Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sore and Sunburned with a Heavy Heart

I write this message today at 3:45 am because I am awake...for the second time tonight.  Playing and replaying my experience on Monday, April 15.  I wanted to get them down on paper so that they would stop swirling around in my head like a confusing bad dream.

Thursday, April 11, brought on a major case of the excited jitters.  Being at work was torture.  My knees were bouncing and I couldn’t stop staring at the clock.  Dad was flying in from Texas that afternoon.  That, to me, symbolized the start of “Marathon Weekend.”  

Friday morning, April 12, I popped awake to complete my “final lap”--a simple 3 mile run.  It was misting by mile 1, drizzling by mile 2 and full on raining by mile 3.  But I didn’t care.  It was “go time.”  Dad and I were taking off that morning, heading North to the Homeland.  To run the race I had trained for since December 10, 2012.  Whose end I had visualized during every long run.  

Saturday, April 13, was met with more jitters, precious family time and anxious anticipation.  Lots of dilemmas went through my head.  Do I run with my phone?  Should I wear my water belt?  Shorts or capris?  These questions feel so insignificant now.

Sunday, April 14.  This is it.  Marathon Eve.  The race expo to pick up my number #23399.  The Dana Farber Marathon Challenge team pasta party where my guest was Katie Smyth, my In Memory partner, Jonathan’s sister.  I nervously and excitedly awaited Katie’s arrival in the lobby of the Copley Marriott Hotel.  We had never met, but were texting one another.  I told her that I would be the woman wearing green pants.  Only to see another woman wearing green pants stroll by me.  Who knew?  Never the less, Katie and I found one another.  I felt like I was hugging an old friend.  

I was too nervous to eat at the party, but savored every moment of the program.  The video slide show of all those children who lost their lives to cancer, including Jonathan.  The celebration of those children fighting cancer who gathered on stage with their running “partners” (fellow DFMC teammates) and received a never ending round of applause.  Quips and final words of wisdom from our team coach, 1976 Boston Marathon winner Jack Fultz.  As he put it so perfectly, “The hay is in the barn.  Training was the journey.  Tomorrow is the celebration.”

Following the party, Regan and I walked Dad to the car and waved him off as he headed back to Rockport for the night.  Regan and I had some sister bonding time ahead of us.  We strolled to the incomparable and awe-inspiring Finish Line on Boylston Street to take some marathon eve photos.  “This is where I am heading tomorrow” photos.  “This is what I have run almost 500 training miles for” photos.  After that, I was finally hungry, so we grabbed a quick salad at one of the restaurants right next to the Finish Line.

We laughed a lot back at the hotel.  Regan was teasing me about how precisely I was laying out my race gear.  #23399 pinned perfectly on to my race singlet.  Shorts were the choice.  Comfy post-race change of clothes packed in my race bag.  Then we slept.

5 am. Monday, April 15.  Alarm goes off.  Up I popped.  Jumped in the shower.  Donned my uniform.  Hugged my sister and went to meet my team.  Immediate friendships developed as my teammates and I made the chilly walk from our team headquarters, the Copley Square Marriott to the Boston Common where yellow school buses were in queue to drive thousands of runners about 26.2 miles west to Hopkinton, the small Massachusetts town famous for one thing--being the start of one of the most revered marathons in the world.

10:20 am.  Regan and Dad greeted me for some final well wishes, last minute photos, long tight hugs and I was off.  As I walked toward Corral 6 for my 10:40 Wave 3 start, my mind and heart were racing.  As much as the excitement of the crowd was energizing, I put on my music so that I could focus and get into my zone.  I was about to take my “final exam.”  And it wasn’t going to be easy.

10:40 am.  Wave 3 starts.  Like a herd of cattle, my crew begins to walk toward the start.  Walking is taken over by slow jogging and there it is.  START.  I step over the line and the race had begun.

When I run, I look down.  It’s just what I do.  It was so tempting to crane you neck to look at the thousands of spectators and fellow runners.  Some in crazy uniforms.  Many wearing the names of loved ones on their backs.  I had to continue to refocus myself.  Any extraneous movement is energy I will need at mile 22, when the race really gets hard.

