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Thursday, April 18, 2013

I am a Boston Marathoner

I am a Boston marathoner. I have always dreamed that if and when the day came that I could actually say those words, I would feel nothing but pride and exhilaration. While I certainly experienced those two emotions on Monday, they were accompanied by a whole host of others that no one could possibly have imagined. Fear, disbelief, anger, pain, and heartache just to name a few. I'm hoping that by writing about my experience it will help me, and hopefully others, to begin to heal and get stronger. You might want to grab a cup of coffee. It's going be a long post.

I arrived in Boston with excitement, anticipation, awe, pride, and a sense of accomplishment. As a relatively new runner, I never dreamed that I would ever qualify for this prestigious event. It still astounds me to realize that the what once seemed impossible, is now a reality thanks to a lot of dedicated training and the unwavering support of family and friends.

My husband and three youngest sons departed Chicago early Friday morning. We were looking forward to exploring the wonderful city of Boston, and taking in a Red Sox game at Fenway. Our "Geidner Field of Dreams" tours take us to different stadiums each year, and my son Connor was especially excited about seeing the Green Monster in person. We had rented the first floor of a house in Cambridge through airbnb. Our wonderful host, Erin, provided us with everything we needed to get the most out of our visit.

Of course the first thing on my list was to check out the expo. We maneuvered our way into the city using the T, and despite the chilling rain, we had a great time. The first thing that we all noticed was how friendly the people of Boston were. When asking strangers for directions, they didn't just walk away or give us a short reply, they actually stopped walking and took the time to make sure we knew where to go. The expo was as phenomenal as I knew it would be, and I was overcome with emotion picking up my race bib.

My oldest son flew in from college to meet us on Saturday. I am still so touched that he wanted to spend so much time traveling to be with me for the marathon. We wound our way through Cambridge and Harvard in the morning, and then traveled back into Boston in the afternoon for lunch at Cheers and a walk through the Public Gardens and the Freedom Trail.

Sunday was game day, and despite the freezing winds and gray skies, Fenway lived up to our expectations.  The Sox beat Tampa Bay 5-0 with a no hitter throughout 7 innings. Of course we had our usual heated mound ball game going with my husband and Nick each winning $24. Dinner Sunday night was at Durgin-Park, a centuries-old restaurant in downtown Boston that my mom had recommended. I would travel back to Boston again, simply for this restaurant alone.

Of course sleep did not come easily Sunday night as there was no way to contain my anticipation of race day. I awoke at 4:30 AM, and took a cab to claim my cozy, warm seat on one of two CARA busses, (WITH bathrooms on board) filled with Chicagoland runners. We traveled just over 26 miles to Athlete's Village in Hopkinton, MA. Once there, we had several hours to wait before race time. The time passed slowly until just before 10:00 AM, when suddenly it all became real. No matter how many marathons I run, I can't seem to shake the doubts that I always get just before the race begins. I had no finish time in mind. I simply wanted to enjoy the experience, yet still I was a nervous wreck.

At 10:40 my wave took off on the journey from Hopkinton back into Boston; 26.2 miles away. The streets were literally lined with spectators throughout the course. The Patriot Day parties had obviously started early and would continue throughout the day. It was amazing to have so many strangers yelling my name. (Which someone had written on my leg with a sharpie on the way to my corral.) It took me about 2-3 miles to get into a groove, and I was seriously questioning how I was possibly going to run another 24+ miles. I had dropped my headphones at the start line, and I wasn't sure how I was going to survive without my music. Fortunately, friends who had run the race in previous years had told me that the crowd woud carry me, and they were absolutely right. Before I knew it, I was approaching mile 16 and the series of hills that lead to Heartbreak Hill.

I knew my family was at the top of Heartbreak Hill by Boston College. It was the perfect motivation when I needed it most. As soon as I saw them my youngest son, Bailey, came running onto the course in his socks yelling "run mom run!" To have him  by my side was priceless even if it was only for a short stretch. There have been so many days when I didn't want to do my training runs, and he is always the one one who gets me going. Best personal trainer ever! His enthusiasm stayed with me until I started hitting the wall around mile 23. Since I wasn't racing for any particular finishing time, I allowed myself to alternate between running and walking until I reached mile 25. At that point I saw the infamous Citgo sign, and knew I was going to finish my first Boston Marathon. Boy was I wrong.

