In the days leading up to April 21, I genuinely couldn’t articulate how I felt about returning to Boylston Street for the first time since last year to race again. I couldn’t tell you how I’d react. I couldn’t tell you what it meant to me or what I thought it meant, in a broader sense, for the rest of the 36,000-person field. It was all a lot to wrap my brain around, a lot to process. I wanted to express my feelings about it – anyone could tell you I wear my emotions on my sleeve – but I was at a loss for words. I still don’t want to believe it all happened. I felt numb.
And I know I wasn’t alone in feeling that way.
So when I arrived a week early to cover the marathon for work, I took a long, slow walk down Boylston that Sunday evening, welling up in front of the Forum and Marathon Sports in the shadow of the finish line photo bridge. I felt so much sadness in a place meant for sheer joy and triumph, the weight of the past year and the tragedy that happened right where I stood bearing down on me.
While I quietly absorbed it all on the otherwise bustling sidewalk, applause suddenly erupted about a block away from me. The One Run For Boston, a cross-country relay to raise money for the One Fund, had reached the finish line. Though it wasn’t Marathon Monday, their expressions were those of sheer joy and triumph. They were taking back Boylston. Replacing bad memories with better, brighter ones. Restoring what was lost last year. I couldn’t help but smile and cheer for them.
And April 21 would be the day to finally — and truly — begin to move forward.
For me, the journey from Hopkinton to Copley Square was the climax of an incredible week. The race was, by no means, my best (my quads called it quits at mile 18), but my performance just didn’t matter that day. My goal was to enjoy and embrace the experience of being part of something much bigger than myself. No time goals. Just run.
Here are the highlights:
The Bus Ride: I joined my RW colleague Mark, who had decided to come out of marathon retirement to BQ for this race. Though most of the trip was quiet — save for the round of applause one guy received after his, shall I say, epic pit stop while we waited in traffic — the atmosphere in the bus was buzzing. You could sense everyone’s anticipation for the day we’d all been waiting for since April 15, 2013, at 2:49 p.m.
The Chance Reunions: Last year, I made friends with a woman named Feryal in my corral. We both had the same goal pace, so we ran together for the first 14 or so before I waved her onward. Though I results-stalked her after the race, we haven’t stayed in touch. But get this: Right as we arrived at the Start Village, we found each other! Yes, out of 36,000 people, we reconnected, snapped a photo (below, left), killed time before the race together, and finally exchanged emails. I couldn’t believe it.
The (Not So) Chance Reunion: Andrea (above, right), my best friend and speedy “big sister” on the Lehigh track/cross country team, BQ’d in her first marathon. We’ve been running together for years, and though we didn’t plan to run together at the race, I couldn’t have been happier to have her in Boston to share the experience with me.
So the four of us — new friends and old — hung out together before the race. What a special way to start the day. So much smiling and happiness to go around.
The Spectators: It’s not news that the crowd turnout on race day was massive. Between the spectators (a.k.a. a start-to-finish scream tunnel) and the wave of runners, the race felt like a 26.2-mile long block party. Everyone was happy. Everyone was having a ball. The Boston Marathon showed its truest, most brillant colors that day. After riding the Struggle Bus hard last year, I made a point to really appreciate the spectators this time, no matter what shape I was in. So yes, THANK YOU random spectator you yelled at me around mile 20 to keep on keeping on while I walked through a water stop. Needed that.
The Big News: I stopped to walk at (what I think was) exactly the same spot I walked last year (I think it’s because there’s a rare patch of shade around mile 18) and ran into a friend named Chris. Like last year, he graciously asked if I needed anything, then told me that MEB WON! I was just about to board the Struggle Bus, but that news literally gave me some much-needed motivation. Thank you Chris!
The November Project: About a half-mile later, I ran past The Tribe. If you’ve never heard of them, I suggest you read this first. Since I was in Boston for a week, I got to attend all three workouts. And let me tell you: Those 6:30 a.m. workouts were the highlight of my week, hands down. At sunrise, I made new friends, hugged absolute strangers, laughed and danced in Harvard Stadium (despite it being mother f-ing COLD outside), the list goes on. If this group doesn’t reignite your faith in humanity, I don’t know what will.
The Finish: When we ran under the Massachusetts Ave. underpass, a woman near me yelled, “This is where they all got stuck last year. Keep it together!” Her words gave me chills. Then as we made the fabled right on Hereford, left on Boylston, honestly, I nearly lost it. I don’t really have the words to capture how I felt other than I was brimming happy tears. I felt weightless, riding such a high filled with sheer joy and triumph.
The Post-Race Celebration: After inhaling a Gatorade, Dr Pepper, and a bag of Chex Mix, I got to experience Boston after the marathon. My friends and I joined the throng of runners, all rocking those highlighter orange jackets and their medals, milling around town celebrating the day. Random people and runners alike all shared words of congratulations. The whole city was happy, basking in the perfection of the day. Man, it was awesome.
At the Runner’s World party the Saturday before the marathon, RW’s Mayor of Running Bart Yasso told us that this would be one of the biggest moments in running history. He was exactly right.
And yes, happy memories were made.
QUOTE OF THE POST: “And we’re taking back that street, and we’re taking back that finish line, and we will not be denied our running freedom ever.” – Dave McGillivray
P.S. Because I couldn’t really squeeze everything that happened into this post (I would have to write a novel!), feel free to check out my Instagram feed or my profile over at RW to see what I worked on all week!