Posted by: pointlenana | September 26, 2013

Boston 2013

This took about 4 months to write – I got to the hard part and then stalled out for quite a while.

Pre-Race

From a training standpoint, Janet and I headed off to the 2013 Boston Marathon in pretty good shape.  I had run something like 10 marathons and ultras since Dec 31, and Janet had run at least a couple ultras.  I planned to run with Janet and she seemed in shape to run under 4 hours and have a much better experience than during last year’s heat.

From the standpoint of everything else, 2013 had already been pretty grueling.  After spending a year in the wrong role in the company I had worked in for the past 11 years, I gave up that role and went through a job search within the company that was ultimately fruitless.  Somewhat sadly, I left in early Feb.  Around the time I knew I was leaving I was put in touch with a small company where a former college classmate was working.  After a somewhat hasty interview process, I took a job there.  During the interview process I learned I would probably have to travel about a week every couple months – fine.  During the actual first 10 weeks, I spent 5 of them on the road for travel, including the first two weeks in the job.  So, job search in my old company, job search in the real world, starting a new job in a field I knew nothing about, and travelling a bunch after not travelling.  Stressful.

And then there was my 87 year old dad.  Right around the time my old job was ending, he managed to get himself kicked out of the senior apartment complex he was staying in (a convenient half mile away).  It’s a very long story but basically he was putting letters in the apartment of a woman he had a relationship with but who had broken up with him.  My dad has Alzheimers and a) has absolutely abysmal judgment now and b) doesn’t remember very well.  So he was forgetting they had broken up and he couldn’t go into her apartment anymore, and/or he was forgetting that the residence (and I) had asked/told him not to do that anymore, and/or he was deciding to do it anyway.  If I remember right, the last straw came on a Tuesday, on Wed we found him a new place, Thur was my last day at work, and on Fri Janet and I moved him.  The story doesn’t end there though because it happened all over again 6 weeks later.  The Sunday a week before Boston, I got a call from the acting manager at the new place (the manager who moved us in had apparently left in those 6 weeks – I have nothing good to say about Merrill Gardens and Faerland Terrace) saying they had called the police because he approached another resident, we needed to come stay with him or have him watched 24 hours per day, etc..  Very fortunately, my sister was able to drop everything and handle this round of moving.  But basically that last week before Boston wasn’t very calm, and my dad’s situation was a stress for weeks before that.

Finally, and most sadly, Steve Dziok passed away after fighting a brain tumor for 18 months.  I joined the Dana-Farber team in 2012 in support of Steve and he inspired me to continue to raise far beyond my original goal in 2012 and join the team again for 2013.  When I asked him about involving him in my small challenge while he was in the middle of his big challenge, he thought about it and said “sure, let’s make something good come out of this”.

Boston:  The Good Parts

We have a bunch of friends in Boston so this year we arrived on Friday.  Friday evening we had dinner with our friend/host and his new girlfriend – that was great.  Saturday we did the expo and then had dinner with a couple Janet knows from med school – that was also great.  We spent Sunday afternoon with another med school friend – great again.  Unlike like last year, Janet was pretty calm about the whole thing and we both managed to avoid whatever it was that gave us gut issues last year.  We did miss the Dana-Farber pasta dinner but we were able to do that last year and we really wanted to see the friends this year.

Monday morning was beautiful – clear, not hot but not really cold.  We took the T to Park Street and got in the bus lines.  I love that part – gazillions of very fit runners descending upon the oldest public park in the US (Boston Common dates back to 1634) and then climbing onto school buses.  The ride out was uneventful and unlike some years, we didn’t have to wait in a long bus line getting into Hopkinton.  Also, I’ve learned my lesson and drank almost nothing that morning, so I had no urgent bathroom needs on the bus.  The first year I was very focused on hydrating and had a slow arrival in Hopkinton – my teeth were floating by the time I got off the bus.

In the Dana-Farber sanctuary, we talked with a runner (David?) we had seen on the T – not only was he on the Dana-Farber team but he was also from somewhere near us in Seattle.  We also talked to John L, fundraiser-supreme for Dana-Farber, a co-Boston-2-Big Sur participant with us last year (we saw him in Big Sur and he told us a woeful Boston tale of ending up in a medical tent under ice after passing out in the heat), and a recent immigrant to the Pacific NW.  We took the team pictures, and Janet was nice enough to walk out with me early to see the first wave start.  That’s another cool thing – seeing those very fit runners (including the elites) head out of the corrals and down the road.

