Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Boston 2013

It is finally time for me to add my chapter to the big, huge story that is Boston 2013. Believe me, I have tried to write this post over and over again, but I haven’t been able to find the right way to talk about my weekend – how to address the terrible situation that will forever define such a venerable and beloved marathon, how to describe the wacky, bizarre 3 hours and 28 minutes that was my race, and how to share the truly amazing weekend full of love that was all the hours and days before and after those horrible moments on Monday, April 15th.  Hopefully this effort at articulating all of those disparate events will be successful enough to convey my thoughts.

I think it is really only right to address the bombings first, before I get to the wacky, the bizarre and the fantastic. Like everyone else who was in Boston on marathon Monday, the bombings rattled me to my core.  I was, more than anything, numbed by the shock that this could have happened. While many felt immediate sadness or fear or alarm, I just felt numb. And frankly, I think that I may still feel that way. As a self-professed optimist I just cannot begin to comprehend why anyone would choose to carry out such a horrific act. That said, I also was acutely, instantly awed by the response to the bombings. I was amazed by the rapid and thorough response by the emergency responders in Boston. The bombs went off while Ellen and I were 
retrieving our car from an underground garage and by the time we were above ground emergency vehicles
Of all the photos from the week
in Boston, this one of a cop
delivering milk to a Watertown
family on lockdown is one of
my favorites.
were streaming by. Before we left the city over a dozen police cars, fire trucks and ambulances sped by us on Beacon Street. Nine big old unmarked, tinted window-ed, lights flashing SUV’s careened around me while I was stopped at an intersection. During the 3 short miles we were on the Mass Pike I counted over 20 emergency vehicles flying towards the city, sirens blaring. When I passed the National Guard building, not 30 minutes after the blasts, the parking lot was teeming with uniformed folks ready to load up and head into the city. And so on. The city of Boston has always been proud of its emergency responders and on Monday (and throughout the week) they demonstrated to the world why they had earned that pride. 

I have also been mesmerized by the innumerable stories of civilians, regular folks like you and me, who ran towards the explosions, right into a melee of severed limbs and blood and screaming and crying, who pressed their hands onto ruptured arteries and who removed their belts and shirts to make the tourniquets that saved a stunning number of lives. We Americans are not always the best at looking out for one another but these folks showed us all how it should be done.

On a personal level, I was absolutely dumbstruck by the outpouring of love, concern and support from my  friends, family, acquaintances, the friends of friends, the family of friends…you get the picture. Never have I ever received so many texts, emails, phone calls, tweets and Facebook messages. (Just yesterday I received a lovely card from Ellen’s Aunt Rose, whom I have never even met!) And even though I was unable to personally reply to them all, these communications all collectively meant the world to me. It fills my heart to know that on such a terrible day over 22,000 runners plus all those observing all likely experienced a similar outpouring of love and concern from their personal communities. 

But even with all that bravery and help and love and support my heart still breaks for a few specific groups of people. Obviously I am deeply, deeply saddened for the families who lost loved ones last week. I cannot begin to imagine their grief. I am also distressed for those injured and their families; so many of them have incredibly long and arduous roads ahead. But I have spent most of my week heartbroken for 2 groups in particular. First, the families of the victims of the shooting in Newtown. Some of these brave families came to Boston to witness a celebration of their loved ones. They were seated in the grandstands at the finish line to watch runners complete the 26th mile, which was dedicated to the 26 victims of Newtown. Instead, they witnessed a horrible tragedy when the first bomb exploded directly across Boylston Street from them. I simply cannot imagine their trauma. Second, I am grief-stricken for all the folks who witnessed the bombings and walked away without any physical injuries but with a depth of psychological trauma that many Americans cannot imagine…especially the children who suffered these wounds. As a mother of an anxious child I cannot even fathom how challenging it will be to help these children and adults negotiate the invisible trauma they experienced.  I hope that all of these folks will experience an outpouring of love and support that far trumps what I received on Monday but that lasts for all the days and weeks and years necessary until their hearts and heads have healed.

