Surely there cannot be a better feeling than this?!
I had just crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon, THE Boston Marathon, the oldest running marathon and one with huge prestige, and I had completed it! Although my legs felt like lead, I was shaking from fatigue, dehydration and low blood sugar (I had no concept of actually fuelling for one of these things), I couldn’t help thinking, “THERE IS NO BETTER FEELING THAN THIS!”
Fast forward to one hour later and the sentiment was completely different. The vast contrast in emotion couldn’t be greater, truly from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.
You see the year was 2013, ah, maybe you’ve clocked it now…2013…Boston…oooh THE BOMBING YEAR. Yes, I was one of the over 23,000 runners privileged to earn a spot into the 2013 race. I got my qualifying time in May of 2012 in my second ever marathon (first one I actually trained for). In fact, I was a bit rebellious in my first marathon, only signing up for the half and making the decision at the half-marathon/marathon junction to carry on with the marathon runners because, why not?! I nearly qualified for Boston during that first impromptu marathon and that was all the fire I needed to actually train and qualify to run the infamous race.
I lived in Michigan at the time so my training was mostly through the winter with really harsh weather, lots of snow and literally freezing my arse off! My motivation remained high however, it was BOSTON I was training for after all.
April finally rolled around and Patriot’s Day was approaching fast. For those unfamiliar, Patriot’s Day is not just the name of the Mark Wahlberg film, but is in fact a holiday in Boston. It has something do to with commemorating the start of the Revolutionary War and all that jazz but for me the significance was Marathon Monday. The 117th running of The Boston Marathon would take place on Monday, 15th April 2013.
As I’m sure most fellow runners can appreciate, the night before any race is filled with excitement, anxiety, getting up to check you actually have your number and race pins, lots of self-doubt (26.2 miles is a fucking long way) and about five minutes of sleep. Boston is a point to point race, which means runners must get transportation to the start. This meant that although the start time of the race was a reasonable time of 10am, transportation was at 6am. It didn’t really matter though, it’s not like I was getting any shut eye.
My fellow marathoners and I were filed onto school buses and transported to the start…the start of the fucking Boston Marathon! Waiting to be called to the start corrals seemed like the longest wait ever, although that time was filled with visiting the port-a-potties around 10 times (fellow runners will understand)!
I still get an adrenaline surge just thinking about toeing the line. I was quite new to distance running but the significance of being one of the runners to make it to this point was not lost on me. The weather that year was great, a bit warm if anything but nothing too extreme. The wait was finally over…I had endured months of training and potentially even worse, endured the nine-hour car journey with my parents to Boston, made it through the sleepless night and here I was, getting ready to cross the blue and yellow painted word START.
The gun went off and so did my legs…perhaps a bit too quickly. I had been warned about “not going out too fast,” especially on this course as the first mile is a net downhill. Containing my excitement though seemed near impossible and I just let my legs fly. I could not believe the atmosphere. Spectators were lining the course three or four rows deep in most places. It was like the people of Boston were having their own competition to see who could support the loudest. I remember feeling a bit tired around mile 8 (bit early to be hitting the wall) but the crowd was so immense my fatigue seemed to almost evaporate. Then around mile 11 I entered Wellesley College territory. I had never experienced anything like this. The college girls were out in full force, all with various signs stating “Kiss me I’m…” and then some clever description. I witnessed a guy I had been running next to veer immediately right and stick his tongue down one of the girl’s throats! I’m sure she appreciated the sweat flavoured kiss. The atmosphere didn’t let up from there either. The entire course was like running through a party, the energy was palpable and truly made it hard to succumb to fatigue. Around mile 16 I saw my parents who were spectating. Their cheers hit a bit deeper than the others and I felt an added boost. There had been a lot of chat about Heartbreak Hill and what a soul destroyer it was, basically where marathon dreams went to die. Quite frankly, I must have repressed running up it and any difficulty it gave me. The rest of the race is a bit of a blur, that is until I made that final turn onto Boylston Street.
HOLY SHIT! That’s it, that’s the actual finish line to The Boston Marathon. Just like that, my legs seemed to find an extra gear! I was doing it; with each step, I was getting closer and closer to crossing that all so magical (there is actually a unicorn signifying it) finish!
I ran under the huge banner and saw the most beautiful painted words on any road surface I had ever seen “FINISH.” I had done it! I fucking finished The Boston Marathon!!!
SURELY THERE COULDN’T BE A BETTER FEELING THAN THIS?!
The elation was short lived however, and that feeling will always be a bit tainted with the events that followed. I consider myself so lucky; so lucky to not have been harmed in the event, so lucky that I was able to reunite with my parents before the bombs went off, so lucky to have actually been able to cross that finish line and complete the race, and so lucky with how experiencing something so awful unexpectedly brought me the greatest gift and forever changed my life.
