My Boston Marathon 2014
I remember my first race as a child "“ The Cohoes Turkey Trot, Thanksgiving Day morning. I was maybe 10 or 11. I remember it being cold and my skinny little legs were frozen. I have never really been a runner but my father has been one his whole life. To this day he'll run a few miles every morning before work regardless of the weather; for him it is a necessity that keeps him together.
I remember him always coming back from a run, stretching out, and doing sit-ups. I remember laying down right next to him and doing sit-ups myself, wedging my legs underneath the coffee table in the living room the way he would for stability (cheater). As a little boy whatever your dad does, you want to do. He used to run so I wanted to run. I finally had my chance.
I remember lining up at the starting line with the others "“ maybe there were twenty or thirty of us. I was nervous as hell. There were zombies everywhere (that's not factually accurate but my editor said nobody gives a shit these days unless zombies are involved). Most of the parents were right up there at the start doing all of the annoying shit parents do when their special little athlete is about to burst into action (ugh!). LeRoy played it cool though. A moment later we were off:
I remember staying in front with whoever was leading just to make sure I was safe. Right turn here, up this hill, down that hill, dodge the pothole, my lungs are now freezing! I remember taking a wrong turn because many of the idiot parents were running alongside their kids screaming and yelling directions "“ most of which incorrect. I remember sprinting to get back on track.
Before the last turn and the final stretch, I remember one of the fathers yelling, "Now's your chance Ashley, now's your chance, go to the front! You can do it, go to the front now!"
YEAH RIGHT ASHLEY! Second prize = turkey, gravy, and you're doing dishes! I remember running like hell and crossing the finish line before everyone else. I remember the trophy they gave me and how awesome I felt. I remember my prize looking back at me from the dinner table in the spot where all of the adults had rested a wine glass at theirs. Wish I still had that one.
Once I was a big boy and could run with Dad it was onto the Troy Turkey Trot 5K. To this day it is truly one of my favorite days of the year "“ I don't think we've missed one together in ten or fifteen years.
But our memories can bring us back home to emotions of all sorts. As I write this, I recall my most recent defeat. It seemed like a small defeat at the time but as I think of it now I realize how much some of the little things can actually mean. The Managing Director of our charitable foundation sent an email out to the firm to see who would be interested in volunteering for the Boston Marathon this year. A tremendous honor and opportunity for many to me marked the reality of an opportunity lost. Another promise unfulfilled. A disappointment I was sure I'd find a way to justify. The volunteer email meant there would be no bib email.
I remember tax day last year. Tax day happened to fall on Patriots' Day in Massachusetts giving us an extra day to file our taxes (or in many cases file for an extension to do our taxes "“ get on it people). It is a holiday for us in Mass., one of the most amazing days of the year if you've ever been to Boston for it. It is Marathon Monday. Our office is closed in the Hancock Tower since the streets surrounding us are a block from the finish line and host the family waiting areas, medical tents, and refreshment tables "“ a bit of a sanctuary for runners who have just completed their journey. No day off for me that day though, I was at the office catching up on work.
I remember picking up my head at the sound of the cannon going off. It shook our building "“ I remember thinking, "That's interesting. Men's Elite runner must have crossed the finish line." Head back down. It seemed almost instant:a second blast; again shaking our building. "Wait, we don't shoot off cannons in the city and the Elite Runners would've finished hours ago. WTF?!"
I remember walking to the corner office where I was met by the hand full of others who were working that day as well. As we looked down at Boylston St we could see the rising clouds of smoke. There was a frantic element to the normal chaos below but from nineteen floors up we could not quite figure much out. We could see some things, yet at the same time we could not quite see anything. I remember being anxious. This was a new experience. We each went somewhere for a laptop, a television, our phones; CNN, Twitter, NESN "“ anyplace that could provide instant answers and perhaps direction, but there was nothing yet. Sometimes, in moments like these, nothing comes instantaneously. After a while, we decided that remaining in the building was no longer wise. When I got to the ground floor there was only one way to exit. When I stepped out onto the street there was only one direction to walk.
I remember making calls to those who I knew would worry once the news broke to assure them I was fine and was heading home. I know I startled and worried each of the people I spoke with as I was their first messenger of something likely terrible occurring at that moment. I certainly felt frustrated at my inability to give them any answers but at the end of the call at least they knew I was fine. I arrived home and remained glued to the television, answering calls when they came through, sending texts, replying to emails. Perhaps you remember how the rest of that day unfolded for you.