After waiting through wave 2 we headed into the corrals for wave 3.  Janet’s friend Polly happened to be in our corral, as was Boonsom (aka “Lipstick Lady”), one of the Marathon Maniacs we met in Big Sur last year.  As it turns out, Amby Burfoot was also a few feet back of us – he won Boston in 1968 and had written a bunch in Runners World about running again this year.  I talked to him once at an expo – one of those wonderful human beings you sometime find – so I wished him luck.  Then we were off in the 117th running of Boston.

Last year things went south pretty quickly for Janet in the heat.  By mile 6 we were making porta-potty breaks and by mile 8 we were walking due to cramping.  This year I don’t remember any issues in the first half of the race.  For a while we were on 3:50+/- pace, which was probably too fast (all too typical for Boston, but probably my fault this year – I think I was more interested in Janet running a pr than she was).  The first half went well and since I was running at something less than my max pace, I high-fived plenty of kids.  At one point I almost had to stop due to laughing, as someone in a house along the road performed perhaps the world’s worst karaoke to Eye Of The Tiger.  The Wellesley Scream Tunnel was awesome this year.  I still haven’t kissed any of the women but I think I high-fived 500 women this time and managed to avoid being knocked over by guys diving into the crowd.

On one of the Newton hills – maybe the 3rd – our too-fast pace finally caught up with Janet and she cramped up some.  We walked up that hill, she recovered a bit, and were able to run up Heartbreak Hill this year.  At this point we were still on track to finish right around 4 hours.

Unfortunately, somewhere around mile 23, Janet got something in her eye and when she rubbed it her contact lens disappeared up under her eyelid.  We stopped, she couldn’t find the contact lens, then I couldn’t find it, then we walked to the side and sat down.  As she poked around looking for it, two frat-type guys came over screaming “YOU CAN DO IT!!!  WHAT DO YOU NEED?  CAN WE GET YOU SOMETHING?”  I asked if they had a spare contact lens and they wandered off pretty quickly.  Janet finally gave up and we decided to walk to the next medical tent.  That turned out to be 20 yards down the road, but they had no mirror or anything useful.  Janet wandered off behind the tent and found a car with a side mirror.  While she was doing that, I noticed what looked like melted popsicles on sticks on a table.  At the ultra’s I’d been running, the aid stations have these awesome buffets – pb&j, cookies, drinks, candy, etc. – and I was really ready for a popsicle after hours of Gatorade.  I asked if I could have one.  “Sure”.  As I popped it in my mouth, someone said “I wouldn’t eat that – it’s Vaseline”.  The Vaseline fell onto my tongue and I just barely avoided smearing it all over with the stick, and I spit it out pretty quickly.  If you ever find yourself in that situation, don’t worry – the taste of vaseline isn’t awful and it’s gone pretty quickly.  Right around then, Janet reappeared, and we headed on our way having lost about 5 more minutes.

The crowds for the last few miles are either great or too much, depending upon your mood.  Janet had her name on her singlet, and after hearing “GOOOO JANET!” 1000 times it was getting a little old for her.  My Name Tape had fallen off by then but the volume  of the cheering added to the fatigue.  Mostly I enjoyed it though – spectators are what make the big marathons special.

Right near the end, there is one final hill coming up from an underpass.  Janet cramped up there again so we walked and lost another 30 seconds or so, putting us about 100 yards back from where we might have been.  We walked up, started running on the level, turned right on Hereford, ran up the tiny incline that feels like Mt. Everest at that point, and turned left on Boylston.  The finish was in sight, 600 yards away.  Janet and I were about to finish our 2nd and 4th Boston, respectively.

The Bombings – 15 Seconds

As we passed the 26 mile marker – 385 yards to go – with the spectators roaring, I turned to Janet (who was ready to be done) and said “less than 2 minutes”.   It looked like we’d finish somewhere around 4:08, which would be another Boston qualifying time for Janet.  We ran a little more and then there was a loud noise.  “Why would a cannon be going off now?” we asked each other.  Initially nothing changed – the runners kept running and the spectators kept cheering.  After a few seconds, everyone saw smoke in the air somewhere near the finish line.  The crowd noise disappeared almost instantly, and the runners went from their finish “kicks” (not much of a kick for us 4 hour finishers) to slower, hesitant loping.  As I looked ahead at the smoke, I watched an explosion happen at the feet of people who had been cheering us a moment before, about 100 yards ahead – a blast up, the barriers falling outward, people fleeing or flying.  Two thoughts happened simultaneously – “those are bombs” and “I think I just watched people die”.