It would be far too easy to end this post here; to let the bombings be the story of the entire trip. But, as many other folks have already said, to do that would be to let the young men who planted the bombs win. So, if you will stick with me for a little bit longer I would like to tell you about the rest of my trip to Boston.

before and after the race we
sported our BCTC jackets,
as did Alex Varner (on the right).
But he got to put his back on
much sooner than us: he ran 2:21!
all excitement before the bus ride
First, let's talk a little bit about the marathon itself. As seems to be the 
norm for me, I spent the week before the race fretting about whether I would be able to start, or finish, the whole 26.2 miles. After a completely uneventful training cycle I managed to tweak something in my left glute 8 days before the race. I ran all of 6 miles the week before the race, promised my coach to stop if I felt that I was doing damage that could mess up my season and greeted Monday full of contingency plans. After all that, the glute was the least of my issues. While it did harass me on and off throughout the run, the real problem was….well, everything else. You see, on this particular Monday every single thing that has never happened to me in my 10 previous marathons happened. In one race. It seems impossible, but it really happened. From the moment the race started I felt “off”… a little dizzy and woozy. At mile 3 I took my first sip of water and my stomach did some backflips. Despite this, I soldiered on and took a gel at mile 6 as planned. Instantly my stomach rebelled and began to ask for a bathroom trip. I patiently waited for it to calm down, but at mile 9 I knew that I needed to defer to my knotted up GI system. I reluctantly parted ways from Ellen, whom I was pacing, and my teammates Kara and Nancy. As I sprinted off towards a porta john I promised I would find them when I got back on course. After emerging from the bathroom (only about 45 - 60 seconds later) I sped off in search of them. They were running 7:45 pace, I was running 6:24. I figured I would catch them within a mile. Or not. I ran and ran, all the way through Natick and up into Wellesley, searching the crowds of runners around me but never finding them. Distraught, I 
SO happy to see Tessa
and Blazer, just past
the Wellesley scream
stopped in Wellesley, first with my dear friends Tessa and Beth for about 2 minutes, then  for another 7 minutes with the fantastic Oiselle cheering section in front of GettiGear. No one had seen Ellen. We scoured the crowd but didn’t see her go by. Finally I started up again, only to discover that I needed to go to the bathroom a second time. As soon as I emerged from THAT porta john I received a text from Tessa telling me that the athlete alerts put me 2 minutes ahead of Ellen at 20k. I had passed her in my mad dash to catch up. With my “rest” breaks in Wellesley I had crossed the halfway mark (21k) 7 minutes behind her. Honestly, at this point I was utterly demoralized. I had completely failed in my pacing duties. Ellen, Kara and Nancy had run right by me at some point and I hadn’t seen them. But I gathered myself together and sprinted off, hoping beyond all hope that I could catch up. And then, minutes later, a side stitch set in. It was bad enough that I simply couldn’t run through it; I had to walk it off. More time down. I stopped in Wellesley Hills to talk to my amazing friend Mary Mazzio to see if she had seen Ellen…no dice. Side stitch behind me I dashed off towards the Newton Hills. I charged up the hills as best I could, trying to make up time. Finally, at about mile 20.5, I came upon our Saucony rep Jeff Caron, who saw me and shouted my name. Once I registered that it was him I turned around, ran back, and asked where Ellen was. “5 minutes ahead” was his answer. Less than six miles to go and I had 5 minutes to make up. I just didn’t think I could do it, but I raced off once again, determined to try my best to catch her so that we could at least, maybe, finish together. I charged down the backside of Heartbreak Hill and…my calves began to lock up. Big, painful knots just took over where the muscles had been moments before. Somehow, instead of freaking out I was able to convince myself ease off a little bit…just enough to get the knots to loosen up so I could keep ploughing along. Over the course of the next 4 miles I fretted about Ellen, I considered just throwing in the towel, I decided not to. That cycle of thought dominated my brain so completely that I barely remember this portion of the race. And then, at mile 24.5, I looked ahead about 100 meters and saw some orange compression socks. But unlike the dozens of other sets of orange compression socks I had seen along my frantic journey, these ones were topped by a Oiselle singlet and magenta arm warmers. ELLEN! I had done it! One last sprint and I was even with her. As relief flooded over me my first words were “I’m here. Can we walk for a minute?” Thank goodness she obliged; otherwise she would have dropped me instantly. :) While I will never get over the disappointment I feel in not being able to pace and entertain her through the bulk of the race, I cannot put into words the joy I felt in being able to run the last 1.7 miles and cross the finish line with her. 

Looking back, I honestly cannot believe the day I had. I ran 26.68 miles (extra distance for weaving around people and sprinting to and from those bathrooms) and stood stock still for at least 9 minutes of my "race time".  I had almost every physical glitch one can experience in a marathon befall me, but despite it all I still finished. Right next to Ellen, just like we had planned. I am obviously extremely sad that the whole race didn’t work out anything like I had anticipated, but honestly, a week later I can’t do anything but laugh when I think back on it. The marathon is about as unpredictable as it gets and this particular race was my own personal reminder of that fact.

