Boston Marathon, beyond the finish line
My race ended in grand fashion. I experienced wonderful running weather, tremendous crowd support and a goal time achieved. I had several friends also participating in the race, each running their own version of the famed Boston Marathon. If you haven’t been to the race, I can offer an explanation of what many videos and photographs do not make clear. The finish line on Boylston Street is NOT the large blue scaffolding structure seen in the pictures. The finish line is a large painted stripe on the concrete, bordered by two timing chip mats. It is 40 feet in front of the blue tunnel. The blue scaffolding bridge is for photographers, media and race officials. It is mostly blue on the front side facing the finish line, decorated with Boston Marathon logos and sponsor banners. The back side is mostly white tarps and banners enclosing the structure from the elements should it rain or be exposed to wind. Once you complete your run, you walk under the structure and head east on Boylston Street to get water, the Mylar blankets and your finisher’s medal. That’s the plan, anyway. I passed under the structure and stopped for a minute to catch my breath and look back at the last straightaway. (see Figure label #1 below) “I really did it,” rang in my head, I pulled together one of my best endurance sports performances just minutes ago. I was elated! White and yellow coat volunteers and race officials asked me if I was ok, I reassured them I was fine, thanked them and just stayed in the shade of the tunnel. I watched and listened to the music, heard the announcer calling out names, and kept enjoying the non-stop noise from the crowd. The cheering on Boylston Street is so memorable. I’d venture to guess that only by coincidence would there be anyone in the massive crowd that knows me. Yet thousands of people scream, cheer, ring cowbells and wave flags as you run by.
I wear a Nathan 10k waist belt pack when I do long runs. It stays tight to my body, doesn’t look like a big lump of equipment, and holds some things I like to have during and after the race. I can carry gels, salt pills and my phone with me. I had the phone and my ID and some cash in the pack when I finished the race. With my running completed, I was riding a high that had me using my limited cell phone battery power to relay quick text messages about my experience to friends . Between text messages and Facebook personal messages, my phone’s already low battery was in trouble. I had to minimize what I was doing with my iPhone. I needed some juice left to connect with Charlotte and hopefully get a few finisher pictures of ourselves, too. Volunteers encouraged me, politely, to continue moving to the water and runner recovery area just 150 ft ahead. This recovery zone for athletes began at Dartmouth Street and Copley Square. I didn’t want to get water and begin shuffling down the street yet, I had a few people running that I wanted to greet right as they finished. Lilia Drew, Diane Walsh, Charlotte of course, followed hopefully soon after by Michael Papa and Barry Green. I spoke with Stephanie Freeman just yesterday, she said she wasn’t going to be at Mile 19 as she thought, she was going to the finish line area instead. Ann Wessling is usually poking around here, too, with her Competitor Sports credentials, I expected to see her in the finish zone with a microphone. I was going to hang as close to the action and excitement as possible – for as long as possible. Anyone who knows me knows this. The finish line area is the pulse of any race. This was a great day!
I moved under the tunnel and to the south side of the street. I leaned and stretched up against what I will refer to as a “Fedex” drop box. It was a metal mailbox-like permanent fixture servicing the businesses on Boylston Street. (see Figure label #2 below) I stretched my calves and shoulders, answering volunteers that asked me to keep moving with, “Sure, just stretching out and getting the rusty pieces back in shape.” Two white coat volunteers were standing next to it, so I started to chat with them. They asked about my race, where I was from, how I enjoyed Boston. One wore a Boston College hat, so I raved to him how Mile 21 at BC was a great segment of the course, the loudest and most enthusiastic fans greeted me there! While I spoke with these two volunteers, others with white and yellow jackets stayed away and focused on getting the stream of finishers to keep walking forward and vacate the finish area. I could stall here as long as I could stretch my legs and keep talking to these two guys, I thought. As I spoke to them, I was also answering text messages from people who had contacted me while I was on the course. I didn’t claim the time on my Garmin to anyone, I wanted the official time from BAA to surface so I was sure it was authentic. I was back and forth texting with Austin and Anita Daniels, Suzanne and Sal Senzatimore, Jessica Crate, Adrienne Papa, Diane Walsh, Patty Loubris and Erica Lazarus. All of the texts from them happened before the first explosion. On Facebook, I also answered a few posts and congratulation messages from friends. The phone was low on battery, but this activity wasn’t eating up too much power. I would ask runners what their finishing time was as they passed me, giving me an idea as to when Charlotte and others would be coming through. I believe I missed Lilia Drew and Diane Walsh at their finish because I was talking to the two volunteers at the Fedex box. I learned from texts with Suzanne that Charlotte was not going to be finishing before 3 hours 53 minutes, still at that time 10 minutes away. I said goodbye to the two volunteers and moved from the Fedex mailbox to the lifeguard chair behind the finish line. The lifeguard chair was setup in the middle of Boylston Street.
I took a moment to answer questions from a guy with a tape recorder. He asked basic questions about my race day exeperience and took my name in a notepad. I laetr learned he was from NPR Radio, here is that interview with myself and other finishers minutes before the 1st explosion. NPR Radio Interview
Sitting in the chair were two yellow jacket race officials, encouraging finishing runners to keep walking to the water tables past Dartmouth Street or if they needed medical help, to enter the large white tent at Copley Squre. I said, “Hi” to them, thanked them for being a part of the race, and stood behind their chair to wait for runners. (see Figure label #3 below) I continued to stretch, talk to other finishers, and answer text messages while at the lifeguard chair. I was moved to see so many people crying as they walked to get water and their medal. They cried because they were happy with their results! I spoke to a few, they were so positively affected by the race and their finish. This made me feel really good, what a perfect day to run and spend it among friends. And soon my friends would start arriving. I looked forward to the runner after-party at House of Blues. I thought that when Charlotte came through the finish and we collected our things, we could visit the bars on the north side of the street in front of the finish line so I can get a Samuel Adams “26.2 Brew” glass. I saw them online, Sam Adams employees at the expo said I’d get one free if I went on a brewery tour, but I wasn’t going to be here on Tuesday. This would be my chance at scoring one! I didn’t know it then, but it would have also put me in the mix of where the explosions were to occur.
I wanted a picture to send to Andre from Skechers to show him I wore the shoes and finished in a good time. Runners streamed by on both sides of me, so I walked to the North side of Boylston Street near the beginning of the Dartmouth Street intersection. I asked a Boston Police officer if he would take my picture. He did, I checked it to make sure it was in focus and thanked him. (see Figure label #4 below) I tried to attach that picture to a text message to Andre, but the photo never went through. It stalled trying to attach to the text, so I stopped it because I feared it was sapping my battery power. I moved back to the middle of the street next to the lifeguard chair and kept looking for Charlotte. I went back and forth via text with Adrienne Papa on where Michael was, she said he was scheduled to arrive in 4:01, he was looking to beat her previous Boston marathon time. She said he had reached the 30km mark on schedule, and that he was “on a mission.” I typed a message to her that did not send – it read…
“I guess. The hills don’t end at heartbreak. The little ones at 23-25 hurt, too.”
Charlotte sent me a text after that, saying she was heading towards the meeting spot we had arranged yesterday. This was a building three blocks away with a lower level concourse that provided free massages and chicken soup for the runners after the race. I was very surprised that she too had completed her run and passed by without me seeing her. Granted there were many finishers, but I was right in the middle of the street and I thought I’d easily recognize her. Maybe my incessant texting caused me to miss her? I said I’d be over to the meeting spot shortly, I’d have to begin walking east on Boylston, get water, my medal and my clothes from the bus. When I shut my phone off to save power and turned left, the first explosion hit. (see Figure label #5 below) My right ear whistled with a ringing sound as I watched a cloud of whitish-grey smoke rise from in front of the finish timing tent on the north side of the street. Everyone got very quiet, the smoke rose and started to dissipate when explosion #2 hit further down the street. I thought a generator, transformer or propane tank exploded. I watched police and volunteers hurry to the scene. The video that played over and over on TV showed low flames and minimal debris. I didn’t see flames, blood or anything that made it alarming besides the loud sound it made and the echo from the surrounding buildings. Count to ten – the second explosion wasn’t as loud, but made me think someone was going to be in big trouble for this mess and that people were probably injured nearby, knowing how big and tight the crowds were all along the non-bleacher side of the street. Within two minutes, the smoke from both explosions cleared. A breeze that acted as a runner’s headwind from the east blew the smoke away. So really, to me, things didn’t look too bad from behind the finish line structure. The volunteers and police now made sure everyone that wasn’t associated with the authorities or the race was walking away from the finish area. The medical tent in Copley square had a stream of people coming out heading towards the first explosion area. Volunteers stopped anyone from moving towards the finish area, but there wasn’t a whole lot of clamor among people looking to go towards the troubled area. The soldiers in uniform that