the best race ever and he needs to do it!  That was robbed from me.  The race has left me feeling unfulfilled instead of triumphant.  Some peoples' reaction to that is to immediately sign up for another marathon next month as a do-over.  Some races are setting up special finish lines for the Boston runners that didn't finish, so that they can cross a "Boston" finish line in a symbolic gesture.  I don't think either of those things will help me feel closure.  For me, the marathon is what it is, and only time will heal that wound.

I'm getting by the best way I can.  I'm grieving, and it's tough to relive that day and tough to hear it from my friends' perspectives, who all had slightly different vantage points and proximities to the bombing.  I'm dark and unfriendly at times.  I've been moody, flying off the handle at my family, and I've cried in stores for no reason at all.  Any downtime leaves me feeling fidgety.  Public places make me sweat.  I've heard all of these things are normal, so I'm doing the best I can, trying not to watch the news too much, and hoping that I can find peace.  One thing is for sure.  These days following the marathon have been harder than the days leading up to it, but again I've been so fortunate to endure it with some amazing people.

Coleen is missing from this photo, but she's amazing too!


  1. Time heals what reason cannot. ~Seneca

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Jill! I enjoyed reading the details about your marathon prep and the race itself - before the craziness - as well as how the tragic events impacted you all. It's great to see the pictures of all of you, healthy and wearing your medals. Thanks again. Hope to see you at a race or soon.

  3. P.S. - LOVE that "Run now. Wine later." shirt! I need to get one of those. :)

    1. I think she got that at

  4. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  5. My heart goes out to you Jill, I'm sorry for your pain and hope in time you will heal from this tragedy.

  6. I know I saw those shirts in the village! I was looking for my own team members with yellow tanktops, saw your team and was like there they are! But then it wasn't my team and I was like WTF. I keep running into you without knowing it lol. I'm glad you're safe and I love reading your blog.

    1. That is too funny - Congrats on your marathon too. I just started following your blog. Funny to see our different perspectives. I think it's a good thing that both of us had issues along the course that day.

  7. This is one of your best. So sorry it was inspired by something so tragic. You continue to amaze me with your strength.