Boston 2013…A Year Later…
Next Monday, over 27,000 runners will wake up the quiet town of Hopkinton and toe the start line of the oldest running marathon in North America. The Boston Marathon is the holy grail of many runners. Not only it is one of the Majors, it is also one of the few marathons out there that specify qualification times.
Boston Marathon is more than just a marathon. If you look closely at the symbol for the Boston Marathon, you will find a unicorn. The Boston Marathon represents a dream. It represents a stretch goal for many. It’s the reward for many months of training, sweating, toiling, and living with black toe nails.
Boston Marathon is more than just a marathon for the area. Schools are out on Patriots Day. It is a celebration. It’s celebrating a town that like a marathoner, has endured and preserved through many tests. Boston was the hot bed of the American Revolution. No matter who you are, if you live in the Boston and greater Boston area, Patriots Day is about celebrating the human spirit.
My respect for the Boston Marathon has grown after I have personally experienced it last year. For the past few years, Boston has been the inspiration that motivated me to run 12 miles pace run at 7pm at night after a long day at work. Earning that prestigious entry to the Boston Marathon is what kept me doing one more 1000m repeat at track practice.
The pursuit of the magical yet elusive unicorn…
On January 15, 2012, with the help of the BON Racing Team, my cheer leader Hill Sgt and my friend Mike, I crossed the Houston Marathon finish line feeling accomplished. On my second attempt, I earned the rights to sign up for the 2013 Boston Marathon. On the street of downtown Houston that day, all my friends could hear as I ran the last 6.2 miles of the marathon was….”I am going to Boston.” That moment would forever be remember as one of the top moments in my life (another would be hearing the dean announced my name the day I have earned my Chemical Engineering degree).
I was ecstatic when I found out in September 2012 that my application for Boston was accepted.
Fast forward to weekend leading up to April 15, 2013. Hill Sgt and I met in Boston. We had a wonderful weekend learning about the rich history of the town. We stepped foot onto the campus that I once thought I would go to for graduate school. We visited Paul Revere’s home. We met the Marathon Woman (Kathy Switzer). It was a town where everyone treated the runners like royalties. On Sunday, we marveled at the famous big yellow/blue finish line on Bolyston Street. The city, the town, and the street were full of life.
On Monday morning, I eagerly got up the yellow bus to Hopkinton. It was sunny, gorgeous blue sky. It was the perfect condition (almost, not tail wind that day) for running a marathon. It was crisp and cool. In the tents, I experienced the wonderfulness of the running community. As a newbie, I read about needing extra warm up clothing, but have forgotten to pack a blanket with me while we wait 2 hours for the start. I was greeted by a group of Houston runners whom I have merely met at Memorial Park. They welcomed me into their area and shared their blankets with me.
At near 10am, I excitedly jogged to my corral. I was near the front of the 2nd corral. The start line was impressive. It’s breathtaking to be surrounded by 23,000 other eager runners. At 10:20am, the gun for the 2nd wave went off. We followed the footstep of the elites who had started an hour before us. It was a sea of runners. It was one of the marathons where the whole time I was running with a big group. It was one of the marathons where you did not need music. The towns and the crowd were the music.
Mile by mile, I was greeted by spectators. The community cheered. Everyone is rooting for everyone.
It was a dream come true, especially I was diagnosed with shin splint 4 weeks before the marathon. Instead of completing the training, I spent much of the pre-taper and taper period nursing back to health. Being able to the toe the start line meant the world to me. After 11 miles of enjoying the gradual downhill, my quads began to talk to me. At mile 14, I started slowing down. Yet, I kept moving. There were no stopping me. Whoever said the Wellesley girls were loud? They were absolutely right. The cheers from the Wellesley girls rivaled the screams from the audience attending a 1999 Boy Band Concerts. Instead of cheering for the Backstreet Boys, on that day, they were cheering for me.
As I move into Newton, I began to prefer myself for the hills. As much as I dreaded running hills, it was a relieved to do something other than downhill. My quads took the much needed relieve. One by one, I had conquered the Newton Hills (and refused the walk).
Then…I ran across a sign that said “Heart Break is Over.” At first, I thought it was a sick joke. Then I looked down at my Garmin and was relieved to find that I had finished Heart Break. The last few miles of the Boston Marathon were the toughest for me. My legs did not have much left (due to the lack of training per the injury). In fact, for the last month leading up to the marathon, I had not run anything more than 8 miles.
