BOSTON MARATHON 2013
I couldn’t have asked for a more picturesque and gloriously sunny day to cheer at the 117th Boston Marathon. It was suppose to be an overcast and chilly 57˚, but being in direct sunshine across the street from a series of well-staffed fundraising tables complete with 15 port-o-johns, made for the most ideal cheer conditions. Rachel and I got to mile 16.8 early enough to see most of the hand cyclists, followed by the elite women and then the elite men. Although they are really incredible to watch up close with their effortless-looking form and perfect strides, it is the average Jane’s and Joe’s, who really command my attention. They come in packs of 50+ at a time and if it wasn’t for our easy-to-spot singlets, finding our teammates would be sooo much more difficult. Luckily, we found almost all of ours including Michelle, which upon first site, was Rachel’s cue to jump in to help her finish her first Boston. I stayed to spot Cesar, our last teammate on the course who was running as an Achilles Guide for his friend, Tony. Once I spotted him and had my photo opp, I was on the move.
I jumped on the T and headed to the finish where I quickly found my spot on the corner of Hereford (Massachusetts Ave) and Boylston Streets, the last and final turn of the course. When you make this 90˚ left turn, the finish line is a mere 4.5 blocks away—it’s downhill and it’s perfect. I had a great cheer spot, especially after “Ted’s” posse cheered for Ted, leaving me with front row viewing and a spot for me to hang my big rainbow flag. I saw a teammate across the street, but kept my eyes fixed on the course, knowing that Michelle and Rachel were due fairly soon. It was fun to recognize runners that I had seen back at mile 16.8. They remembered the flag and gay vest and they in turn helped orient the pace clock I was using to not miss my runners. After I recognized the thin girl with far too many clothing layers and thick, white sunblock on her face, the rest of the race seemed to move in slow motion.
I was cheering on the right hand side, so runners were coming from my left toward the 90˚ turn toward the finish. The turn was just to my right, but far enough that I did not have a clear site of the finish line. The buildings that create the finishing “tunnel”, obstructed that view. The girl with the layers passed by me and, but while I tried to look for Rachel and Michelle among the runners, I couldn’t help but follow the gaze of the other spectators, who were looking beyond me toward runners who had passed. I turned and saw what they were looking at. The girl with the layers had collapsed exactly at the turn and was on her knees. Around the same time, we heard the first explosion. It was very loud and it sounded very close, like it was off to the right of where I was standing. We all turned, but saw nothing, there was no smoke or anything alarming. It definitely was not a car exhaust or gunfire–I’m not an expert, but the sound was far too concentrated and loud. I actually thought it was construction-related. The girl was now lying on her back and being helped by EMS/race medics when we heard the second explosion. Again we questioned the noise, but seeing nothing alarming, continued to look for our runners. The very next time I turned to my right, “layer girl” was not only surrounded by medics, but a large number of runners who seemed to be bottle-necking the turn. I thought, “what a shame that they would be missing out on finishing the race because the medics were in the way–wow her condition must really be serious, I hope she’ll be okay”. I don’t know what was wrong with her and I don’t think that her condition had any connection with the explosions, but the runners looked confused, with hands in the air, upset from having to stop so near the finish. At least 50-60 runners that I could see, were stopped dead in their tracks, prevented from making the turn. That’s when the quick-moving officials came down the center of the race course, right in front of me telling everyone to evacuate and move quickly. It was confirmed that there had been an explosion, though I could not recall what level of “Official Personnel” first made that announcement. I left the rainbow flag behind when I couldn’t untie the last loop. My only thought in keeping it was in finding Rachel and Michelle easier and I thought that the flag would help make me more visible or help keep us warm in the now chilly air.
UPDATE: Both times, the explosions sounded like they were coming from behind the building to my right that created the last 90˚ turn even though both explosions actually occurred after the turn and to the left. We now know that those two bombs were left in garbage cans near and at the finish. My guess is that the “tunnel” created by the buildings bounced the sound off of those buildings so that when our heads were turned to the left, we were given the impression that the noise came from behind us. I think this could account for why we saw nothing amiss; no smoke, no fire… nothing after those initial blasts. Later, when we were allowed to leave the evacuation area, we passed by Hereford Street again. I couldn’t see my rainbow flag, but we could see the smoke that had traveled out of the finishing “tunnel”. – Anyone care to elaborate on the movement of sound waves?
I headed down to Commonwealth Avenue and finally got word from Rachel that they were shivering pretty near where I was already standing. Turns out, the texts that were coming thru were lagging behind by about 5-10 minutes, which in a time of uncertainty, can feel like hours. I was so glad to find them and we could relax a bit knowing that we were reunited. Michelle and Rachel were very cold, so I shared my down coat and all the warm accoutrements I had. A volunteer handed out garbage bags to wear or sit on and a golf cart equipped with a sound system tried as best he could, to keep us informed. Strangers handed out pretzels and salty snacks and offered up cell phones to runners, most of whom had checked theirs at baggage. Luckily Michelle did not check anything, so when we were informed that the race was officially over, we followed the crowd back to where the buses and baggage were parked. Everyone was calm and those of us with cell phones, walked slow enough to text without lagging too far behind. We headed to HEALTHWORKS, the lady-gym that allows female finishers to shower for free. We had dropped Michelle’s bag off in the morning, so she was one of the lucky ones. They were also kind enough to charge my cell phone while I waited for Michelle to shower and for Rachel to return with our luggage that we had stored at our friend’s office a mile away. We know now that one explosion occurred 3.5 blocks away from where I had tied the rainbow flag and one at the finish line – this is a pretty good map, though I suspect it will be obsolete soon enough.
Thank you to everyone who reached out with well wishes for me, Rachel, Michelle and our team. I am especially grateful to everyone who lent a hand in the text/facebook/twitter/email chains necessary to reunite runners, cheerers, and volunteers who went silent during the most uncertain of times. It really did make a difference, especially for families watching snippets on the news.