I’ve lived in Boston for 25 years now. And if you’ve lived there that long, the famed Boston Marathon has this sneaky effect. You start thinking after a while…”Could I?” Or “Wouldn’t that be ‘fun’?”
(And let me tell you right now — there is NOTHING about running a marathon that is fun, so put that out of your head.)
But then you see other people do it, and you start to think, well, if THEY can do it, why can’t I?
You’ve had something like that in your life, right? “Why NOT me?”
So I decided I wanted to run it. So I trained. Got hurt. Took a break. Changed how I ran. Trained some more.
And there I was, at the starting line of the Boston Marathon.
It was a beautiful day. Perfect for running. I was running officially. My husband was running “bandit,” as they call it: running without an official number. But even though only I was “official,” together we’d raised over $5,000 for the local Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester.
That meant a lot to me — to run it for them — because Dorchester is a part of Boston where, for a lot of kids, there’s a limit on what can seem possible. So to do something for them that I had once thought impossible for me… well, it what was kept me training and running. And I was slow, so I had to run a loooooong time.
And I know I told you that it wasn’t fun, but that wasn’t entirely true. We had a great time that day because we had NO chance of doing well, thanks to my injury and our general lack of, well, speed and runner-ness.
So instead of seeing it as the grueling endurance test it is, we high-fived little kids on the course, rocked out to Joe Cocker, Creedence, and Katy Perry (all with songs at the perfect running cadence of 180 beats per minute), and made the turn on the course up to what are known as the “Newton Hills.”
Now the last of these hills is pretty famous. It’s called Heartbreak Hill, because, well, it comes between miles 20 and 21, which — after you’ve been running that long — is about the last frickin’ point at which you want to be running up a hill. But there it is.
And as we were running up the hill, suddenly everything got very still. I don’t know how else to describe it, except that everything around us just… changed.
A bunch of motorcycles went roaring past us.
And then people started telling us to get off the course.
I pulled the headphones from my ears. And everyone was talking about a bomb.
This was 2013. The year that — four hours and 49 minutes into the race — two bombs exploded in the last half mile, killing three people, and maiming and wounding scores of others.
We were safe. 5.99 miles away. Halfway up Heartbreak Hill. But the race was over.
Were we lucky? I don’t know. We were slow, I know that, and so were far away.
But I didn’t feel lucky. I felt angry. And guilty.
Angry at the bombers. Guilty that I was traumatized when I was so far away and unharmed. Guilty that I was angry I didn’t get to finish.
Angry that I didn’t know what to do with all of that. That I was letting the Boys and Girls Clubs down. That I was letting me down.
But there was this phrase in my head. I have no idea where it came from. I’ve researched and researched it and have never found a source that explains how I could have heard or read it. But there it was in my head — a truth that made it impossible for me to stay still. To not finish:
“The runner and the road are one with the errand to be done.”
To me, it meant that the bombers didn’t get to decide I finished. Nor did the race officials. Only I did. Because it was just me, the road, and running the race I’d committed to run.
So three weeks later, I went back to the corner of Commonwealth and Grant avenues, where officials stopped our race before, halfway up Heartbreak Hill.
I pinned my number back on. I put my headphones back in.
And I ran to the finish line.
No crowds this time. No water stops. No photographers. No timers. No bomb.
The streets weren’t closed at that point, obviously, so I ran on the sidewalks. And about a mile out from the finish, I was in the part of Boston called Kenmore Square, where for whatever reason, the sidewalks are particularly wide.
I remember I was running towards an old woman on that wide sidewalk. She saw my number. She saw I was running.
And she… she started clapping. She said, “Good for you! Finish the race!” I started to cry. She saw me. Runner. Road. One.
She was my angel. Is.
They say the two most famous turns in running are “Right on Hereford, left on Boylston.” Those are the last two turns you make in downtown Boston before you’re on the straightaway to the finish line, which is in front of the Public Library.
It was right after the second turn that one of the bombs went off three weeks earlier. As I passed, the spot was still marked by ribbons and flowers.
I bent my head. Touched my heart, reached towards the spot. Kept running.
About a half block from the finish line, a group of people saw me. They had just finished another run that happened in Boston that day. Fellow runners.
And they started cheering and clapping.
I passed the site of the second bomb. Bowed my head for Martin Richard. For Krystle Campbell. For Lü Lingzi. And finished.
Just me. And the traffic. And my impromptu crowd. I was done. Finally.
Just beyond the finish line was the memorial the people of Boston set up. Shirts, flags, flowers, shoes. I unpinned my number. Pinned it to the memorial. And walked home.
Was it hard? Yes. Hard work. But the decision to run, to finish on my terms, was…easy. And all because of that mysterious idea: “The runner and the road are one.”
I think there’s always an idea that makes not acting harder than acting. A truth that makes it impossible to stand still. The key is to find it, for yourself or for someone else.
I can’t wait to see what you finish as a result.