The early miles were just sliding by.  It was unbelievable.  It felt like every time I looked up, I was passing a mile marker. “I am doing this.  And I feel great!”

Mile 9.  Dad, Regan, Sean, my sis-in-law Emily and my two nephews, Henry and Calvin were scanning the crowd for #23399.  I spotted Regan’s fuchsia sweater quickly and easily near Speen Street in Natick.  Quick hugs and kisses all around and back on the route I went.   

Mile 10.  Hugs from my dear high school friend Jonathan Kaplan and his family.

Mile 13.1.  The half way point.  And a surprise sighting of good friends from “back in the day,” Ryan and Kim (Buckley) Beagin.

Miles 14 through 16, I was flying high and in disbelief.  I am really doing this and feeling little pain.

Mile 17.  Hugs from two of my best friends of over twenty years, Heidi (Burr) Thomas and Erica (Verville) Mawn and each of their kids, Ellie and Jimmy.

Mile 19-21.  Hear it comes.  Heart break Hill.  Dad and Regan on the side to greet me as I embark up the infamous grade then off they went to cheer me on at the Finish Line.  Head down, music loud, mind focused.  I see another old Gettysburg College friend, Jim Marsh at mile 20.  I almost missed him from being so far into my zone.  And then all of a sudden, I look up and I’m at the top.  Boston College students yelling and whooping it up, encouraging runners along, well into their kegs.

Notable point:  somewhere up the Hill, I pass the Team Hoyt--the iconic and awe inspiring Father/Son team.  Father pushing disabled Son in his specially crafted racing wheel chair because early on in his life, Son said that “when I run with my Dad, I no longer feel disabled.”  What a rush that was!

I am feeling strong.  I haven’t had the desire to walk.  My pace was steady.  I am doing this. 

Miles 22-24 weren’t easy.  My legs were feeling heavy.  But my heart and my breathing were strong.  Lots of oxygen-filled breaths in through the nose, out through the mouth.  I  touched my heart necklace, rubbed my Lego and carried on.

Mile 25.  The Citgo sign.  The Dana Farber Marathon Challenge cheering spot.  One mile to go.  

I made a decision to pick up my pace a bit, because hell, I can do anything for 10 minutes.  I have a specific time I want to break. I shuffle my iPod shuffle to a power song and hit it.  My legs pushing as hard as they can.  Head down.  Focus intense.  That Finish Line is mine within minutes.

Until it wasn’t.

As, “I Will Wait” by Mumford and Sons is screaming in my ears, I notice non-runners pouring on to the race course.  “Excuse me!   Out of my way,” I scream as I bob and weave.  “Where is the crowd control?  Why aren’t the police holding these people back,”  I think as I strive to grab that Finish Line by the horns and take it down to the ground.

“The race is over.  You can’t finish.”  I take my ear phones off.  “What?”  The race had come to a complete halt at mile 25.5.  Fellow racers just standing still, in shock.  People frantically on their phones.  What the hell is going on?  I was almost delusional as I thought, “Did I miss it?  Did I cross the Finish?”  Confusion ensues.

Eventually news is trickling in that there had been two explosions at the Finish Line.  My mind immediately jumps to Regan and Dad.  Waiting for me to turn the corner from Hereford to Boylston for the final straight away toward the Finish.  My decision to not run with a phone immediately becomes a problem.  

As we stand there, the 50 degree temperature begins to take hold.  Shivering.  Teeth chattering.  Kind residents of Beacon Street are handing out garbage bags--make shift coats to keep us warm.  Pitchers of water and cups are being poured and distributed.  Snacks are being handed out.  

I encounter a fellow Dana Farber teammate and her boyfriend and we naively wonder aloud, “I hope they at least let us walk over the finish line.”  We had no idea what was happening a short .5 miles away.  Due to the hard right and then hard left of that final .5 mile, we had no view of the nightmare that lay ahead.

