Last year my family and my own life was forever changed by my decision to run on Marathon Monday.
My husband works at Elmwood school in Hopkinton. For close to two decades his classroom has been the congregating spot for the elite Kenyan runners, the John Hancock representatives, handlers, news anchors and their teams before the Scholars and Stars presentation put on by BAA sponsors John Hancock. My husband developed a rapport with the Kenyans, and he has been fortunate enough to meet almost all the Marathon winners over the last two decades. We have a connection to Marathon Monday.
Last year, I attended the event at Elmwood School and was blown away by the electricity of the day. My six year old daughter also attended for the first time. During the ceremonial run that my husband's class is invited to do with the Kenyans (featured on the John Hancock banners around Boston a few years ago) Sharon Cherop caught my daughter's hand and ran with her. As a mother and a runner that was an amazing moment. It honestly brought tears to my eyes, and in that moment I knew anything in the world is possible because my daughter has a life ahead of her to reach her potential.
It was with great pleasure we accepted an invitation to attend the Dinner with Champions the Saturday before the race. Sitting next to Wesley Korir (2012 winner) at the head table was truly an honor. While we sat and chatted with him I joked with my husband and other guests at the table I was inspired to run bandit on Monday. I told Wesley I wanted to be a marathoner, and he said anyone who believes in themselves can run a marathon. He said it is not the body that gets tired, but the mind that gives up. How many runners can say the reigning Boston Marathon champion gave them advice and says he feels you could run a marathon? As the night went on, my husband and I spoke at length with Wesley and his wife about their Kenya Kids Foundation and I was blown away by the focus and drive these athletes have. They not only train but also carry out their personal philanthropical mission. I felt so inspired and also blessed to be a part of a special weekend. I made my choice then to definitely run on Monday, after the last wave and unassisted.
As the weekend progressed I rescheduled my usual long run for Monday morning. I told my husband that after the last wave of runners went off on Monday, I would slowly and steadily follow them into the city to see how far I could make it. Never committing to the full 26.2, but just a long run into the city as far as my legs decided to go. I am an avid runner with year round training so I knew at least 2o self sustained miles were attainable. My amazing husband told me he knew I would do the whole thing.
My plan was to be a follower, not to run with the masses (because as an avid runner I realize bandit running poses many issues for the race director and their team. It becomes an issue of security and also over populating fuel and aide stops. I knew though I would not need assistance or fuel and was prepared to run self assisted with my hydration pack and at a pace that was not faster than my normal clip. I also knew that because I was not being timed I could stop at any time before any unexpected issues came about that would cause me harm, or if I felt I was a nuisance to the official runners.
Long story short, my husband pushed me into the race before the latter waves. (He actually pushed me in right after our friend Wesley passed with the elite men). Tom told me to get a head start and to run smart. I took off at his prompting with a formed bandit group "Gregory's Group". I barely waved goodbye or kissed my four children. I felt amazing the entire way, and was shocked my how strong I felt and how well the run was going. While running I experienced the camaraderie, excitement, sportsmanship, and electricity that is The Boston Marathon. I ran along side all types of runners - champions, qualifiers, charity fundraisers, fast, slow, deaf, blind, autistic, dwarf, amputee, pregnant, soldiers and first time marathon runners. We were all the same, and we were all in that day together. How can you not be motivated to run when you are alongside so many people whose hurdles are far greater than your own? I made it to mile 25 and change before I was stopped by the police after the bombing. I was so close to finishing in great time. It would have been a proud moment.
My husband was not as lucky. He and my four young children under the age of six, witnessed the chaos explosions and were caught in trampling hysteria as people fled the finish line.
You see, as they reached Boylston street to surprise me at the finish, they were almost immediately met with the sound and vibration of the first bomb. My four year old Kellen asked my husband what the "canyons" (cannons) were for. My husband at first thought they were celebratory, but instantly realized it was too late in the race for that. He said the crowd immediately broke out in chaos, and in front of where they were standing (adjacently across the street), the second bomb exploded. He saw the explosion, smoke an shrapnel in the air above them. Before my husband turned to run with the children, he and my daughter saw a sight no human should witness... They saw terrorism and an act of violence.
