Yesterday, I was among the 500,000 people who trekked to Boston to see the marathon. Rousing myself at 5:30, I packed up supplies and hit the road, stopping in Portland to pick up my friend, Rick. The day was perfect for running, with temps in the mid-50s. This fact held special significance for us, as Rick was one of the many exceptional runners who, in the 2012 Boston Marathon, faced record breaking—and race breaking—temperatures in the 90s. With tales from that race being recounted on the drive, we made our way to Newton, where we set up camp at a prime viewing spot, near mile 21.
As with any race (any run for that matter!), there are as many tales to tell as there are runners and spectators. I was captivated by the women’s competition this year. Rick captured the story in series of exceptional photographs, a few of which I’ve included here. Since I’m new to running, this is the first marathon viewing where I recognized several of the racers and could spot them coming. The fact that I recognized Sheri Piers cranking up the last stretch of Heartbreak Hill, simply from her running gate, indicates that my running obsession has reached new heights.
Piers, at age 40, ran a stunning 2012 marathon, finishing as the first American woman in spite of the scorching temperatures. This year, I’ve been following the careers of two American runners, Shalane Flanagan and Cara Goucher, who are friends and fierce competitors. They famously share a coach and training schedule. In the weeks before the marathon, it was reported that Flanagan had a chance of taking first, and that Goucher, due to recent injury, would have trouble keeping up. We watched, at mile 21, as the lead vehicle introduced the first female runner. Ana Dulce Félix from Portugal had a substantial lead, with no one else in sight.
After a surprisingly long wait, we saw a tight knit pack of lead female runners, including Goucher and Flanagan, coming up the hill. They raced by us, just a few feet away (see first photo, above)! Shortly after, near mile 23, the pack overtook Félix’s substantial lead, and Kenyan runner Rita Jeptoo made the final push, coming in first. Flanagan came in fourth, and Goucher, beating predictions, came in sixth.
Rick had a number of close friends racing, most of whom are associated with the Dirigo Running Club in Maine. All of these runners had passed mile 21 by 1:45, and it was time for us to head out. I’d been texting back and forth with my son, Link, throughout the race. Rick and I were deciding whether or not to head into town to find Link and track down other friends at the finish line. Noting a work phone conference at 2:00, and the fact that Link was having a festive time with his friends, after some deliberation, we decided to head toward Maine and forego the finish line.
We had arrived at the Red Hook Brewery in Portsmouth and ordered food when I received a text from my brother-in-law, Eddie, asking, “You okay?” I responded with apologies for not being in touch about my plans. I mentioned the text to Rick, who looked up with surprise, saying, “I just got the same text from my friend, Nate…” We both looked around at the televisions in the bar—nothing out of the usual. Moments later, another text: “Did you hear two bombs just went off at the finish line?” Suddenly, bar screens were filled with horrific images of the blasts. People throughout the restaurant were leaping up, trying to contact family and friends. I shot out of my seat, mumbling, “the Boys!” I ran outside to try to contact my sons, Link and Ray. No cell service. I knew Link was downtown, and I wasn’t sure if Ray had stayed at school or was in the city. After a panicked 20 minutes, I received a text from Link, and then one from Ray; I could breathe again. Over the next hour, Rick tracked down friends, who were safe but stuck at the finish line, unable to retrieve their bags or get out of the city. We sat stunned, watching the news, then finally made our way back to the car and to Maine, where we met up with our friends and families.
Given the scope of yesterday’s tragedy, the tale of my day is small and insignificant. I’m left feeling lucky, terribly sad, and also angry—angry that this kind of violence exists on American soil, and that it exists–with more regularity and with complex complicity–around the world. I think that one possible response to the madness of yesterday’s events is to intentionally hold onto the inspiring images of runners, while, with equal vigilance, holding the victims of the day in our hearts. As an artist and as a runner, I believe in the power of images and in the power of storytelling. And so, though my story is small, I share it, along with these beautiful images of running, perhaps as a small visual and narrative counterbalance to the abundant images of blood stained streets.