Wednesday, May 14, 2014

At Long Last...Boston Marathon 2014

 “Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.”~ Samuel Johnson
So, since running the Boston Marathon, some WEEKS ago (...hmmm, how many??...), I've been flooded with thoughts, feelings, reactions, visions, memories...the whole experience feels like trying to catch a grasshopper: I see it. I approach it slowly, quietly, stealthily, aiming to grab it, catch it, embrace it, and the instant I go to close my hand it flies off into the air. Oy. Settle down mind.

So here I sit, feeling that I want to put something down now before I forget it all, I want to put it all down, and I just can't seem to get it out and it already feels so long ago. It is so much a part of me that I am having trouble stepping back and actually seeing it. And perhaps that is good. But...I want to see it... Here goes...


I have this thing about races I'm going to run: I can usually see myself 'running' them and those where this doesn't happen (NYC 2012 and St. George 2013) usually don't happen. I don't know if it's a chicken or an egg issue - but, it can be worrisome when it happens. Oddly, I did not have this problem concerning Boston 2013, though I never made it to the starting line that year. I saw myself running Boston in 2013 and now, again, in 2014, but that was little comfort - and so, when I pulled the car away from the house, waving goodbye to my family, I wasn't really entirely confident that I was actually doing what I thought I was doing. There are those moments before you do something particularly big and momentous (for yourself) that you just can't grasp the thing to be done. It's downright unnerving. I had this strange mixture of calm excitement that often hits before a marathon - and makes me worry that I'm not amp-ted up enough. I should be more nervous.
And then...

I'm walking through DIA, and I see my gate, 32, and I see "BOSTON" in bold letters above. And the chills hit. My stomach is instantly full of butterflies. I glance around the seating area - lots of runners - Boston jackets and t-shirts from various years surround me.

A friendly chap, who seems to be jumping and vibrating under his skin with excitement asks me:
"Are you running?"
"Is this your first?"
"No. Second."
Everyone suddenly gathers for a picture...and like that, I am all in! Just like that.

We land in Boston and my friend/coaching client, Bonnie, fetches me without a hitch. Everything is working like a well oiled machine. (Hmmm. That always worries me!) We drive out to a beautiful suburb north of the city and I settle into my comfortable, quiet, homey digs for the next couple days. I am wined and dined and ice creammed to my heart's content.

But wait - all this comfort - all this peace. That can't be good. Can it??

We go to the expo the next day - bib and t-shirt picked up...and the energy is contagious, bouncing from wall to wall. I think back to the expo in 2012. That was different. There was a feeling of dread in the air as each day dawned warmer than the last - with a forecast of 90+ for Patriot's Day I don't think many of us were thrilled with the idea of running. But this year couldn't be any more different! Runners, family members, volunteers - seem almost ecstatic to be here. The volunteer hands me my bib - so excited for me as if I'm not the 200th+ person she's spoken to that day, asks - 'Is this your first?' 'No.' 'Did you run last year?' 'No.' I tell her my story, briefly, and she smiles deeply. 'Have a great race and thank you for coming back.'

Thank you?? She's thanking ME! is what I think, for the first, but not the last time.

Then we do expo things:
The obligatory shot
Leaving my mark
Finding a friendly face at the SkirtSports booth
And then we find our way back to the car, drive down Boylston, right past the finish and make our way back to the peaceful suburbs. I take a nap, (A NAP!!!!) something I never do at home, eat dinner and hangout and chat with my gracious hosts, all runners themselves. I turn in for the night, packed and ready to go in the morning. I read all the well wishes posted on my Facebook page, all the messages sent - the emails, the texts. This year is so much different from last year. Last year I at this time I cried myself to sleep. This year I am happy, grateful, scared, nervous, excited...alive again. ME. My splits are written in Sharpie on my forearm...let them sink into my bloodstream...I say goodnight to my friends, to my husband and daughter, to the world...And I actually sleep.

The next morning I'm up before the alarm. We are driving out to Hopkinton State Park where I'll grab a quick shuttle to town. I have a marathon bar, cup of coffee, another cup of coffee, and we're off. We get a little lost but I need a little jinx, and so now I feel better. Once I leave the car I will have nothing but what I'm wearing to run and what I'm leaving behind in Hopkinton. I will not have my phone. Bonnie and I have a general plan and I will ask to use someone's phone after I finish to get in touch with her. I bid her farewell and then I'm off.

