I once wrote in a previous blog “If It’s April, It Must Be Boston,” that going to Boston always brings an element of drama for me. I was referring to such things as weather conditions which greatly affect the outcome of the race. Even in the most dramatic of events I ever experienced at the Boston Marathon, I was simply pointing to extenuating circumstances surrounding my 1984 race, when I qualified for the first women’s Olympic Marathon Trials despite suffering hypothermia, plus the stress from litigation surrounding the Olympic lawsuit case, I was involved with, being argued in court on the very same day. But those words, “always drama in Boston,” haunted me this week no end. I only intended drama in a positive and constructive sense. I never in my wildest dreams thought it would ever take on the connotation of tragic drama. Never, or so I previously thought. Indeed, throughout this past week beginning with the celebration for four former champions on our anniversaries (me, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Greg Meyer and Amby Burfoot), it was a joyous and celebratory time. There were ceremonies, receptions, press conferences, parties, reunions, and all good times. I made some wonderful new friends and enjoyed wonderful reunions with old friends.
The start of the race on Monday in Hopkinton was greeted with glorious weather conditions. I thought, thankfully: no drama in the weather, the runners are blessed. In fact, for me individually, every detail went smoothly from my poisition as an official starter, to the police escort to the finish, seated with friends in the grandstands to watch the elite runners finish, to finding my way on to the finish line on the street, where I could greet the few runners I am coaching, all seemed to go perfectly as planned. And then it didn’t. Something went terribly wrong.
As I greeted my runners at the finish, and shuttled back and forth across Copley Plaza from the finish line to the hotel, I was receiving updates all day on their progress with their time splits sent to my cell phone. I had turned around one last time, heading to the finish line with my first runner in (Charlie Gardner) to meet my last runner (Jeaney Garcia) while the middle runner (Deborah Hafford) showered. Charlie and I delayed because Jeaney’s splits showed that she had slowed down and wasn’t going to hit anywhere close to the 4:00-4:15 finish time she hoped for. Personally, as her coach, I was hoping for a sub-four hour performance and was prepared to stand on the line not to miss it. But her pace was off, and it was not in the cards for her this day. Thank goodness. Otherwise, who knows if we would have found ourselves in the midst of that fateful moment. Instead, as Charlie and I left for the finish line, we felt and heard two big explosions — KA-BOOM, KA-BOOM– and then we were nearly run over by all the emergency vehicles, sirens screaming, flying by us. We continued approaching the finish line, in total disbelief, but we were turned back by BAA committee members familiar to me, saying I shoudn’t see the carnage. They had blood on their hands. It was a good two hours or more until we were reunited with Jeaney back at our hotel where we were all on lockdown. It took more time to discover the whereabouts of my friends and family of our entourage, who I’d given grandstand seats. Deborah’s family members for one thing, and my friend Dennis Kurtis who was watching his fiancee Maria run. They saw it all. What a harrowing experience for everyone. So many were not so fortunate as us, and no one knew if and when the worst was over. It is the fear of the unknown that is unsettling, and it is the feeling of being violated that shook the security we always took for granted in road races. Nothing like this had ever happened before in any race, anywhere, any time.
Since cell phones were the first to be shut down, it was a while before I saw the scores of voicemails and text messages that were sent to me from concerned friends, family, and colleagues. At first, it was through the internet that I was able to begin trickling out brief, quick messages that I was indeed “OK” to my friends and family to relieve those concerns. However, it was only after the success of incredible efforts by police, FBI and everyone involved in the hunt for the perpetrators, that most of us felt true relief. Yet, for so many families inside Boston and beyond, the road ahead to recovery is still very long and arduous.
I am trying to focus on the positive and heroic stories, the tributes and memorials being staged, and the united effort we all feel. I am looking forward to returning next year to participate once again. I anticipate nothing more than drama in the most positive sense. This is also the first moment I have felt like writing my thoughts. Since I no longer keep a running journal, I have to remind myself that I do have a web-blog. Thank goodness I kept more than forty years of journals in order to write my first book, but I think if I’m going to walk the marathon next year, it’s time to open a new training journal. The coach will coach herself!
Meanwhile, I reflect on the better part of this past week:
How did I come to be the official starter for the women’s race at Boston this year? Here are two pre-race articles:
Amby Burfoot wrote “Pioneer Jacqueline Hansen on 1973 Boston Win” in Runners World –
Nicole Nazzaro wrote “Quiet Warrior: 10 things you probably don’t know about Jacqueline Hansen” in RunBlogRun –http://www.runblogrun.com/2013/04/quiet-warrior-10-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-jacqueline-hansen-by-m-nicole-nazzaro-note-by.html
Thursday April 11th: 6 AM Flight to Boston with Jeaney Garcia, who flew in the night before from Honolulu. This evening, we went to “Cheers” on Beacon Street for the kick-off reception and lighting of the BAA lantern as the start of the weekend events ahead.
Friday April 12th: Attended the marathon “Expo” and an evening birthday dinner for Deborah Hafford with family and Jeaney.
Saturday April 13th: The Champions Breakfast with honored guests, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Greg Meyer, Amby Burfoot and myself.
Following, Jeaney and I attended the “Team in Training” luncheon, the charity she is running for.
Sunday April 14th: Pre-race pasta dinner, followed by receptions for the Mayor, the sponsors and the BAA Board.
Monday April 15th: Race start in Hopkinton.
Tuesday April 16th: Looking like a combat zone outside our hotel.
Wednesday April 17th: Arrived home late last night. Attended a solidarity run at Manhattan Beach pier.
Thursday April 18th and Friday April 19th:
Back to work, greeted by caring co-workers, interviewed for LMU school newspaper. Signed Amby Burfoot’s proclamation in support of the B.A.A. and vowed to return next year, so did my boss, Kathy Ash.
Saturday April 20th: On my morning walk, encountered a group, led by Noah Perch-Ahern, running their tribute to Boston. Good people.