Now, onto the last chapter…the fantastic parts of the weekend. Because really, in so many ways it was an incredibly special weekend for me. First, I got to go to yet another marathon with my running BFF/top notch travel partner Ellen. We just have so. much. fun. We are also both shameless running of the 

hanging out with the incomparable Meb
sport and all its stars. So imagine our delight when we spent some time wandering the mall and chatting with Meb, whom I invited to my house just before he gave Ellen some kick ass marathon advice. 
Oiselle teammate Lauren
Fleshman, her lima bean
and us

We hung out with the delightful Lauren Fleshman, who is absolutely as cool in person as you could possibly imagine. I had tweets favorited by not one, but TWO Olympic athletes whom I respect and admire (marathoner Kara Goucher and 1992 Olympic rower, documentary filmmaking badass and, full disclosure, friend, Mary Mazzio). I spent time with 4 of my most favorite people on earth: my college crew co-captains Inga and Amy who graciously hosted us and my spectacular friend (also from Mount Holyoke crew) Tessa and her amazing partner Beth. 
Some of my nearest & dearest:
Amy, Inga, Beth, Tessa & Ellen
I got to meet and get to know a bunch of my Oiselle teammates, who all proved to be even more delightful in real life than on the internet. I experienced some awesome unanticipated benefits of having sponsorships while out on the marathon course as people shouted “Go Oiselle!” and “Go LUNA!” as I ran by. Each time that happened I felt a little more determined, a little bit stronger and immensely proud of my affiliation with these fantastic companies.

evidently if you send Kara
Goucher a pic like this...
you get this in your inbox!

As if all that weren’t enough, after 22 years I was reunited with the four phenomenal women who were my varsity four (crew boat) in high school. A celebration of the 35 year career of our coach Andy Harris happened to take place on the Saturday before the marathon and Ellen gamely trekked with me out to Southborough to meet up with my coach and rowers. The evening was amazing ... an event packed with folks whose lives Andy had made better with his quiet, paternal, expert coaching and his love of the sport. But the absolute highlight of the evening for me was being reunited with my varsity four, most of whom I had not laid eyes on since high school graduation. If you are not familiar with the sport of crew let me explain a few things. I was the coxswain (or "cox" which is both a noun and a verb): the on board coach, strategist, mom and steering wheel. The four immensely tall women you see below were my rowers; the engines. Their job was to propel the boat by moving with fluid strength and in perfect unison. All together, a boat basically has one heart. A good boat is intensely connected on the water, operating as one unit. And, as I have learned, in a good boat that connection - rower to rower and between rowers and their coxswain - remains a constant off the water and, at its best, never goes away. I can't quite put into words how joyful it was for me to be back together in one room with these women: although we are all now grown women, scattered around the country with unique lives, as soon as we came together we were instantly, once again, the St. Mark's varsity four of 1991. These women and Mr. Harris were really collectively responsible for stoking my passion for the sport which still in many ways defines who I am. If that makes no sense to those of you who are reading this and know me as a runner, perhaps it will become more clear when I tell you that one of my rowers (upon hearing that I had trained alongside Ellen for months and was planning to pace and entertain her through the marathon) exclaimed “oh! Now you cox runners!”  It had never occurred to me that this was the root of my love of training and pacing other women, but when it was said it instantly made perfect sense. I may be a runner nowadays but I will always be a coxswain at my core. 

St. Mark's 1991 girls varsity four, all grown up:
Katrina, Emily, Kara, Charlotte, me and Andy Harris

Before, during and after the bombings that will forever define this weekend in history, I experienced a weekend full of love and support beyond my wildest dreams.  I really believe that this love provided a foundation for me on Monday that allowed me to contend not just with the wackiest marathon I have ever experienced but also with the awful aftermath created by the bombings. I am also intensely proud of the loyalty and love that the running community and the people of Boston have shown towards those directly affected by the bombings. Both runners and Bostonians are, by nature, incredibly tough and this was demonstrated last Monday and in the week plus that has followed. As I wrap up this post, I would like to implore you to remember that while the acute memory of the bombings will fade for many of us, the physical and emotional scars will last a long time for many others. My hope going forward is that somehow we can all continue to find ways to send love, support and assistance to the hundreds of folks who lost their loved ones, their limbs or their sense of safety in Boston.  Even a small fraction of the love and support shown in the last week will make a world of difference to someone still struggling with this tragedy. Whether you make a financial donation, give blood (I understand that NOW, after the acute emergency has passed, is the time to give), or simply give your time and attention to listen to someone still struggling with processing the events of the day, we can all keep working together to ensure that these 2 young men don’t ever win, don’t defeat the spirit of our communities and that, instead, love wins.

To donate to the one fund, please click here:

To find out how to donate blood in your community, please click here:

 A few more gratuitous scenes from the weekend:

Fab Oiselle teammates Rebecca, Paulette, me, Ellen and Meghan

A little pre-race Bull City love from Ellen,
me and Kara!
In the ocean of runners passing
through Wellesley