Returning to Boston for Redemption
For the past 371 days, I have gone to bed and woken up thinking of solely returning back to #BostonMarathon and finishing what I started a year ago when I was stopped at mile 25.8 due to the explosions.
What was it like to run the 2014 Boston Marathon? In a word: surreal.
I have never been a part of such an incredible race atmosphere for an entire 26.2 miles where the streets were filled with #BostonStrong spectators from start to finish.
Boston Strong All Day Long
I woke up every morning and went to bed every night thinking about what happened last year at the Boston Marathon. No matter how much I tried to write about that experience and what I saw, I just couldn’t find the words. I sat in front of my computer night after night with a blank white page and a blinking cursor staring me square in the face. I didn’t know where to begin so I squashed my heartfelt emotion for way too long: 371 days to be exact.
April 15, 2013 – A day I will never forget
I haven’t spoken publicly about my experience in 2013; I barely shared anything with my family and friends. To be honest, I kept to myself for the better part of a year. There were lots of reasons for that but I think the tragedy in Boston and the images I saw near the finish line played a bigger role than I realized. I took time away from work. I became fairly anti-social and knew the direction I was heading wasn’t a positive one. I can own it. I am not proud of it, but that’s what happened. Call it whatever you want, but I will call it short-term depression.
My memories of that day are the following…I loved waking up at 5:30 am, taking the train downtown, and riding the bus to the starting line in Hopkinton. I dreamed of being a spectator at this race. But here I was, in Boston, runner #23041 waiting my turn to cross the start line from corral six. As the gun sounded, I started running my race, capturing video footage with my GoPro Camera and snapping pictures along the way.
I remember running and seeing spectators on both sides of the course for miles on end. I remember seeing a military man running with a 40-pound backpack up a hill at Mile 4. I remember seeing my mom jumping up and down at Mile 12. I remember passing the women of Wellesley and wondering why I didn’t stop for a kiss. I remember a little boy handing me salted pretzel sticks at Mile 20 as I fought my way up Heartbreak Hill. I remember posing with a man at the top of Heartbreak Hill and thinking “I am so happy that I will never have to run this hill again in my life!” I remember stopping at Mile 23 to hug my mom and good friend Adam. I remember being stopped at Mile 25.8 and being told “Your race is over!” by a Boston bomb squad officer. I remember being in denial. I remember people panicking. I remember my cell phone not working for what seemingly felt like hours. I remember finally speaking to my parents and letting them know I was safe. I remember things I wish I didn’t remember near the finish line. I remember walking 10 miles back to my friend’s place since all forms of transportation were halted. I remember thinking about how I stopped at Mile 12 and 23 to take a combined 15-minute break. I remember saying, “I will finish what I started.”
On February 27, 2014 at 9:36 a.m., I remember receiving a golden opportunity to run the 2014 Boston Marathon. Overcome with emotion and excitement, I was in disbelief, but I knew one thing: I was going to be at that finish line!
April 21, 2014 – A race atmosphere like no other
Today, I feel proud and humbled to be given a second opportunity.
Today, I Run4Papa.
Today, I run for #BostonStrong
Today, I run for the spectators who were at the right place at the wrong time.
Today, I run to honor those who tragically lost their lives.
Today, I run for the countless supporters of all 36,000 fellow marathoners and their causes.
Today, I run because I love life and believe in redemption.
A year ago, I said, “I will finish what I started” and I intended to deliver on that promise.
Unlike last year, I barely slept. I closed my eyes at 11:30 pm, and woke up at 2:43, 3:59, 4:22, and 5:41 in the morning. After hopping in the shower, I glanced down at my racing gear and thought to myself, “In 11 hours, I will be celebrating the completion of the Boston Marathon.” Adrenaline was rushing through every vein in my body; and to be fair, it was flowing the second I stepped off the plane in Boston 72 hours ago.
Like a year ago, I took the train toward downtown Boston. But unlike a year ago, people on the train were saying, “Thank you for running. Thank you for coming back. Boston Strong!” People wanted to know if I had a “story.” I smiled and said, “We all have one.”
Taking the bus from downtown to where everything begins in Hopkinton was exhilarating. On any other race day, I would keep to myself, save energy and focus on the mental visualization of 26.2 miles ahead. Nothing was normal about today and I loved it. I was listening and chatting away to everyone on the bus. Everyone had a story and a reason to be in Boston. A man whose dream it was to run Boston finally qualified on his 60th birthday. Twin sisters who came to Boston because they wanted to run together in honor of their friends that couldn’t. A teacher inspired by his class to raise breast cancer awareness; a cancer that took the life of his mother 4 short months before. A guy from Charlotte, North Carolina who was stopped at Mile 25.8 desperately looking to get that piece of his life back on track. The slogan for this year’s Boston Marathon was We Run Together. Boy, was that spot on.