Immediately upon crossing the finish line I was donned with my medal and was handed various food items and beverages. My poor shaking body could barely hold onto anything. I very gingerly made my way down the finishers’ shoot, trying to keep hold of all the free shit I was being handed (even if I knew I would never consume a mint flavoured protein bar, it was free after all)! I kept walking, and walking, and okay come on guys, I just ran bloody 26.2 miles, how much further do I have to walk?! Finally, I made it to the baggage claim where I could pick up the gear I had checked at the start line. More shit to carry now! Where are my parents? Not only did I want to see them and bask in their congratulations, but fuck, I really could use some help holding this loot!
I was finally reunited with my two biggest supporters and it was such a tremendous feeling, and a literal weight off as I dumped everything I had just accumulated into their arms. I told them I wanted to go back to the finish and watch some of the other runners achieve their dreams. They agreed that it would be nice to support my fellow marathoners. Just as we were about to head back a man asked me if I was in the queue? I looked a bit puzzled so he elaborated, “Are you in the massage queue?” I had unknowingly been queuing (clearly born to be British) to get a post-race massage. I told the man that I hadn’t known there were massages and he explained that they were just beyond the doors in one of the nearby buildings. My legs did feel like absolute rubbish and although I felt sorry for anyone going near me to rub them, it did sound like a nice treat. I decided to remain in the queue and my parents and I could make our way to the Finish after…
I remember having to go down multiple sets of stairs once inside to get the massage. “This has to be a piss take!” I thought as I was guided to go down the stairs backwards (clearly not some people’s first Boston). While getting the massage I remember hearing a loud noise. Nothing extreme or anything to cause alarm. “Maybe something upstairs fell over?” I thought, but was chatting away with the poor massage therapy student whom I hoped wasn’t too repulsed by my salt crusted skin and ripe odour. I graciously thanked the student, put my medal and shoes back on and hobbled back upstairs. As I opened the door outside I realised everything had changed.
People were running with no sense of direction, mothers were yelling out for their children, people were screaming, others crying. I kept hearing the word BOMB being thrown around. Others saying, “No, it must have been fireworks.” “Maybe it was thunder?” Then a few people had their phones out with news confirming that indeed there had been a bombing.
I couldn’t quite get my mind around it. “Bombs? We’re just a group of runners competing in a race, why would there be bombs?” My parents looked equally confused. Luckily, I had been reunited with them immediately upon exiting the building from getting the massage. We kept looking in all directions, uncertain what to do.
We joined in with groups of confused runners and runners’ families walk/jogging away from the finish area. There were talks that more bombs were hidden. I remember just feeling sheer terror as I willed my tired body to walk as quickly as I could away from the area back towards our hotel, which was a few miles away. I had my phone with me and I started receiving a massive influx of messages regarding the bombs. I don’t think I realised the severity of this situation until I received a message from “my runner friend from England,” wondering about my wellbeing. “Shit, it’s even hit news over in the UK?!” I compiled a quick Facebook post just stating that my family and I were okay...then they cut the phone lines (in case phones were used as a form of detonation).
The entire walk/jog back to the hotel I kept looking all around me, basically waiting for an explosion. I had never experienced such conflicting emotions in such a short amount of time. From sheer elation and joy to absolute terror and heartbreak.
Our hotel was a few miles from the finish line, however it was next to a large hospital. The news speculated that maybe hospitals would be the next target for bombing. It was such an uneasy feeling, truly nowhere felt safe. We were told not to leave the hotel. I couldn’t take my eyes off the news, I kept re-watching the footage from the explosions over and over. “That could have been me.” I kept thinking about the man directing me into the massage queue and, “What if I hadn’t gotten a massage?” The plan had been to go back to the finish line…
We spent a very uneasy night in the hotel, a few news crews from back in Michigan reached out to me. I truly didn’t know how to process any of it. I’m not sure if I still do to this day really.
Although it was truly a horrific day filled with tragedy, it did bring something, or someone rather, that would change my life in the best way possible. That “runner friend from England,” that I mentioned reaching out to me when he heard about the bombings…well we’re married now. Up until Boston we had been following each other here and there on social media, becoming friends through a running app. We would comment now and again on each other’s runs and what upcoming races we were going to participate. He had wished me good luck running Boston and unfortunately, he had to withdrawal from the marathon he had been training for due to injury; I was to run for both of us.
After going through such an extreme event, my “runner friend from England” and I started messaging a lot more. It took some months later, but he admitted that knowing I was at that race and having some moments of uncertainty about my well-being convinced him that perhaps there was something to pursue. Fast-forward to present and we’ve been married for four years, I live in England now and we get to toe start lines together.
I went back and ran Boston in 2017, with the best support crew, my parents and my “runner friend from England.” As I crossed that finish line I could only think…
THERE IS NO BETTER FEELING THAN THIS!