A stranger allowed me to use his phone, but all cell service had been cut off.  I had no way to find my family.  Panic set in.  “I need my stuff,” is all I could say, on repeat.  Prior to the race, runners check their gear onto predesignated school buses, carefully organized by race number so that it is there waiting for you once you finish the race.  All I could think about was getting my phone so that I could contact my Dad and Regan.  Picturing them at the Finish Line.  Where two bombs just exploded.

Without any official information, no one knew where to go or what to do.  Eventually the crowd begins to move forward.  Word is that all runners are being diverted to the Boston Common to await further notice.  After running 25.5 miles, walking another mile sounds very unappealing.  

My new friends and I commit to sticking together as we make our way down Marlborough Street.  The impact of what had just happened at the Finish Line in no way sinking in or understood.  All I could wonder was how in the world was I going to find my family.  “I just need my stuff.”

Miraculously, Berkley street is accessible--the home of the baggage buses.  My friends and I bee line it for the white Dana Farber bus and some how dig through 500 gear bags.  My stuff.  My phone.  When I turn it on, it “dings” incessantly as texts are pouring in from concerned friends.  Disregarding these, I call Regan---straight to voice mail.  I call Dad---straight to voice mail.  Panic.  Disbelief.  

A decision was made to walk to the Copley Marriott, team headquarters.  As we trudge along, teeth chattering, I hear a beautiful sound.  My phone ringing and my sister’s face appears on my screen.  We realize that we are a block apart.  I turn around and there is that fuchsia sweater.  Dad, Regan and I hug tightly.  We are safe and we are together.  

With little idea or understanding of what is happening on Boylston Street, we decide the best thing to do is to get out of the city as quickly as possible.  Because T service (mass transit) was suspended, we embark on a 2 mile walk to our car.  Once safely in our car, we turn the news on the radio and listen in silence to what has just occurred.

Regan, Dad and I arrive safely at Sean and Emily’s house.  We are greeted by huge, relieved hugs.  I quickly shower and then settle on the couch to watch the horrific images of that iconic Finish Line where just the night before, we took photos and ate dinner.  Now a crime scene.  3 dead, over 150 people injured.

As I sit here this morning, sore and sunburned, my heart is heavy.  I am filled with emotions, none of which are well-formed or coming to the surface.  I am left with an overall feeling of numbness.  Most present is the anger that I couldn’t complete my race.      I hear a little voice in my head saying, “Where’s MY medal?”  My mind and heart is incapable of wrapping themselves around the reality of what is being looped on the news.  Death.  Amputations.  Shrapnel.  Pressure Cookers.  Terrorist Attack.

I hope I don’t sound ungrateful.  Two angels kept my pace closer to an 11 minute mile than a 10 minute mile.  I can’t even grasp what it would be like if I was crossing the line, with my family cheering me on, as those twin bombs exploded.  Surreal.  

My affect is flat.  My mood is somber.  My feelings are numb.  But I feel all of your love and support, as I have during this entire process.  I finally made it through the 60+ texts that dinged in when I turned on my phone and the 100s of Facebook message.  You are all amazing and I am so lucky to call you my friends.

Yesterday, Tuesday, April 16, Dad and I embarked on our long journey back to Philadelphia, first making at stop at Wadsworth cemetery in Sudbury, MA.  Mom and Jonathan deserved a visit and a thank you.  Just two gravestones apart, they will forever rest together.  High-fiving one another for keeping my family and I safe on race day.  That will be my “rainbow” this year.  

I am well on my way to raising my true goal of $15,000--$10K felt attainable, $15K felt like a pipe dream.  But we are doing it!  Donations are still welcome because after all, this whole endeavor is about raising money to BEAT CANCER.  No terrorist can take that away from us.

All my love and thanks.


1 comment:

  1. Amy, I've walked the Boston Marathon route 13 times for the Jimmy Fund. There was one year I came in so late that they ran out of Jimmy Fund medals and started to hand out Boston Marathon Medals. I want to say it was the 100th running too.

    If you don't receive a medal for your amazing race let me know... I'd be very happy to send my unofficial Boston Marathon medal to you.

    Let me know,

    Thanks again for all that you've done.