Normally, the morning after running a Boston Marathon looks and feels like this: a smile that no one can wipe off your face, an appetite that keeps crying for more food, fresh memories of the faces and sights of the past 26.2 miles, a phone that won’t stop ringing or pinging with text messages, and stiff legs that would protest very much if they saw stairs, or any uphill or especially downhill grade.
Most of all, there is the sense of achievement and satisfaction that a dream of years or decades, backed by months of hard, lonely miles on roads and tracks, came true at the most storied of all marathons. I can’t tell you how many great conversations I’ve had on the Boston course along these lines, before the Newton hills quickly took the wind out of our talking moods.
But right now, like the rest of America and the running world, I have a different feeling this morning. One of sadness. Shock. Anger. Disgust.
This is not how it is supposed to feel. It is supposed to feel like it did yesterday morning, when I watched the Boston Marathon elite race online, saw the parts of the course I’ve come to know well, and marveled at how Rita Jeptoo made up a 90-second gap in the span of three miles to win her second women’s title going away; or how Lelisa Desisa waited until 800 meters from the finish, before outkicking his two pursuers to win the men’s title by just five seconds.
It’s supposed to feel like it did in 2005, 2007 and 2009, when I turned onto Boylston Street, pushed the throttle one more time with the last of my energy, smiling and hurting all at once, and drove 600 meters to the finish. Like the other runners, I was privileged to run the ultimate gauntlet – tens of thousands of cheering spectators packed like sardines on the sidewalks and viewing stands. In 2005, those fans included my mother, brother and sister-in-law, whose birthday we celebrated beforehand. They cheered me in from the exact spot where the first bomb went off, twenty yards from the finish line, after I’d seen them 10 miles earlier at Newton Lower Falls.
From the exact spot where the first bomb went off. I can only pretend to imagine what the 4:10 marathoners felt when, so close to achieving their dream, they heard the concussive blasts and saw the smoke – and in some cases, were blown to the side as by a hard wind. It’s not supposed to feel like this.
I watched this year’s race with memories and pride, a Boston Marathon t-shirt on to mark the occasion, hoping the ten friends or so in the race would have great days. The thing about Boston is this: The hardest work is in qualifying to get there. If you don’t run a qualifying time, you don’t go, unless you’re a superb fund-raiser. I’ve raced Boston hard, all three times, setting my personal best in 2009, but it’s always felt as much a celebration as a race. So I knew my friends were welling up inside, so happy to be there, thrilled to see spectators along all 26.2 miles spanning eight towns, maybe snapping photos with their smartphones. The guys would be thoroughly stoked when they came upon the Wellesley girls at the 12-mile mark, the co-eds more than happy to bestow everything from a hand-slap and scream of support to a fat kiss. All would be thrilled when they crested Heartbreak Hill and came upon the Boston College co-eds, who might even run up and naively but good-naturedly offer a beer to a passing runner (as one did to me in 2007).
Now, my friends and 24,000 others have to head home with a different picture in their minds, one that I pray and hope will be erased in time by their achievement. It’s not supposed to be like this.
I also watched yesterday’s race with building anticipation. After three years of dealing with injuries and an on-again, off-again attitude toward my own running (thanks, in part, to focusing on the many great high school and middle school kids I coached), I’m marathon training again. I just ran 18 miles Sunday, my personal homage to the Boston field, my longest run in two years, and felt the engine really roar yesterday. With my qualifier in Montana still three months away, a 20-minute 5K under my belt, and early long workout paces tracking below the 3:35 I have to run to get back in, I’m licking my chops.
So this morning, I planned to begin the visualization process for the 2014 Boston, to start bringing the reality of the race home. Marathon racing is 80% mental, and it starts well before race day. When you race a marathon, the last things you want to deal with are surprises – or any major changes to how you planned out and visualized the race.
Instead, on the suggestion of fellow Boston Marathoner and good friend Kathryn Van Arsdall, I found myself running an 8.26-mile memorial run in my black Boston Marathon windbreaker – 8 miles for Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who died yesterday, and .26 to commemorate the length of the marathon. One friend, Southern Indiana running ace Tim Roman, did the same – and added two steps at the end for the final two-tenths of a mile. It is not supposed to be this way.
Yesterday was four years since my last Boston – which happened to be my last marathon. I’m now committed to having one last flurry of races, and have even coaxed my great high school track and cross-country coach, Brad Roy (who ran Boston in a near world-class time of 2:22 in 1979), into coaching me. Seems things have changed the past four years – starting with recovery time and foot speed – and Brad’s guidance is already proving huge. After the Missoula Marathon in July, I will race my hometown run, the Carlsbad Marathon, in January. Then, next April, one year from now, Lord willing, I’ll be feeling the exquisite joy of another completed Boston, just outside my 55th birthday.
But when the 25,000 other runners and I gather in our corrals in Hopkinton on Patriot’s Day 2014, the mood will not be quite as festive. We’ll have our race strategies, ways of celebrating on the course, levels of excitement, and joys and feelings of achievement. However, if I know the running community, I know hearts will still be heavy and prayers will be plentiful.
Then, when we head into Boston a few hours later, we will smile, laugh and cry as we charge down Boylston Street, hear the cheers, cross the line and receive our unicorn medals. We will walk to our designated buses to grab the gear bags we left behind in Hopkinton. In my case, I will then hop the fence (cramps and all), and find my sweetheart, Martha, amidst the throng. She knows the feeling; she competed in the 2002 Dublin Marathon. I’ll indulge in my favorite post-race drink – a Starbucks hot black tea. After that, we’ll head on to a celebratory dinner with family members who live in the Boston area and New England — a few of whom might meet up with me earlier for another Boston Marathon tradition, our 30-second photo session, as I run up to the Exxon station just beyond the halfway point in Wellesley.
That’s how it’s supposed to feel. And when it does, we can begin to erase the horror all of us are now feeling.