The crowd got louder as I journeyed into town. I saw the big famous Citgo Sign. By mile 24, I was tired. My calves and my quads were not happy at all. I slowed further down, and took advantage (walk break) at every water station. Yet, I could not let the crowd down. I continued on. I saw Hereford. As I marched towards the last underpass, I was able to enjoy a brief moment of silent. Then as I mustered up all my leg muscles to charged up the incline (it felt like a mountain at that point, no wonder, some called it Mt Hereford), all I could hear was cheers. I felt that my legs were going to divorce me as I came to the top of the incline, so I had taken a small walk break.
One of the spectator shouted, “11817, you have made it so far, don’t stop now.” So I listened, and took whatever I have left in me and ran on. The final few minutes of the marathon was like a dream. As a made the famous left turn onto Bolyston Street, it was all cheers. I saw the big finish sign and along with a pack of runners, I marched towards the finish. Fists in the air. The rest of history.
The rest was indeed history. Yet, it was not how I would have imagined it would be.
I arranged to meet Michael at the family reunion area (at S). After getting the medal, walking down 2 blocks to get my bag, I was directed to the family reunion area 2 blocks away from the finish line. Because Michael had rented a bicycle to try to find me at various vintage point, it took him longer than expected to get through the crowd with a bike. Michael also had my cell phone. Thank goodness there was a cellphone area. I was able to call Michael and arranged to meet him near the bright orange AT&T cellphone lot.
As soon as I hung up with Michael, I heard two loud pops. At first, I thought it was a blown transformer (the many years working in a refinery will do that to you). My second thought was, “why would they do fireworks during day time?” Then a few folks in the area had concerned looks. Something did not feel right. My third thought was, I hope I can find Michael soon. And 30 seconds later, thankfully, Michael and I found each other.
As soon as I got my cell phone, I called Coach F. He congratulated me on the run, and we talked about the race, how our friend Cheney did. Then Michael started getting a cell phone call. We continued walking away from the area and started walking to the hotel. We started seeing concerned faces. Michael’s colleague called and asked if we were okay. Then the unthinkable word hit me. Bomb. Chills came through my body. Finally the realization hit, the two popping sounds were something sinister. The two popping sounds would forever marred the pureness of the Boston Marathon.
It felt like an eternity. As we continued to mindlessly walk our way back to the hotel, more texts came in. I had to abruptly end the celebratory phone call with Coach F, and quickly dialed my parents’ number. “Hi Dad. Where is Mom? Have you guys been watching the news? Oh…I just want to let you know that we are both okay. I had finished the Boston Marathon before the bomb happened and we are heading back to the hotel.”
Then my brother called. Then my coworkers texted. Michael’s family had called. Everyone had a somber face at the hotel. Both Michael and I really didn’t know what monstrosity had happened. We both looked into each other and understood that something horribly wrong had happened. It was agonizing to turn on the television. As we turned on the TV, the eerie reality flashed in front of our faces. We hugged each other and were grateful that we have each other. In the span of seconds, the celebratory finish line had become a crime scene.
As Michael went to the North End of the city to return the bicycle, I wrote a mass email for my coworkers. Everyone was worried. My inbox had over 30 worried messages. Then I went on Facebook. Over 60 concerned messages. I was relieved to find that my friends who were at the race were accounted for and were unharmed. I was simply grateful for the great volunteers and brave responders out there.
Still under shock, I wrote “All both Michael and I are ok – thanks for thinking of us.“
The rest of the trip was a blur. My quads were incredibly stiff. But my heart had endured most of the pain. A smile came across my face as I heard that my running group was doing a mass run to honor those whose lives have been taken and shattered. I saw a clip of my friends running in green.
2,892 miles later…
Over the course of the past year, I have grown. Boston had preserved yet again. It could have much worse.
A year later, I only have one wish. I wish that as the runners toe the start line of Hopkinton, they will reclaim that pureness that the Boston Marathon unicorn has one represented. Even though running is a solo sport, each runner makes up something bigger than his/herself. We are the running community. Boston Marathon is about love and perseverance.
Only two words can sum up how I have been feeling for the past year:
Grateful and Hopeful.
What I am most thankful for: