Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My 2013 Boston Marathon

Like so many other people, I feel a need to sit down and write out my thoughts on the events of the past 48 hours here in Boston. Many have taken to writing with resolve, pointing out that those bastards that did this are messing with the wrong city. Others have attempted to convey the meaning behind the Marathon for people outside of Boston, with expressions of anger and frustration at the fact that the Marathon will never be the same again (which my friend Meghan does at the end of a great description of why Patriots Day is so special).

I'm not ready to talk about how the good guys always win no matter what the bad guys do, nor can I say that I won't let these horrible acts ruin the feelings about my great accomplishments of these past few months. In fact, I'm convinced that I'll always look back on this past weekend as one of the best, and worst, of my life. I did, however, promise to maintain this blog throughout my 2013 Boston Marathon journey in order to share my experience with friends and family who have done such an amazing job of supporting me. So, let's back up a few days...

From the moment I stopped working on Friday, my excitement levels started to go through the roof. My parents arrived that evening, and they were excited as well. After a leisurely breakfast on Saturday morning, we headed down to Back Bay to pick up my number and check out the Fitness Expo. The weather was a bit cool, which was fine by me given the extreme heat of last year's race. As my parents later recounted, it's hard to convey the energy in this city during this weekend without being here to experience it. Over the years I've lived here, I've come to realize that Patriots Day, also known as Marathon Monday, is one of the best days of the year to be in Boston, and the days leading up to it are equally as enjoyable.

The main event on Sunday was the DFMC Pasta Party, which was a truly touching event. There were 1400 people in attendance, including Kristen and I, our respective parents, and a number of others I've had the privilege of meeting over the past few months. I felt very proud to be recognized as a "Pacesetter," one of a small percentage of the 550 runners who raised over $8000. One of the speakers made a comment about how, despite the tragic nature of the cause we were all there to support, everyone in the room was happy. A cancer diagnosis leaves people feeling hopeless and powerless, and despite the fact that most everyone in the room has felt that way at some point, Sunday night we were coming together as a group of people who had been empowered and given an opportunity to provide hope. And because of that connection, he was willing to bet that everyone in the room would look back on that night as one of the best in his or her lifetime.

Monday morning, I was up at 4:40am and Kristen dropped me off in Back Bay to catch the bus out to Hopkinton. The bus ride felt very long, especially in consideration of the fact that we'd all be running back. After several hours hanging out at the Dana-Farber refuge, we headed to our corrals in town and waited for the Wave 3 gun. It was very crowded and full of excitement, as was the first few miles. I felt pretty good all the way to Wellesley at which point I saw Kristen's mom on the sidelines. The "Scream Tunnel" was one of my favorite parts of the whole race. It's amazing how many people are along the road cheering everyone on for 26.2 miles, but I have to say, hearing the line of Wellesley girls screaming at the top of their lungs was truly exhilarating and really lifted me up as I started the second half of the race. Thanks, ladies!

I saw my parents and Kristen at mile 17, and my legs started to cramp up a bit shortly after that-- just in time for the dreaded Newton Hills, which were every bit as awful as people described. I'd run them before, even at the end of my 22-mile training run, but my pace still slowed considerably for the remainder of the race. I saw a number of other friends throughout Newton, Brookline and Boston, magically appearing on the sideline screaming my name, along with hundreds of anonymous people cheering "Go Dana-Farber" upon seeing my singlet. My friend Andrew ran with me for a bit at about mile 23, which was much appreciated, not only because I was in a lot of pain at that point, but also for the humor experienced with people screaming "Go Jeans Guy!" at him, given his choice of running attire. Some of my co-workers were at mile 24 with a big sign which I very much appreciated.

The last two miles were a bit slow-going, but the emotions of the day started to hit home
coming into Kenmore Square. I saw my friend Christian yelling at me just as I went under the Mass Ave overpass, and then made the turn on Hereford.  I spotted Kristen at the top of the street with my parents and waved to them as I made the turn onto Boylston-- this moment was every bit as incredible as I'd always knew it would be. I crossed the finish line in quite a bit of pain, stopped and talked to Jan Ross and Jack Fultz from Dana-Farber for a few minutes, and then proceeded toward the array of the mylar blanket-enshrouded runners ahead of me. Having the medal placed around my neck was without a doubt one of the best moments of my life. I finally, slowly proceeded towards Berkeley Street, where I'd pick up my bag from the school bus I had last seen in Hopkinton.

Along with several other Dana-Farber runners, we moved up Berkeley Street to find the DFMC volunteers who were there to usher us back to the Marriott Copley. I heard a loud explosion, which was a bit jarring but not all that unlike the celebratory cannons fired near the Charles River during 4th of July celebrations. A few seconds later, a second explosion. At this point the other runners and I began to realize that something was not right, as policemen began running back towards Boylston. Shortly thereafter we were forced to move aside to let police and ambulances through, moving with a sense of urgency. My poor Dana-Farber escort, a high school girl who was trying to calmly talk to me about how the race went, helped me carry my stuff while I got out my cell phone and tried to reach Kristen and my parents. A pair of fellow Dana-Farber runners near me were hugging, one sobbing while talking into his cell phone, while I couldn't dial out on mine.

I heard people saying "bomb" and "people hurt" and "near Hereford and Boylston" -- which, if accurate, probably meant that my family was okay since they would have moved away from that location. My escort and I had to turn around and move in the opposite direction as police closed off Clarendon, and ultimately looped around to enter Copley mall, all the while I was unable to reach my family in any way. I made my way back to the DFMC Recovery Zone at the hotel, and as I passed the hotel bar, I saw the TV showing the finish line cheering stands abandoned in a smokey haze, so of course I started to worry that my family had decided to take a detour to get a closer look at the finish line before coming to meet me.

My fear was mounting but I was too tired to feel very much emotion at that point. I was changing my clothes and finally started getting text messages and voicemails-- friends of mine wondering if I was okay, but nothing from my parents or Kristen. Finally I was able to send a text, to which Kristen responded, indicating that they, too, were in the hotel and were safe. Our reunion was a tearful one, but the origins of those tears were a mix of good and bad emotions that I still haven't gotten over.

About an hour later, police frantically came through the entrances of the hotel and began screaming at people to move. Stuck in an elevator bay with many other confused people we were told to "go back up to our rooms," which, of course, we didn't have. We were asked to leave the building, which we did, and walked through the South End to the nearest Orange Line station, which allowed us to get out of the city and were picked up in Charlestown by my upstairs neighbor Dave (thanks Dave).

Like most people in Boston and across the country, the past 48 hours have been difficult. Fortunately, nobody I know was in the blast zone but sadly, family members of at least one DFMC runner were seriously injured in the attack. My emotions have been all over the map and difficult to process. It's different from past accounts of terrorism for me... over the years my heart has dropped upon hearing the news of the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, the London Underground bombing, the Beltway sniper attacks, not to mention Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook, and countless other attacks. As with those incidents, nobody I know was killed or injured, but yesterday and today, I am stuck in a deep feeling of loss and mourning.

Of course, the "what-ifs" are scary... my parents, Kristen and I talked about that a lot. My heart also goes out to the people who have lost life and limb. But my grief is primarily for the Boston Marathon itself, the runners, the spectators, the City of Boston, and for me. You see, I love those things -- and differently than what most people mean when they say "I love my car" or "I love chocolate."  These things are a special part of my life and a huge part of me. Every step from Hopkinton to Back Bay was made memorable by the people around me and along the sidelines. I've dreamed for years what that turn onto Boylston would feel like, and those feelings were shot down by these heinous acts. Worse, that dream was ruined for the thousands of people who perhaps got within site of Boylston or who were even on the street itself, and may never get another chance to experience it.

Over the past two days, I've clung to my official B.A.A. Boston Marathon jacket but have felt self-conscious wearing it outside. Strangers have called out to me things like "I'm glad you're safe" which is a nice sentiment but not what I'd been hoping to hear in the days following this race. Exclamations of "congratulations" and "I'm proud of you" from friends and family have undertones of the same message I've heard from strangers. I feel a part of my has been ripped apart.

I know that this might be where I start losing some of you. How can I grieve over lost feelings of accomplishment and lackluster celebration while people are grieving over their killed or injured loved ones? I'm guessing that most runners understand, as do people who have attended the Boston Marathon and anyone who has lived here for an extended period of time. I believe that a shared sense of pride in human struggle and perseverance are a part of what make Patriots Day, and this city in general, so special. I'm sad because those bombs were meant to inflict damage, not just to those in the immediate vicinity, but to everyone who comes together the third Monday in April to, as my friend Meghan put it, "celebrate people."  Those bombs were meant to damage the human spirit, and that's something that I can't quite wrap my mind around. Right now, I'm mourning our collective loss and attempting to convince myself that we will move past this, like humanity has moved past so many other tragedies over the course of history.

And we will. The Boston Marathon will, surely, never be the same, but no story is perfect. It, like the Olympics, will continue to be a celebrated and incredible spectacle in the nation and the world's eyes, despite terrorism. We'll stop and remember the victims and commemorate the anniversaries, and for some period of time we'll probably have to adhere to reactive, vestigial security measures that can never be 100% effective in thwarting a future attack, but this is unfortunately the world we live in. And eventually, the 2013, 117th Boston Marathon will just be a year with a dark mark on it in what is otherwise an amazing tradition.

Several people have asked me over the past few years whether or not I'll do this again.  Fundraise for Dana-Farber again?  Hopefully.  Run another marathon?  Definitely.  Run the Boston Marathon again?  You can count on it.

Finally, while I'm struggling with my feelings about how my experience has come to a conclusion, I don't want to overlook a big reason why I pursued it to begin with. So far, I've raised over $8000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I couldn't have done this without the generous donations made by so many friends and family (THANK YOU!).

If you'd like to donate, you still can:

You may also make a donation to help those affected by Monday's tragic event, at One Fund Boston, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or Boston Children's Hospital.


  1. Thank you for writing this down and sharing your experience Jeff. Sending you a big hug my friend!

  2. Great blog jeff. thanks for sharing your experience, and most of all glad you are safe. congratulations again on all your accomplishments and of course your fundraising.

  3. The above comment was from your bro btw :-)

  4. Pedram sent me your blog post and it was very moving. Glad you were ok and could accomplish your goal - the best way to triumph over horrible acts. I am sending in a donation to One Fund Boston. I hope the city can begin to heal.

    Thanks for sharing,

  5. First of all, congratulations on finishing the Boston Marathon - that's a serious accomplishment.

    I understand how you feel about being sad for Boston and the marathon. I'm not a runner, but I lived in Boston for 6 years (just moved to Ohio in December). I wrote about my experience this week on my blog ( That's how I found yours - Kristen left a link to this post in the comments.

    Congrats again on the race!