Sitting in the athlete’s village, all I could think about was getting to that start line. I stretched, ate some bananas, drank some water and marched my lanky frame over to Corral 9. My race officially began at 11:11 a.m. as I took my first step across the starting line and ran mile after mile with Boston Strong spectators lining both sides of the streets. From Miles 1-5, it felt like the Tour de France with an estimated 500,000 people cheering 36,000 runners; however, it felt more like millions. I was being pat on the back as I ran by fans shouting “BOSTON STRONG!” Kids were running for 30-second stretches alongside us. Since I never run with music, this type of atmosphere was beyond stimulating and downright inspiring.
At Mile 8, I stopped to hug my parents along with my good friends Adam and Lauren. What a huge honor it was to share this experience with them. Last year, I heard my dad’s voice crying on the other side of the phone, relieved to finally hear from me approximately two hours after the bombings went off. This year, he was smiling and beaming with pride! After a brief pit stop, I continued running knowing that we would see each other seven miles later. At Mile 10, I came upon a man hobbling pretty badly. Once I read his shirt, I understood: running my 150th marathon with a torn Achilles! Incredible.
Approaching the halfway point, I heard women testing the limits of their vocal cords. This year, I was prepared for the women of Wellesley. While I am not one to kiss and tell, I promise you I didn’t casually run by this quarter mile stretch of screaming women and epic signage! Thank you to those that wanted to give this guy an extra boost, you know who you are!
Mile 13.1, wait, what!?! Already. Two hours in and my race was already half over. I’ve never been overly concerned with time, but this was going way too quickly. What rush was I in? The weather was a comfy 65 degrees and I wanted to slow everything down and absorb this remarkable atmosphere. Plus, I started too quickly and knew my calves were going to catch up with the rest of my body, and not in a pleasant way. At Mile 14.5, I saw my entourage again, despite thinking we missed each other half mile back. This was a massive lift! It’s one thing to hear random people rooting for you, it’s another to have it be your own parents and crew.
Feeding off their energy, I began sprinting as my friend Adam ran side by side for several blocks filming away and capturing all angles of this race for R4P. Between Miles 15-20, I passed a man with a prosthetic leg, a teenager on crutches, and a blind woman with a guide all making their way through the hills of Newton toward Heartbreak Hill. Inspiration mixed with undeniable courage continued lifting those running who were beginning to hit the wall.
And then, the monster of all hills. Heartbreak Hill. A year ago, I never wanted to see this puppy again. This year, I was going to enjoy every step. That’s right. My calves were shot and my body was fairly exhausted but how many people can say they ran Heartbreak Hill twice and actually savored it the second time around? This guy can! And when I reached the top of this grueling hill, I was sad it was done. I closed my eyes and took a couple of minutes to be in the moment. We rarely do that in life…
The next 5 miles were a combination of cramping and a fair amount of people willing runners forward. My body was tired, but I didn’t care. I was in Boston. I had another chance to run this race. I was given another opportunity to finish. And nothing was going to prevent that from happening. I received a text from my team that they were eagerly waiting at Mile 25.2; they were ecstatic when I came jogging to a comfortable halt. Pictures and hugs and pictures and more hugs were being dished out like an all-you-can-eat buffet. I recall saying, “what do you think, keep going or call it a day?”
That said it all. It meant everything to have them at this race. Everything.
The last mile was the longest. And it was intentional.
I couldn’t believe a year ago, I was in Boston and so close to the finish line. In fact, as soon as I got to Mile 25.8, I lost it emotionally. At one point, I asked a spectator to capture some raw thoughts on film (the only footage I haven’t seen since returning from Boston). Here I was, back again, but totally ready for redemption through the support of so many people. I was ready to run those .4 miles and cross the 118th Boston Marathon finish line.
Almost 6 hours into the race, Bolyston street was still packed with people cheering at the top of their lungs. You would’ve thought this was the homestretch of the elite men’s and women’s run. I kept propelling forward but ended up gliding from one side of the street to the other. I was high-fiving everyone one I could. I was stopping for pictures and probably had a million watt smile across my face. The man next to me said, “I feel like an Olympian right now.” I don’t know what an Olympic athlete feels like, but I went with it. The last 500 feet seemed to go in slow motion. I had dreamed and obsessed over this moment for 371 days! After 138,336 strides, I dropped to the ground, kissed that famous yellow and blue finish line and pumped my fists in complete exhilaration.
I was no longer a runner, I was a Boston Marathoner!