Running a marathon in a big city you’ve never been to is never an easy task, going alone is even harder. Last year I qualified for Boston for the first time at the New Orleans Rock n’ Roll Marathon. It wasn’t until November that I decided I should sign up for Boston when I knew that this might be my only chance to run a marathoners dream run before I moved back overseas with my Fiance where the military would inevitably keep me far away from the east coast. After struggling through achilles tendonitis and lacking in my training, I woke up Friday morning and told myself “just go, just have fun and enjoy the course.” I couldn’t find anyone to go with me but I had some friends that were in the local area, so I figured I would just hop in my car, drive 5 hours north, and let the winds take me where I needed to go.
I find that at most big racing events, especially marathons, the day before is one of the most amazing energetic and positive experiences and it’s very contagious. In Boston, it was more energetic than any place I had ever been before. Runner’s everywhere warming up their legs, shaking out the nerves and soaking up the beautiful morning. Being on my own, I just had to join them! After a 5 miler around the city, I felt more ready then ever for the next morning!
At Boston, there are no novices, no newbies. At Boston, every one has done at least one Marathon prior and every runner has a regimen they are following. As I dropped my car off at Lechmere Station to take the T-Rail to Park, I watched as Runner’s flowed into the station, some with head phones, some with coffee, others with hot oatmeal. I sat across from a girl from Colorado, she had 4 coats on, 2 pairs of pants, gloves and a beanie and she was sweating and laughing at herself for the amount of clothes she had put on. We got to talking and I went to look at my watch to see what time it was and noticed I had forgotten it. Now, if you are runner you are probably shaking your head right now saying “you forgot your watch?!?!” Even Colorado girl was pretty concerned for me. I shook it off. Oh-well, only one thing I can do now — listen to my body. Due to my injury and minimal training I planned on running a 4:10. I didn’t want to go faster so I was really relying on that watch until I realized there was no turning back at that point. I asked Colorado Girl what she was going to run the race in, she said “well I want to PR, 3:02”. Well I certainly wasn’t going to pace myself off of her. As we get off of the T-Rail, buses were lined up on Tremont St and people were lining up to be corralled on the buses to take us to Hopkinton (apprx 30 mins away). After chatting about running Colorado Girl and I bid adieu and I decided I needed to find another runner, more my pace. On the bus I sat next to “Wisconsin Girl”. She was much more my style! As we sat on the bus and discussed our previous marathons, how many we have done, our times, places we’ve raced, we listened to an Australian and British man talk behind us. 36 hours of travel for the Aussie – just to run Boston! As much as we both knew it, we were still amazed as to the amount that people travel for this race. It truly is an amazing way to bring countries together – to run. After departing the bus, Wisconsin girl and I never saw each other again. I never got her name, I never looked at her number. The chaos from getting off of the bus to Athlete’s village split us, she said to me before leaving the bus “in case I don’t see you again, good luck and have a nice life”. We hugged and parted ways never to see each other again. After arriving into Athlete’s village we had 3 hours until the race start. So I grabbed a bagel, a coffee and I found a nice comfy spot of concrete and sat. After about an hour and “Vegas Girl” sat next to me. The ground was freezing and after about 30 minutes we were able to snag an Adidas yoga mat and share it. We sat for an hour, talking about racing, qualifying and how both of us have FINALLY made it to Boston. We were both excited to be there, and amongst 27,000 runners found each other. A photographer came over and took our picture “sharing a yoga mat, I love it!” We must have been the only strangers sharing a mat. I never got any of these girls names. I know where they are from, I know their race times, I know where they have run before and where they qualified for Boston. I know they all had a husband or boyfriend waiting for them at the finish line. Me? I was doing this solo. I had no idea what I would do after the race or where I would go, I was just going to finish.
Race start. Vegas girl and I hugged, wished each other luck and took off.
I finished the Boston Marathon with an official time of 3:53.35. Clock time 3:58.03 and the first bomb went off at 4:09.53. For those that have not run the race, when you finish there are tons of people handing out water, bananas, power bars, gatorade, and then finally your race medals. After being shuffled through the large crowd of runners you walk over to the buses and find your number, stand in line and wait to retrieve your bag. It’s a very crowded scene and very slow moving. After what seemed like a while, but was only about 5 minutes I continued walking out of the crowds and tried to make my way to a sidewalk where I could put my gear down and attempt to get away from the wind. I had never been to a race by myself and when you finish a race like this, all you want to do is share that joy with someone. I immediately turned to my phone. 10% battery power left. Crap. I walked over to the Starbucks (right where the bomb went off). It seemed full and I wanted to be able to plug my phone in. I knew there was another Starbucks/coffee shop down the street, “just need to plug my phone in”. BOOM. A block away and my body shook. I stopped, my head turned and looked back to see a huge cloud of smoke. In shock I stood there for a minute, waiting for the smoke to clear. Everyone around me with the same confused looks, people running towards us, crying, hugging, hysterical tears streaming down their faces. I stood. I looked at my phone. Dead. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Find that Starbucks. BOOM. Another one, further away this time, thank god I wasn’t going in that direction. Fuck. I get to the Starbucks. “What’s going on out there?” A bomb, I need hot tea and a plug for my phone.