I will be without communication for the next many hours.

We go through about 4 security checkpoints, and then I'm there. I remember it all so well. I have about 30 minutes before I have to head for my corral. I hangout near the corrals, set out my stuff and chill. Use the porta potties a dozen times, choke down a gel, stuff my donated clothing and a pair of old shoes into a plastic bag and head for Corral 5. I think about my blow by blow Facebook posts the week before where every hour or so I post "Next week at this time: I will be..." and I marvel at how spot on I got it.

I hear the gun and slowly we are ushered forward. Walking first, then jogging, then running. Cross the mats, and we're off.

And it dawns on me, instantly, that I do remember 2012, even though my brain cooked that year - I remembered it all. I was actually paying attention that time.

This year: Crowds, Oh the crowds, so much more than last time, lining every inch of that 26.2 miles, often many, many people deep...masses of people outside bars lining the rural road between towns...cheering us on, and saying Thank You - so many signs this year say "thank you"...and the first pangs of emotion rise in my throat...the Harley riders hooting-and-hollering, beers in hand...cheering like we are all the Boston Red Sox...the miles I run slapping hands - and with each slap, and zing from skin slapping skin, energy travels through my arm, to my heart, which needs that energy...all the Wellseley women...I get as close as I can and feel the vibrations from their screams...and I stop and hug and kiss one this time...And the Newton Hills which are longer and harder this time...I don't remember that...cresting Heartbreak Hill...I wonder, what do I have left...And then I begin building momentum...numb feet, oh my damn numb feet...but ah, the legs are good...ignore the feet...slap more hands and the energy is back...miles go by a little the heat rises from the city street...the final turn off Commonwealth Ave...

...into the shade of the tall buildings for a few brief moments...and the turn onto Boylston, into the sun...the crowds roar...even for us...they roar...the finish is clear in the distance...

And I look at my watch. How far is that finish??? Can I do this?? Oh damn, I don't know, but I give it everything I have left...

3:49:47. My B goal, under 3:50. The sun beats down hard. I am happy, satisfied, okay with that. And I fall in with the other runners as we make our way down Boylston. First stop...water, then...

I collect a poncho for I have nothing with me but my shorts and jog bra. I ask a volunteer if I can borrow her phone...too dazed and confused to figure out what the number scrawled along my sticky, sweaty arm is, she helps me decipher and dial. Bonnie answers the phone. We will meet at the corner of Charles and Beacon. I grab a food bag...all the food I have...and move toward the Boston Garden.

At the corner of Arlington and Boylston a huge crowd of people press together behind metal barriers, thanking runners as they leave the official runner area.  And this is what I post the day after...

Yesterday as I left the runner area entering Boston Garden to go to my meet up place, an older gentleman behind a barrier looked me in the eye and said, "Thank you so much for doing this, for coming here. For running. We are so proud" - Huge crowds stood at the runner exit telling runners "thank you!!" They weren't watching the race. There were hundred and hundreds of them, just thanking us as we passed. All I could say was 'Thank YOU!!!' and then cry, all the way through the garden as more strangers, along the way, grasped my arm and gave me heartfelt 'thanks' and 'congrats'. Boston you are amazing! Thank You!!!

And I have told this story to so many. THIS was my Boston experience. The "Thank You"s runners heard all weekend long, each one brought (and continues to bring) a lump to my throat, and tears well up in my eyes.

I did not cry at the start, as I thought I might. I did not cry at the finish. But when it was all over, when I thought it was all over, I cried as another human being looked me, ME, in the eye and thanked ME. And I stood on the corner of Charles and Beacon for an hour and a half (road closures made our meet up plan impossible) and that whole time total strangers came to me, thanked me and congratulated me. One took a picture of the splits written on my arm because she thought it was cool. And over and over people would walk by, stop, walk over to me, stopping what they were doing, grab my hand, my arm, my shoulder, my gaze, and thank me. And that whole time I cried, quietly.

And I would have welcomed the chance to stand there for several hours more, in my shorts, jog bra and poncho, and experience people in a way I never have before, and may never again.

Thank You, Boston.

“What's happened to me,' he thought. It was no dream.”~ Franz Kafka


  1. Very nice post, Caolan! What an experience! Congratulations again!

  2. Great write up, I WILL get to Boston one day!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this.


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