As I approached the tunnel under Mass Ave, I saw few runners stopped, and police in the road. I thought maybe a runner had collapsed. When I reached the police line, I realized that they had blocked off the course, and quickly runners were backing up behind me trying to learn what had happened. I was fortunate to have my phone with me, and was able to text my husband and sons. Waiting for their response felt like a lifetime, but within a couple of minutes I received their text saying that they were together and safe. Many others asked to use my phone to text loved ones at the finish line and it was heartbreaking to watch them wait for replies that never came. Cell phone signals were iffy at best.

None of us knew what was going on or what to do, but everyone was helping each other to try to stay calm as we waited for news. We were told that two bombs had exploded at the finish line and that the race was cancelled, but there was no where we could go. My family was approximately 200 feet from the explosions. My son Connor found his way into the nearest hotel, while Bailey was swept by the crowd and separated from his dad and brothers. Within minutes he found he was actually in the same hotel as Connor, but that was long enough to leave him traumatized. My older sons, Ryan & Nick, realized the little guys were gone, and my husband quickly set out to find them. They were all reunited in a courtyard of the Mandarin Hotel, but were soon moved to a mall by officers for safety. I texted them my location, and they asked a young women for directions. She was clearly our guardian angel, and led my family through a back entrance out of the mall for .7 miles down side streets to meet me. All I could do was hug them through my tears. I feel awful that I never even expressed my thanks to this very kind stranger, but I will never forget her.

Each of my boys showed amazing strength and courage. Ryan realized I was freezing and gave me his sweat pants. Nick fielded calls and texts from concerned friends and family. Bailey and Connor remained calm. I have never been more proud of my boys. I hate that they were exposed to such a horrific scene, and that they were there because they were supporting me. I love that their first instinct was to be there for each other. I have never been happier to see their four faces!

We knew we were going to miss our plane, and I knew I couldn't travel anyway without my license which was in my runner's bag, on the busses, near the finish. After about an hour the police re-routed us to the busses so we started following the crowd. I was able to retrieve my bag just before another group of police came in and announced that there were more devices being found, and we needed to clear the area. We walked aimlessly in a fog as my husband attempted to contact the airlines about getting us on another flight. They were phenomenal, and eventually we found a bus that would take us to the airport and get us home.

I returned home from the marathon without:
  • finishing
  • my medal
  • my luggage (which was abandoned at the scene of the explosions)
  • Bailey's shoes (also abandoned)
I returned home with:
  • my family, shaken but safe
  • endless love and support from concerned family, friends, fellow runner's, co-workers, authors, book reps, etc...
  • a finisher's necklace from my husband
When I reflect on the past few days, I continue to be amazed by how lucky we were. Had I not walked for 5-10 minutes, I would've been at the finish line when the bombs went off. Had my family been on the other side of the street, they might be recovering from shrapnel wounds or worse. Had they not stumbled across such a kind stranger in the hotel, we would've had a much more difficult time finding each other. Had I gotten to the buses 3 minutes later, I wouldn't have gotten my license so we could fly home. The list goes on and on, and it is clear that God was with myself and my family on marathon Monday. Meanwhile as I continue to count my blessings, and wrap my head around everything that has happened since Monday afternoon, I am heartbroken for all of those that lost lives or were injured.

I saw a quote on BAA's facebook page that read, "If you're trying to defeat the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong group to target." This could not be more true. As I get ready to run the inaugural Nike Woman's 13.1 in DC on April 28th, and the Kenosha half-marathon on May 4th, I know it won't be easy. I won't be able to just focus on the run and my music like I am used to doing during races. I will be scared and will be on full alert of my surroundings. Regardless, I will continue to run because no one has the right to use terror to steal my passion, nor my child's innocence. I will run for the victims that lost their lives or were injured in Boston. I will run to show my sons that no matter how much evil there might be in the world, goodness and kindness will always prevail. I will run 26.2 more miles for Boston.

As President Obama said, "We WILL finish this race." I hope to be in Boston on April 21st, 2014 to do just that, because I am a Boston marathoner.


  1. I am so glad that you and your family were safe during the marathon. I agree. We cannot let terror take away our passions!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this, Susan. I cannot fathom what you went through and are now attempting to get past, but I so greatly admire the fact that you were able to find all of the positives, and not simply swell on the negatives. Your boys sound amazing, but, I am not surprised, as "the apple don't fall far from the tree." I hope you can find peace and continue to enjoy running. <3

  3. This is so moving. I'm glad you and your family are safe. I'll be cheering you on the sidelines in 2014.

  4. Thank you for sharing your story, I liked reading it and I'm glad you're safe! For information about your belongings you can e-mail, or call the mayor’s Hotline at 617-635-4500. I work in Boston, if you need help getting your belongings back I'd be happy to help.