I waited for 10 minutes for my phone to charge. A drank my tea nervously and watched from the window 2 blocks away as people located themselves further away from the finish line. They locked the doors – Starbucks was closing. Fuck. I finally get a hold of my friend via text, who is a nurse that works nights at Mass General Hospital (MGH). “Where are you? I’m coming to get you”. I don’t know. I leave Starbucks. My phone is still dying. I’m standing on the sidewalk between Mass and Common, a man comes up behind me, hugs my shoulders and says “do you need help? I can help you, I live right across the street, come inside, let us get you some water, food, anything you need.” He scoops up my bag, puts his arms around me and takes me to his house, where over 40 runners and families are camping out, making phone calls, crying, watching the news on the TV that is happening directly down the street. “Are you alone?” Yes, kind of, I can’t find my friend. “Where are they?” I don’t know. Within minutes I had a cookie in one hand, a water in the other and a girl was on my phone helping me to find Andrea. The Commons. I walked back into the chaos. A police officer tapped my shoulder and said, “ma’am that bus will take you to the commons”. Perfect. Like sardines, runners were piled into buses and brought away from the scene. As I unloaded the bus at the Commons and made my way to the designated area where Andrea and I would meet, my Dad calls. “Hey Sarah, I’m glad your okay, I love you so much, but I didn’t want to tell you this before your race and worry you but you need to know something, I know this isn’t great timing but Mom-Mom passed away this morning, she was very sick.” No. Not today. He’s crying. “She was there with you for this race, she has been there with you this who time, she was looking out for you and has protected you through this.” No. I drop my bag, the tears flow, a woman, a stranger, scoops me up and hugs me. She doesn’t know why, she doesn’t care. She hugs me. I thank her and she walks away as I see Andrea. After talking to my parents, Andrea and I walk to her house by MGH, about a mile away. I shower. We eat and she goes to work. We are sure she will have a long night ahead of her. I walk 2 miles to my car and I leave the city and head to Lowell where I have other friends — Bobby, Casey and Melissa. They took me in, gave me a bed and a beer. It was perfect.
Now as I sit in my house in New Jersey, I wonder how Colorado, Wisconsin and Vegas girls are doing. How their husbands and boyfriend are doing. If they made it out safely. Why didn’t I get their names? I wonder if they think the same thing? When you meet someone you don’t think about how you may never see them again, you don’t question someone bombing a crowded area and make a point to know their name and everything about them. I can only hope that these 3 girls and their loved ones had someone looking over them and made it out just as I did.
I can’t tell you how amazing it was when I was able to get cell service and look at my text messages, facebook and twitter accounts and see the love and concern from hundreds of people. My sisters had contacted me and were updating people on facebook pages they didn’t know but could see people were asking about me. People I didn’t know, friends of friends that knew that they knew someone running in the race that day. I tried to count but after 200 comments and likes and mentions, I lost count. I don’t even know how to put into words how much love I felt when reading those comments and I don’t know how to thank each and every person for thinking of me. Andrea, Bobby, Casey and Melissa — you all were life savors by giving me a place to sleep before and after the race. I don’t know if I could have done it alone. To those people that took me in to their home and helped me, you deserve only the best things in the world, your big hearts and open arms saved a lot of people that day, and you probably didn’t even think twice about it. Just amazing how, in what we feel is such a hateful world sometimes, our country can truly come together and support each other like the family we all should be. The running community has always been a family to me and I think most runners will say the same thing. We are a family. You can go to any city and find a runner that will take you in. We get it.
I’m actually glad I forgot my watch, I’m glad I ran faster than I expected and listened to my body, I’m glad that my parents and/or friends didn’t join me at the finish line. For the first time, I’m glad I was a lonely runner that day.
One of the ~12,000 that received a medal that day out of 27,000.
(This photo is from the internet and not my own):
Below: Starbucks I was standing at minutes prior to the explosion