I remember my alarm going off the next morning. I hadn't been sleeping so that was instead my indication to get out of bed. I was going to shower, put my suit on, and walk to the office "“ there wasn't even a question. I remember the eerie silence as I walked through the South End to the Back Bay, and ultimately back to the Hancock Tower. Much of the Back Bay had been closed off as an active crime scene but our building remained open. The morning work traffic had been replaced by military traffic it seemed. I remember Humvees and camouflage, walky talkies and assault rifles, blocked off streets, and increased scrutiny with each step. I remember entering our building and upon passing through security taking a deep breath. This is not Tuesday.
I remember again looking down through the windows at the scene below. It seemed almost as chaotic as yesterday yet there were no people today. With an active crime scene and investigation underway and with the city's resources focused elsewhere nothing had been touched here in this one-time sanctuary. Life had been evacuated and its things had been left to lie. After yesterday's al fresco diners had leapt to their feet mid-meal to flee the danger, and their wait staff had been evacuated, their lunches and their drinks remained where they were last touched - for days - perhaps hoping their diners would return to finish them. The streets did not get immediately cleaned. The tents and scaffold did not get immediately broken down and removed. Residents were not allowed to return to their homes. I remember how our city's most vibrant area had become a complete dead-zone. I remember the silence walking along the barriers alone at lunchtime "“ a silence I had never heard while living in the city. A silence interrupted only by a faint police siren racing somewhere blocks away. A silence in our city I hope to never find myself walking through again.
I remember what listening to the radio was like that week. I remember what turning on the television brought. I remember what going onto the internet was like. I remember going home at the end of the week and seeing friends and family; and the look on their face as they wanted so much to know what it was like in Boston but were so careful and hesitant to ask. Maybe they were also reading my face.
I remember the President coming to speak at the church on my street just a few blocks away. I remember the Secret Service needing to sweep our building and roof deck. They shut down traffic to Washington St the morning of so when I left home for work at 7:00 am on the 18th and decided I'd walk by on my way to the office there wasn't a car on the road or another person on the street. As I came around the bend and the church came into view before me were lines of Police in their all-black uniforms marching up and down the street. One of the oldest and most beautiful churches in Boston was now outfitted unnaturally with modern metal detectors. I had friends attending that service because we had friends caught in the explosions. I just wanted to see and to be a part. I remember taking what I though was a great picture with my phone but that was two phones ago.
Yet I also remember feeling strong. I remember how determined I was to carry on. I remember how confident I felt that we would catch whoever was responsible for this. I remember friends setting up fundraisers online to help support loved ones who were in the midst of fighting for their lives. I remember the Boston Bruins game two days after the Marathon when after Rene Rancourt started off the national anthem, the crowd then picked up and sang together as one. I remember being proud of all those first responders be they policemen, firefighters, first aid, volunteers, runners, or spectators who helped those who could not help themselves on that day. I remember how our city came together as the week drew on and we drew closer to this event's conclusion.
Soon after, the city began opening some of the streets that had been shuddered. There were less and less soldiers and more and more civilians - people. Each day more blocks would become accessible. Flowers and candles would be the start of tiny memorials in places near the event where someone felt appropriate. People would bring chalk and write notes on the street "“ notes to a friend or loved one, notes to Boston, sincere prayers, and even words of encouragement.
Once Boylston St finally reopened and we could again return to where this tragic event occurred, we would see all of these memorials brought together into one. Thousands would write notes on their running shoes, and then tie them to the fences and trees surrounding the memorial. Children would come with their parents and leave behind their teddy bears with a note to the eight year old that lost his life. One bear in particular held a sign that read, "No more hurting people." Marathoners would return and so would their families.
What also arrives is the reality of the true devastation from that afternoon. A devastation that would have a profound effect on those most directly touched by the tragedy. I remember a lot from that day and the days that followed. But my memories do not matter as much as those of the families of the three individuals who were killed in the bombing. My memories are not nearly as dear as those of the family of the MIT officer killed while on duty; nor those of the friends and families of the others injured on that day.