Alone with four children (6,4 and two year old twins) he immediately began to vacate the area. They took cover in the fire station on Boylston before having to leave when the EMT's were dispatched and needed the firehouse to tend to the wounded. He hit the streets again, this time making his way to Mass Ave to get them out of the chaos in a fast food restaurant. They were still only a couple blocks from scene.
I was at mile 25 and change when police came forward halting the runners. My husband had called me before the cell service went down but failed to say there had been two bombs. All he got out was there was a bomb, runners were being stopped. I refuted what he said, I told him I was at mile 25, that I was almost done and it wasn't possible. I kept telling him I'd meet him in the Pru, not realizing he had hung up. When I realized he wasn't there I wasn't concerned. I wasn't in tune to the situation because there had been spectators lining Beacon Hill and Comm Ave. I was ABOUT to finish .
Almost instantaneously a man jumped over the gates and started yanking a woman and her friend, both runners, off to the side. Police surrounded them and there was commotion. I told the girl running alongside me that my husband said a bomb exploded in the city. We slowed but did not stop running... Until we were stopped by police. No one explained anything, it was shocking to see runners trying to push on - so close but not allowed to continue. Everyone looked confused and lost. I knew it had to do with the bomb and I pushed my way to the gates lining the street. I went to an officer and told him I needed off the street immediately! I explained my husband said he was on Boylston (not knowing that was the location of the bombings, and for some reason assuming it was at Logan. Bombs don't explode in cities was my reasoning) with my four babies and that there was a bomb. I told him his phone kept ringing with no answer. I told him I needed OFF THE COURSE.
He took my Hand and tried several times to calm me , he then asked if my husband said "one bomb or two". I panicked, Tom had said "bomb" ... The fact that this officer was asking if my husband heard more than one sent me into a panic. The cop called over a female officer and together they lifted me over the fencing. He hugged me, he calmly told me that I needed to run harder than I just did. He said I had to "run like the wind" and get to my children. I will never forget him, and how genuinely concerned he looked for me.
When I reached Boylston, it had not yet been fully blocked off. There were three officers standing on the intersection by the overpass. I was crying and told them I needed to get to my husband, as they were turning away people one officer took my hand and told me he would walk me towards the Capital Grille to see if we could spot them. He never stopped consoling me or holding my hand. When we couldn't find them he told me that he had a good feeling for me and that I should get warm and go sit someplace safe, to move away from the area because that is what my husband probably did. You could tell he was shaken, you could tell he was trying to be strong. He looked strong and scared all at the same time. I know he was hoping the children I was crying for were okay.
Not obeying what the officer said, I tried to make my way up side streets closer to the finish. Two crying hotel staff told me what had happened and what they witnessed. They went into horrific detail. Now it seemed real. I now knew my husband had been at the bombing site. I fled the other way and frantically started searching Mass Ave. After several failed attempts I went into Boloco. Televisions were airing the disaster. I grew sick. I again ran up and down Mass Avenue , I finally reached Wendy's and in the window saw my children huddled up with my husband. My oldest was crying and the whole place looked terrified. I have no idea how my husband maintained calm after being in the wake of disaster, but there he stood tending to our small children trying to let them think the world was safe, encouraging them to sit and eat.
There were several runners in the place . One came to me instantly and hugged me. She wrapped her BAA space blanket around me, handed me a water an searched her bag for Tylenol. She told me to sit and drink a soda. She did not leave my side. THAT IS THE EPITOME OF THE RUNNING COMMUNITY. She knew I was a bandit, but she kept saying over and over "this is your finish line you are safe, they are safe. " We eventually regrouped and made our way out of the city to my sister who had driven in to collect us. By this point you could text, and seeing the news on television my sister without hesitation drive into the city to get to us. Somehow she made it to Huntington before the roads were blocked. She had also picked up my mother who had turned back in Brookline to get my bag that her and Tom had forgotten. So many little events that day delayed them. There are so many "what ifs" that played out keeping them physically out of harm's way.
Hours later on the Pike in the restroom, two women asked me if I had finished when it was clear I had just run by my limp. I started to recall the events and cried as I told them Wendy's was my finish line. That it was on Mass Avenue that I found my babies and husband alive and safe. I looked over to the sinks and a woman was crying. When she looked up I realized it was the runner who gave me her BAA blanket. We hugged and cried. Boston is smaller than we think.
