This was supposed to be my year in Boston.
In the past, I’d battled injuries and encountered terrible weather on Marathon Monday. This year, the forecast was ideal. My training was on point, and I had new shoes. I was going to rock it on the course this year. Even with my mysterious groin pain about week out from the race, I was in good spirits and felt confident. I, I, I. Everything was about me.
It all seems so insignificant and selfish now.
As I predicted, the day went in my favor. I was on. Missed setting a PR [Personal Record] by 40-ish seconds, but squeaked out another qualifying time and secured my entry for the 2014 event. Everything was going exactly as I’d hoped, and I was on cloud nine as I crossed the finish line. I finally could enjoy the Boston experience from start to finish, until tragedy struck and everything changed. I wasn’t near the blast when it happened, but as a participant in the race (and the two consecutive years prior), I can’t shake this sad, somber feeling. Since I’m still a little too sore to head out for a run, all I can do is write and share my experience with the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Saturday, April 13
The expo was located at the Hynes Convention Center this year, and the energy levels and excitement was at an all time high. My friends and I sailed through the expo, picking up our race bibs and t-shirts, buying the obligatory jacket, a new pair of Newtons and some GU for the big day. The expo changes it’s location each year, and I particularly love when it’s located at Hynes. It’s in a mall right on Boyleston Street, so you can see the finish line freshly painted on the road. Inside the mall, there are plenty of places to eat and shop, and it also has a Catholic church with daily masses. We made it from Allentown in time to get to the expo and hear mass there. The priest said a special prayer for the runners at the end, and you could sense his excitement for the upcoming Marathon Monday. It’s like that all over Boston: everything is alive with excitement, and the locals are thrilled to have you supporting their beloved city.
Sunday, April 14
At 8am, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) hosted it’s fifth annual 5K race to add to the energy. Two of my friends, Emily and Missy, came up to Boston to run the 5K and cheer me on. I got up that morning and made my way to the two-mile mark of the race. The excitement over the weekend events and anticipation for the marathon continued to build, and both of my friends ran amazing PRs. From the elite runners leading the pack through the very last finisher, everyone wore smiles on their face as they ran.
After the 5K, I ran a few miles with Emily to shake my legs out for the big day. There were runners all through the city doing the same thing, and Bart Yasso even led a shakeout run that began at the Sheraton. Everywhere you looked people were smiling, laughing, and wishing each other good luck. Everyone you passed on the street were your friends, and fellow runners were your brothers and sisters.
Monday, April 15—Marathon Monday
There was a chill in the air as my alarm went off at 4:45am and I began to prepare for the run. It was only 30 degrees out, but I still wore shorts and a tank. I know how warm it gets during the day on that course, since the start time is much later than most races. The weather forecast predicted 50+ degrees with intermittent clouds and just a slight four to five mph breeze. Ideal running conditions. I didn’t want to be underdressed, so I bundled up over my running attire to keep warm until the start of the race. From the moment I got on the T from Brookline to Boyleston, the city was alive with runners and buzzing with excitement. Everyone was talking and exchanging stories of previous Boston experiences and discussing where and how we qualified. It didn’t matter if it was your first or fiftieth Boston Marathon, if you were from the USA or a foreign country.
We were all family, and we were about to embark on an incredible journey together.
We boarded the buses and began the long ride to Hopkinton. I sat with a gentleman from Salt Lake City who ran Boston once before. At the starting line, runners wait for about two hours until the race begins. I took my garbage bag (for sitting on the damp grass) and set up shop with a group of runners. It doesn’t matter where you go: everyone is your friend in the Athlete’s Village. Whether you are traveling alone or with a group, as soon as you sit down you are among family. I hung out with Sam and her dad, two runners from Texas. Sam was a medical student and qualified to run at the Austin Marathon with an amazing time of 3:17, and it was her first Boston Marathon.
The actual starting line is a half mile from Athlete’s Village. 27,000 runners gather here and await the long road ahead. 27,000 people from 90 different countries and from all 50 states. Different ethnicities, backgrounds, religious beliefs, etc. 27,000 people gather with no fighting or unpleasantries. Just happiness, excitement, and Boston pride. About 30 minutes before my wave was scheduled to start, I made my way to my corral. One more stop at the bathroom (okay, more like two), a stop to check my gear, and last minute race preparations along the way. I made it to the starting line with 30 seconds to spare. Our wave was off, and we began the 26.2 mile trek from Hopkinton to Boston.