finished hiking the course, they ran by me to get to the finish line and as the video showed, to the slat fence that separated the spectators from the finish line. I walked towards the water tables, took a bottle and spoke with several runners and people who asked what I had seen and what happened. (see Figure label #6 below) I answered with the same thing… I saw white/gray smoke from two explosions, and there were plenty of people there to help. I wasn’t worried or scared, I was calm and under the belief that things went very well with my run and whatever had just occurred was under control due to the large presence of law enforcement and medical personnel. I kept reminding people that so many police and medical pros were there. Further down the road, I went to collect my medal and Power Bar samples and food goodie bag. I went to the bus that held my race bag, collected that and saw that many people were not worried about what they had seen. I heard a man say to a woman, “This isn’t Disney, they don’t fire off cannons at the Boston Marathon, that was a bomb.” I had an odd feeling that people very close to where I was were injured, the explosion was very loud and happened in a crowded place. I wasn’t naive to that. For 7-10 minutes, I did not see or hear any sirens at all, the sound of one helicopter was overhead, that’s all. I met Charlotte at the entrance to the building we were to meet at. Then we heard the first sirens. She had by that time been monitoring Twitter, where reports of casualties and people with missing limbs were being reported. Charlotte was at first reluctant to go into the building, she really wanted to leave immediately and understandably so. If this was an intentional act, there could be more explosions. My reasoning was that we should remain indoors, in this “secret” basement to relax and recoup our thoughts. Charlotte worked diligently to get word to her family and husband Stanton that we were ok. She was able to get a message to Stanton first then her Twitter account. This was important as media was now reporting that an attack had been perpetrated at the Boston Marathon. And the news was spreading fast!
We lined up to get the athlete’s massage. It didn’t take long for an official to tell us,”Folks, I’m sorry to report that for the first time in 28 years, we have to ask you to leave now, this building is being evacuated, again I am sorry, please take your things and proceed up the stairs.” We knew we had to head to the trains, we had to look for a way to get back to Harvard where we were staying. I don’t know Boston, I relied on Charlotte’s knowledge of the city. Good thing, she knows the T system well. We walked first back to the Boston Common area to try and get on the Green Line, the train we took in the morning to the bus lineup. Now we saw various emergency and military vehicles on the roads. The black SWAT juggernaut trucks and SUVs from federal environmental agencies were first. Then ambulances, many of them, made there way through newly cleared streets and confused runners. Once we walked a few blocks to the Commons area, we saw the entrance to the T station was locked, and a fully armed “stromtrooper” military member relayed the same message to all of us. The Green Line was closed, we could check other lines because they could still be operating. Charlotte quickly identified the Red Line as the best option for us to return to the apartment. We walked across the Commons, texting and talking away to concerned friends and relatives. We made the Red line station before any closure or interruption of service occured. We hurried through the ticket entrance and lined up on the platform for the train. I remember constant sirens while we waited on the elevated station platform, but most of these people weren’t chatting among themselves. One man talked to his two children, another lady complained about her phone service. We boarded the first train we saw pull into the station. It was crowded and surprisingly quiet on the ride. Most people tried to text others or catch the news on their smartphones. We had heard that cell service was purposely shut down by the authorities, and although it was difficult to get messages through and Internet connectivity was weak, this shutdown rumor we later learned wasn’t true. A few stops later we arrived in Harvard Square. It was bustling and vibrant – I didn’t see too many people with the runner gear bags or race bibs. We went to Subway and ate a hero, talking about what we had seen and constantly returning texts and emails to friends. We walked by the Charles River and returned to the apartment, with the sounds of sirens nearby in Cambridge and across the river in Back Bay Boston. We turned on the TV once home, showered, and watched the day’s events unfold. The video played over and over again, the injury count kept rising, but we were safe. A race that I’d looked forward to for months was done. The world event that we had been a part of was still in progress a short 2 miles away. We were very relieved to be home in a quiet place.