My children are still scared by what they saw that day. This year has been a road to recovery, but I am a better person for living everyday with the respect and understanding that life is a gift and privilege. Every morning when I lace up my sneakers at 5 am I am reminded that I not only run to be healthy for my children, but I run to remind them they can not fear. WE ARE SOMEHOW SAFE. We are blessed.
I also feel I am a better runner because I run with purpose now, acutely aware that at any moment we may need to draw on physical and emotion strength, the way I had to after the bombings as we left the city and I carried one of my twin boys for miles once we were finally safe on our way home. I feel that by training I am reassuring myself that we are strong and safe.
While I do not regret running on that Monday, I do regret doing so unofficially. I feel I NEED to be a part of 2014's Boston Marathon. We have been made to feel insecure and nervous in our hometown, but we have also risen up and proved our strength. It was wonderful to hear that in the wake of tragedy, John Hancock and the BAA remained unwavering and was right back to planning 2014's race. It was then I set my sights on the 2014 race also, determined I would run officially and strong. On Wednesday, December 4th the BAA emailed me and offered me a waiver - an invitational bib for the 118th running of The Boston Marathon. On April 21st, 2014 I will line up with 35,999 other runners and make the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston.
This race affected me, it hurt families and changed lives last April. I was beyond blessed that day, but that doesn't take away the heartache i feel for the true victims. I have since decided to make that day count for something because I feel compelled to give back. I have been inspired watching the stories of x the victims triumph over their loss. They are the spirit of the 2014 marathon. I want my running to symbolize strength, resilience, courage, determination, faith in dreams, and compassion. I want to use my running to make a difference. NOW IS MY TIME TO GIVE BACK!
I have created a "GO FUND ME" account to raise money for charities near and dear to me. I am blessed with my health and a gift, I will use that gift to give back. I ask that you consider making a monetary donation to my Marathon Run. The money raised on my GO FUND ME site will be allocated to four charities.
The first charity is DANA FARBER. Dana Farber is the leader in cancer research and provides patients here in Massachusetts the opportunity to fight their battle by offering them the best treatment possible. I ran my first distance race, The BAA Boston Half Marathon in honor of my mother's best friend Mary Antreasian's memory for Dana Farber. That race proved to me I was capable of running.
The next is Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary. This Boston based hospital is the leader in ENT treatment. As victims were driven away from the bombing they were brought to Mass Eye and Ear to be treated for shrapnel wounds to the head and face, as well a hearing damage. They know too well the damage the bombings caused. They were heroes that day to many, and I want to make sure they are funded so they can continue to offer amazing treatment.
The last two charities are dear to me. They are Hopkinton based charities that believed in me before my waiver bib was offered. They gave me the chance to apply for a spot on their team when a charity bib was my only option for running.
The Hopkinton PTA provides the students in Hopkinton many opportunities. It offers the teachers support in their mission to educate. They work wonders to make Hopkinton the strong community it is. Runners can see how amazing the schools are when they enter the high school "marathon village" before the marathon. Marathons will also pass the schools' kindergarten and first grade building on marathon Monday as they make their way past it and the Team Hoyt statue standing by its front steps as they move towards the starting corrals. I support the HPTA's efforts to give back the youth and teachers of Hopkinton.
Hopkinton Public Library Foundation also supported my marathon dream. As a former teacher literacy is very important to me. I believe that the HPLF's mission to expand the library and offer the community a meeting place, a larger home to a wealth of knowledge, and also access to cutting edge technology is an honorable one. For that reason I am including them in my fundraising plan.
As I close, I want to leave you with a thought. Four years ago I was not a runner. In this time my family has doubled and I have taught myself to run. Every morning before my children wake up I leave the house to train. I am living proof that determination, stubborn will, and faith in your dreams can lead you to accomplishing a goal. I also believe that no matter how insignificant you think your actions are, they have the capability to spark a reaction. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO CHASE YOUR DREAMS & DO NOT BE SCARED TO TRY TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
I hope you will have me in your thoughts on race day.
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