The first 16 miles of the course are rolling hills, but with a net downhill. There are spectators everywhere and the energy is off the charts from start to finish. Around mile 12, the course takes you through Wellsley college, where the Wellsley girls are waiting to kiss the runners as they pass through. Soon after, the course winds through some of the larger towns filled with thousands of spectators and the half-marathon point, which is overwhelming.
The race continues through high energy crowds all the way to the infamous Heartbreak Hill and Boston College. At BC, the kids and locals are out drinking, celebrating and just completely freaking out in support of the runners. Everyone is there rooting for you, and it brings tears to your eyes. As you finish running through each town, there are billboards signifying your accomplishment. “All in for Framingham,” “All in for Natick,” “All in for Newton,” etc. Seeing each billboard gives me chills each time and helps runners realize that they are one step closer to the finish line.
As the course finally hits the final stretch on Beacon Street, the crowd is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
It’s a huge party, and everyone attending is celebrating you. A final segment of the course in Brookline takes runners through an underpass, and spits them out right before the final half mile. As runners turn the corner to Boyleston Street, the finish line is in sight and streets are lined with more people than I’ve ever seen in one place. This is about the time my eyes begin to fill with tears. The finish line is a half mile from that final turn on Boyleston and seems like a blur of blue and yellow in the distance. It never seems to come into focus or get closer until suddenly you are crossing it and claiming your finisher status.
As a finisher, turning the corner onto Boyleston Street is nothing short of amazing. The iconic street signifies so many things for the participants. You ran and completed one of the most prestigious road races in the world. The years of training for marathons to just try to have the opportunity to run on the esteemed course begins to play through your head. The disappointments of missing a BQ [Boston Qualifier] by a few minutes or even seconds, the injuries, blood, sweat and tears don’t matter anymore.
The only thing that matters is that you achieved the impossible, and made becoming a Boston Marathon finisher a reality. It doesn’t matter how many times I cross that finish line: I run down Boyleston street with a huge smile on my face and tears streaming down my cheeks.
My heart breaks for the victims who lost their lives and witnessed the explosions first hand. I can’t imagine how those directly impacted must feel. What I do know how is it feels to run down that street. To think that something so beautiful and inspiring could be so tarnished by this tragedy saddens me on levels that I can’t even begin to describe. I can’t look at the pictures or videos of the tragedy without crying because my brain literally can’t make the connection. I can’t connect the fact that the place in those pictures—one of my greatest sources of happiness and pride—could be the same place that is a source of tragedy and sadness for others. I just can’t wrap my head around it. Not even a little.
I’m saddened for the runners who ran the whole race but never got to turn the corner onto Boyleston Street and experience their “moment”. I’m saddened for the runners who were still on the course and found out that they were being bused back, without the opportunity to finish the race. How scared and upset those people must have been not knowing if their loved ones awaiting their finish were safe and sound. You don’t just cancel the Boston Marathon—so imagine being out there and unable to really know what was happening.
My fellow runners are my family. It doesn’t matter where you go, or what race you run. It doesn’t matter if you never enter a road race but just love the simple act of running. When you share a love of running, everyone else who shares that same love just gets it. Runners understand why you blow off hanging out with friends, wake up before the rest of the world, spend hours outside in all elements, and give up foods you love just to try to achieve a PR or a Boston qualifying time. They get that you would rather go out and run a crazy (or not so crazy) number of miles than do pretty much anything else on any given day. They get that when you are injured and can’t run it’s like someone telling you that you aren’t allowed to breathe. Runners understand the countless hours you spend training, the money spent on race fees and running shoes, and the time you spend calculating split times for races.
Runners are my brothers and sisters. I feel like someone attacked my family.
Monday, April 15 was the 117th running of the Boston Marathon. That’s 117 years of our country’s history and tradition that was attacked. 117 years of bringing people together from all over the world. 117 years of hard work, dedication, and proving that the impossible is possible. My heart is broken that someone (or some group) could try to take that away from us. But they can’t. I will proudly run and support the Boston Athletic Assocation (BAA) at the 118th running of the Boston Marathon in 2014 because I will proudly support Boston, our country, and our history. I’ve never been more proud to wear my Boston jacket.
I’m all in for Boston.
Allison Fiorini is an Ashtanga yoga student with an addiction to distance running. Currently in pursuit of running one full marathon in all 50 states. You can follow my blog here: http://invertedsneakers.wordpress.com/
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Assistant Ed. Caroline Scherer
Photo: via U.S. Embassy Panama on Flickr.