The Odyssey

The next 30-120 seconds are somewhat murky – I don’t know how long it really was and my brain was doing the best it could in a context that was wildly different than the one from a few seconds before.  The first thing it did was pattern match.  It saw one explosion about 2x yards away, and a second explosion 10-15 seconds later about x yards away.  My brain concluded that there was going to be a 3rd one right about where we were.  The second thing my brain did was check for Janet.  Janet hadn’t seen the 2nd explosion but she did see people fleeing from the area.  With all the gun violence in the news at the time, her brain told her people were fleeing from gunmen so she bolted for the other sideline.  My brain concluded that the bombers would put any 3rd bomb on the other sideline to get people who were running away – right about where Janet now was.  With about 12 seconds between the first two, a 3rd one was a few seconds away from exploding.  I started yelling at Janet to get away from the sideline and into the street, but she couldn’t hear me since 1000s of other people were screaming also.  I really did not want to go to the side but I wanted her out of there so I followed her, got her attention, pleaded with her, and finally got her to come back over the barrier and into the street.  That might have taken 15 seconds.  Oh yeah, it turns out that after running 26 miles it is very much possible to a) sprint full-speed away from where bombs just went off and b) leap over a 4 foot barrier quite easily – she went over the barrier no problem the first time and didn’t have much trouble coming back into the street either.

Once Janet was in the street we didn’t really know what to do.  This part is pretty murky too – we stood there for a little bit but I don’t know if it was 10 seconds or a minute.  Pretty soon a police officer came over and told us to head back away from the finish.  A woman standing near us asked “Can I finish?” which at the time seemed, uh, not the right question to ask given what had just happened.  Later I realized that some runners had come around the Hereford/Boylston turn just after the explosions and I suspect she was one of those people – no clue about what had just happened, months of training, perhaps years of dreaming, and just a few hundred yards from the finish.  As we turned to start walking we saw a guy with shredded pants and bloody legs stumbling to a couple of aid people.  Walking up the street we found ourselves walking a few feet from Bart Yasso who was there to cheer Amby Burfoot in.  That was the first of a couple surreal experiences (“Hey!  That’s Bart Yasso!! Oh yeah, bombs just killed and maimed people…”)

We walked back up to the intersection of Boylston and Hereford, and turned left around the convention center.  I can’t remember if we even had a choice, but I wanted to get to the hotel where the Dana-Farber post-race reception was.  We were wet from sweat, dressed in singlets (tank tops), tired from 26 miles, and we were starting to get cold.  Obviously we weren’t going to be able to get to our checked clothes bags past the finish line, and I was worried we we’d both be hypothermic shortly.  I also wanted to get somewhere safe – as we were walking I kept eyeing garbage cans and things like that, wondering what else might happen.  As we approached the hotel, we also got nearer again to the finish line/bombings and it wasn’t clear if we’d be able to get through because people were being shunted away.  But it turned out we could just reach the hotel so we went in.

When we got to the reception, we got applause when we walked in.  That seemed really weird – they were trying to show support but a) we hadn’t finished and b) not finishing was the least of the issues in the grand scheme of things.  They had tvs on and were watching the coverage, but it was only 15 minutes or so afterwards and everything was still very confused.

A Dana-Farber perk was our second surreal experience – they have post-race massages.  We were standing there basically stunned, with tired bodies, and I thought we might as well take advantage of the massages.  So we went into the back and lay on the tables.  None of the massage people knew there were bombings – we told them and I’m not sure they believed us.  These were not long massages but by the end Janet and I both were shaking uncontrollably – cold, shock, or probably both – so we each had blankets heaped on us.  When we got up, we each wrapped a blanket around ourselves and went out to the reception.  At the time we had no way to contact anyone, but the DF people told us they were working on a laptop so people could update their Facebook status (as if that would help the two of us…).  We watched the coverage on tv for a few minutes, managed to pour one cup of warm soup in, and still shivered.  Just after the DF people told us the laptop was working and available, they came back and told us that the hotel was being evacuated.  So off we went, with the hotel’s blankets wrapped around us (sorry hotel…).

