I was one of the lucky ones.
It's been a week since I crossed the finish line. My heart goes out to those who suffered and died that day. The sadness is overwhelming.
But I will try not to let the act of terror define my memory of the 2013 Boston Marathon. You see, when I crossed the finish line, I had far exceeded my goal for the day. I wasn't trying for a specific time. My goal was to thoroughly enjoy the experience. In the 2012 race, I lost sight of my goal in the 90 degree heat and barely finished. I pledged to make this year different. I decided to take the time to embrace the experience and have fun with it.
The fun started from the time I lined up at the starting line. Normally that means lining up someplace in a mass of roughly 9000 people who start in each of three waves that begin twenty minutes apart. I was assigned to the first corral of the second wave. After the first wave left the chute, I made my way to the front to find an empty corral. So I started the marathon from the starting line. The feeling of being in the front row at the start of the Boston Marathon was an immediate high. I started the race grinning from ear to ear. And I kept the smile for the better part of 26.2 miles.
The communities along the route provide such wonderful support and energy. Thousands of kids reach their hands out to give a high five to runners. I made it a point to try to reach out to every single one of them. In truth, I missed a few. And there was one little girl who pulled her hand back at the last minute. I turned around as I ran past and got the sheepish "I'm so sorry" look from the mom who held her. That kept me laughing for a while.
I wore a bright yellow shirt with a "RunTex" logo on it and a wonderful poem on the back. Run Tex is a fantastic running store in Austin where I bought the shoes that carried me through my first marathon in Austin in 1998. I just visited their site and read about the remembrance they held on April 18th. The picture above that post is taken as the second wave crosses the starting line in Boston. I'm the guy near the bottom right of the frame. I didn't realize people had passed me so quickly. But like I said, I was there to enjoy the race, not win it. :-)
For me, the shirt was a connection to all my past marathons. For the crowd, it gave them something specific to shout to me. "Run Tex!" "Texas!" "Hook em!" "Tex!" It didn't matter why they were shouting to me or what words they chose. The point is they were cheering for me. I took in their energy and allowed it to propel me forward. And I acknowledged every shout. I smiled, made eye contact, and either cheered back, clapped back, pumped a fist, a gave them a thumbs up so they knew I heard them. Which just made them cheer louder. Marathon crowds are like that.
The most energetic crowds are at Wellesley College. In 2012, the "Scream Tunnel" brought me back to life after thinking the race was over for me. After two miles of walking, that enthusiastic group gave me the energy to pick up my feet and jog the rest of the way through. This year, I felt great when I got there, so I just soaked up the energy, smiled back, and even took the time to make a brief recording: https://vine.co/v/bFwZWLh7eup. Sorry you have to rotate your head 90 degrees. Now I know Vine expects video in portrait mode.
I took the time along the way to thank the police officers who lined the street. Most didn't say anything, but many nodded to accept my, "Thank you for what you do, today and every day." I'll cherish the one high five and huge smile from one member of the BPD.
My most cherished memory of the day comes from about a half mile from the finish. A small girl stood along the crowd barricade and just watched me go by. She didn't have her hand out, so I just smiled to her. But I turned my head as I ran by and her dad caught my eye and waved me back to him. So I turned around came. "Would you give my daughter a high five?" he asked. Of course, that's why I was there. I crouched down to get to her eye level, showed her how the whole high five thing worked, then we practiced a couple times. Then I scooped her up in my arms and her dad took a picture us: his little girl in the arms of a stranger on the course of the Boston Marathon. It was a beautiful scene for the three of us. The folks around us seemed to enjoy it too. Perhaps they thought there must have been some real connection for someone to stop and spend that much time so close to the finish. Nope, just sharing a little joy with a perfect stranger and fellow traveler.
That brief exchange with father and daughter boosted my spirits for the final few blocks down Boylston Street. I was the guy who was hooting and hollering my way down the street, waving my arms to get the crowd fired up. When I stopped once to catch my breath, a lady next to me mustered all her energy to whisper, "Keep doing that, I need it." Now I had a specific cause in mind, and I became the guy yelling to the crowd to make some noise to help the particular lady I was pointing at across the finish line.
I felt wonderful after crossing the finish line. I summed up my feelings on Facebook this way:
I shared my happiness on Twitter too:
I made my way through the lines to get my medal, some food and water, and finally the bag I'd left at the starting line. I was walking on air as I made my way to the parking garage on St. James Ave east of Berkeley Street. I heard and felt an explosion, but didn't see it.
It wasn't until I made it to my car and was plotting the course home that I saw the news on Twitter. I immediately posted that I was safe and headed home.
I didn't think there was anything I could do at that point to help other than to get out of the city and let the authorities do their job. As I left town, I saw State Troopers streaming in. God Bless those who go to danger to protect us.
I may write more later, but I'll end this post by saying thank you. Thank you to all the people who came out to watch the 2013 Boston Marathon. You made this marathon my best ever. It makes me so sad to think that some gave their lives just to show their support. Thanks to all the volunteers. Without you, events like this can't happen. Many of you were pressed into service far more horrible than you ever imagined. Thanks to the all the first responders. Amidst the tragedy, you saved lives. The day went terribly wrong, but more lives would have been lost if it weren't for your action.
I haven't seen much of the coverage of the finish line itself. For me, that day, it was a place of pure joy. I refuse let the images of terror take that memory from me.
I've seen coverage of the scene at the finish line with all the flags torn down. I choose to remember Boylston Street with the flags waving in the background, a crowd shouting at me, and me yelling for them to shout even louder for another racer who needs the support.
May God Bless all of you who came out to the race that day in a special way. You shared something special with me amidst all the chaos.