I remember walking down Boylston St myself the morning it was reopened. I remember approaching the finish line which is close to where the first bomb went off. People had returned to come and see, and pay their respects as I did. All of the debris had been cleaned up, the stains of that day had been washed away, and the damage partly repaired. Much of the silence had remained on that first day though. I remember so distinctly the faces of everyone who returned with me to see. I can see them now. I remember feeling connected with them yet recall being so careful not to make eye contact with anyone. I can remember as I approached how difficult it had become to keep it together. How my vision became a blur as I fought unsuccessfully to keep the tears back. I must have been thinking that if I could avoid eye contact with someone else that was there and feeling the same things I was feeling, perhaps I could keep it together. How foolish.
I continued walking down Boylston and as I did I remembered my first few experiences in Boston on Marathon Monday. My friends and I would gather at a bar called Vox Populi on that same street. Friends of ours had worked there so for two or three years that is where we would spend our day. I remember drinking Cape Coders outside where they had a little area cordoned off, watching the runners so excited that they could see the finish. A few years later we had moved on from that spot. Vox closed its doors subsequently and was replaced by Forum "“ a fact that had completely escaped me this past week until I approached the second gathering of people paying their respects. Directly in front of Forum and its outdoor dining area was a newly planted tree "“ only two or three steps from where I had so many great memories. This was where the second explosion had occurred.
On my way back to the office I remember saying to myself "“ this coming year I would run the marathon. I would get the physical therapy I had put off. I would address my lingering injuries. I would go to yoga. I would get back in shape. I went to office where Rich sits and told him "“ if we can get a bib next year for the marathon I will run for the foundation. I mean it.
I meant it. I had thrown around the idea of running many times but things would get in the way. The snow. My excuses. How I worked too much. My back (poor me). Why can't they hold it in the fall? I don't have time. I like exercising but I don't want to run that much. I don't have anything to prove. It's dark when I leave work and it's dangerous to run in the dark. You can't train for a marathon on a treadmill. I don't want to run before work because I'll get to the office too late. I'm getting older "“ I should've done it closer to when I graduated. Life. Life always happens. It's happening right now. It certainly happened a lot in the past 11 months. I look at myself now and think about my life 11 months ago and I feel like I stumbled through a worm hole. I hope The Cosmos goes over that one soon because I could use a refresher.
A week after the marathon turned into a month, which turned into summer. The fall seems to always be so busy and we know what's right around the corner from fall. So much to do yet so little time. So many distractions. Train for the marathon? I remember thinking about it on my way back to NY for Thanksgiving as I got excited about the Turkey Trot again. I remember it seemed like forever since I had even thought about it. Had I even gone to PT? Once? I had been going to yoga. I was so thankful for yoga "“ I probably said it out loud in my car. If you know me you're probably sick of hearing about it. I was feeling good though and thought, "This needs to be the year." We'll see - I have a lot going on right now.
The next thing I remember was the volunteer email at the end of January and that sinking feeling of disappointment. My reply to Rich was, "I guess if I can't run it I can volunteer."
His response back, "It might still be a possibility for you. It is in the works. Train. Train. Train."
That was all I needed to hear. I immediately found a training program, skipped ahead eight weeks, and the next day I was running around the Esplanade with my arch nemesis Polar Vortex.
It would be another seven weeks before I officially overcame my recent defeat receiving word that we had been given one of the last remaining invitations available. I remember the emotions I felt one week ago as I looked up from my screens and saw Rich standing at my door with two thumbs up - instant excitement. The happy sensation of victory accompanied by a swell of emotion. Validation that my time running through the rain and snow and blistering wind, through the soreness of in my legs, the swelling of my knee, that hamstring muscle that was either going to snap off my leg or send me to the looney bin with every step just thinking that it might: was to be for my ultimate date with this year's Boston Marathon.
You learn a lot about yourself when you're training for a marathon "“ especially in the Northeast, especially during the winter. And in my seven weeks of training where I did not yet have an invitation to run, when all I had was the desire to be in training and to once again be connected to the community I love I learned what the Boston Marathon meant to me. On days when I was convinced we would not get our bib, I remembered the Ayn Rand quote I posted above my laptop "“ and I would continue running. When I was frustrated with this injury or that, I would remember how grateful I was that I was even physically able to run "“ a blessing that not everyone who was part of last year's events has. This is why I am running the Marathon.
I am running the Boston Marathon for those who lost their lives last year. I am running for those who were physically and mentally harmed by the two blasts on Patriots' Day. I am running for the families whose memories are all they have now. I am running for Boston. I am running for our community because we are strong. I am running for me because I am strong. And I will always remember.
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