About seven months into my time as a Boston transplant, I witnessed the 2012 Boston Marathon. The heat was unbelievable, rendering otherwise healthy athletes immobile after hours on the course. But somehow the race and the energy of the day drew me in.
I barely considered myself a Bostonian and definitely never before thought about running a marathon. My body wasn’t made for it; journalists don’t have time for that kind of training, and boy do marathoners look beat up by 26.2!
Boston comes alive on Marathon Monday, and it's impossible to ignore the sense of community, pride, and joy that surround the race. My desire to be a part of that trumped all of my excuses.
Nine months later I was signed on as a fundraiser for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and was running to and from work, and blocking out long hours on freezing cold Boston weekends to make sure I could cross the finish line come April. The days leading up to the race were filled with notes and phone calls from people across the city – they’d be out there cheering me on to the finish line.
But I didn’t complete my first marathon. At mile 25.7, after already mentally penning my celebratory email (“I finished, I didn’t walk once, and I NEVER HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN!”) I hit a wall of dazed, shuffling athletes. “They won’t let you finish,” one man told me as I slowed to a stop. “There was an explosion.”
I didn’t hear or see the bombs at the finish line yesterday, and I didn’t fully understand what occurred until hours later, safe at home with ice packs perched on my knees, reading the coverage and the scores of texts, emails, and voicemails of concerned friends and family.
But I’m confident that the incomplete race and the terror that ensued for the many people near the bombings yesterday afternoon will not be what I remember most vividly about April 15, 2013.
I’ll remember the fast and fleeting friendships I made on the course, like the Venezuelan couple grappling with the results of a close presidential election in their country the night before, or the gentleman who asked me to hold his chicken hat while he adjusted his bright yellow wig. It was an honor to share a few strides with the blind and visually impaired guided runners on the course who were a part of my marathon team, and it reminded me of the incredible work my fundraising would enable across the state.
The spectators were what got me from mile to mile – calling out my name (which was written on my jersey) as if they had come out just for me, and handing out orange slices, licorice, ice pops, and ample high-fives. The cheering crowd of Wellesley College students before the half-marathon mark had me laughing out loud with their witty signs listing all the reasons runners should pause and give them kisses. The old woman calling from the sideline on "heartbreak hill" that I was welcome to join her for a lemonade and sprawl out on a lawn chair made me smile so big I think I gleaned an extra mile of energy. By the time I reached what I’m calling my "mile of tears” between 23.5 and 24.5, my boyfriend had joined me and was working the crowd getting them to scream my name and propel me toward the finish.
I regret not finishing yesterday’s race, but it doesn’t change the power of the tradition of racing on Patriot's Day and all that it does to bring together the greater Boston community. The bombings were tragic and terrifying, but they didn’t define my first marathon and they won’t mar this tradition.
Already there are simple signs of community and togetherness. There were the customers treated to free coffee at a downtown Starbucks this morning thanks, one customer was told, to a woman who called in from Connecticut to make the donation. Apparently a generous stranger had done the same for her community after the Sandy Hook shootings. Two Facebook users created an event called "The last mile," to take place this weekend: an informal mile run to the finish line for those who were unable to complete yesterday's race. And friends of friends have put out calls for more donations to my fundraiser.
Who knows, maybe I’ll modify that draft email: “I [almost] finished, I didn’t walk once, and I [MIGHT JUST] HAVE TO DO IT AGAIN!”
Whitney Eulich is the Latin America editor at The Christian Science Monitor.