We didn’t know where to go, so we followed some people through a mall-like thing at the back of the hotel.  Again, as we walked I eyed all the places bombs could be hidden and thought “I don’t want to be here now”.  We exited the building (phew) and stood there for a moment trying to figure out what to do.  A marathon volunteer came over and asked us what he could do.  We told him we were trying to get back to Cambridge – can we get our checked bags, how do we get to Cambridge, etc..  Boston volunteers are awesome.  This volunteer tried to push money on us for the T, told us that there’s a chance we could find our bags at a certain intersection, and told us how to get to the Park Street station.  Boston volunteers are awesome.  We walked to the “bag intersection” and saw a few people collecting bags.  Unfortunately ours weren’t there.  However, Janet saw the Dana-Farber bus in the distance – just inside a police barrier and one long block from the finish line/bombings – so we walked over, ducked past the barrier, got on the bus and found our bags, with the much needed warm clothes inside.

That was a huge turning point for us.  Once we were in warm dry clothes we knew we’d eventually be fine.  We walked to Park Street station – closed.  We asked the police there where the next station was.  We walked another mile or so.  Along the way I offered clothing and/or a hat to another barely-dressed runner but I guess he was hardier than me because he declined and didn’t appear to need them.  By the time we got to the Mass General T station – which was in fact open – we were only about 2 miles from our friend’s house.  We thought about getting into an enclosed space with strangers, and opted to walk instead.  On the bridge over the Charles we walked and talked with someone about what had happened.  That is my one regret from the day – we hadn’t packed our phones and still hadn’t been able to call home, and the person on the bridge had a phone that we didn’t think to borrow.  So folks at home had an extra unnecessary hour of not hearing from us and worrying – and they knew we would have been very close to the finish.

Ironically, our “safe” path home (not on the T) took us through MIT where the cockroaches (I still haven’t figured out the right term for the two people, but cockroaches is ok) shot a policeman and on into Cambridge where the shootout took place a few days later.

Eventually we made it back to our friends, called home, showered, etc..  We didn’t officially finish the Boston marathon (although they eventually gave us an official projected finish) but I think we  travelled at least the distance of a 50k on foot that day.

The Aftermath

Janet and I headed in different directions early the next morning – she went to the Southwest to hike with our son, and I headed to Iceland/London/Warsaw for another marathon and work.  I was pretty stunned the next day and found myself getting teary for weeks afterwards.  I found out 2 family members of one of our Dana-Farber teammates were hurt very badly.  AP somehow contact me and interviewed me over email a few days after Boston when I was still processing – that showed up in a couple stories.  The following weekend I ran the London Marathon with a college friend – we had a moment of silence before the start which was moving, at least for me.  We all wore a black ribbon and I still put that on for events now.  The spectator support was awesome and it was a great experience overall.  Approaching the end though I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d get to finish.  AP found and interviewed me at the finish – I’m in this footage about 1:25 in.  Six months later it’s still hard to think or say anything meaningful about the experience, but I am very aware now that a situation can change in an instant.  I am continually thankful for Janet cramping up that last time and keeping us from being 100 yards further up the road.

One thing that really bothered me in all the coverage after Boston, or at least I perceived it this way, was the emphasis on the runners and their reaction.  I was there and saw spectators – people cheering us – literally act as a human shield protecting the runners.  So to me it’s all about the spectators, keeping them safe and just appreciating them because they were the ones most affected by the bombings.  They are the thing that makes the big marathons special (along with the incredible volunteers).  I’m sure no one saw this but as I finished London (and actually as I ran it) I applauded and cheered back at the spectators.  After we finished London, we walked about a mile back up the course – where there wasn’t any (visible) heavy security – and I watched for particularly supportive spectators.  Eventually I found this girl Ruby who was waiting for her mother to come by and in the meantime was cheering herself hoarse.  I told her she was doing a great job cheering and that it really makes a difference, gave her my finisher’s medal, and told her it was in recognition of the people in Boston.

ruby london

Today was the day the entrants for Boston 2014 were finalized.  Immediately after Boston 2013, Janet announced “I’m done with Boston” (heat one year, bombings the next).  But we’re both registered for 2014 now.  It’s such a great event and I can’t see our last memory of Boston being the finish line arch being obscured by exploding lives.


Responses

  1. This is a great and touching story, Mark. I am glad that you and Janet were both physically ok from that event. I hope you both participate in Boston 2014 as a way of putting that dark event behind you which may heal the emotional wounds. And thank you for racing in honor of Steve Dziok.


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