(To mark twin 50th anniversaries in 2017, as a fulltime running journalist and as a marathoner, I am posting a piece for each of those years. This one comes from 2013.)
ONCE YOU run the Boston Marathon, you never really leave it. You come back each April, if only in powerful and enduring memory.
I hadn’t been in Boston on marathon weekend since 1990. The last of my four runs had come in 1979, the first of those had been way back in 1967.
But that doesn’t mean my connection to this place and race had weakened over the years. I go to Boston every Patriots Day, and never more so than in 2013.
As always, I’d jumped online early and from 3000 miles away to track the progress of a long list (longer each year) of friends running there. I had checked in many of them at the finish before leaving home for a lunch date with another Boston Marathon veteran.
Online results had stopped as runners with projected times in the low fours should have finished. This wasn’t unusual. Searches like mine often overwhelmed Boston’s Internet server on marathon day.
I met Neal Benson in a brew pub. He wore his T-shirt from the centennial race of 1996. As we sat down, he glanced at a silent TV screen nearby, then his eyes widened.
“Hey, that’s Boston,” he said. I turned around to see smoke in the picture.
Marathoners and spectators ran away from the finish line. Soon, police and medics raced toward the lingering smoke.
“It looks like there’s a fire,” said Neal. Then he checked his phone for bulletins.
“Oh, no! There have been two explosions. They’re saying many casualties.”
We didn’t eat that noon. Neal went to his home and I to mine to follow this grim news.
My greatest concern was for the same two dozen runners whose progress I’d tracked earlier. Only now it wasn’t about their times but about their safety.
Imagine the anguish of those who were closer to them, both in proximity and relationship, who couldn’t immediately see or hear from their loved ones. Cell and wifi services were jammed. Local transport was stalled.
Amazingly, we would learn later, that despite the power of these blasts and the carnage among spectators in the immediate area no runner in the entire field was seriously injured. This doesn’t mean, though, that anyone there was left unshaken by the too-near miss.
I heard about Leanne Mohr from her sister Laurel, who co-taught a running class with me that year. Leanne had finished but not yet left the recovery area when chaos struck. With no rides available, she had to walk the six miles to her housing.
Cathy Troisi reached me late that night, Boston time. She enters annually as a fund-raiser for cancer research, to honor her late daughter. Cathy was to meet her host at the finish but didn’t get there after the race was halted. Not knowing exactly where her friend lived, she took hours to find the place.
Facebook finally told me that several Eugene friends were safe. Rachel Modee had run her first marathon with our team (but had qualified on her own). Bella Richardson coached another team in our town, and she ran here along with husband Trae. All had finished, then endured hotel lockdowns.
Jacqueline Hansen was in Boston as an honored guest, on the 40th anniversary of her victory there. (I had finished editing her book, A Long Time Coming, earlier that spring.) An all-access pass let Jacqueline stand near the finish line, which she left shortly before the explosions.
I knew John Johnson and his son Paul from our yearly visits to Jeff Galloway’s running camp at Lake Tahoe. They lived in my old hometown of Los Altos, California. John was on the homestretch, mere yards from where the second bomb went off. He wasn’t hurt, but his worries turned to his boy – a fully qualified Boston marathoner who is mentally handicapped – not knowing for too long that Paul was safe.
My last time in Boston, 1990, I had stood at almost the exact spot where John Johnson experienced this blast. I’d waited there for my wife Barbara’s son, Chris Hazen, to finish in 4:10. That was almost exactly the time when the bombers would strike 23 years later. The distance between Boston and Oregon, and between 2013 and 1990, would never seem shorter.
A MONTH after the bombing, with the sport still shaken, Rich Benyo at Marathon & Beyond asked me and others to comment on his statement and question titled “The Aftermath.” He asked, “Can each of you comment on what long-term effect you feel this atrocity will have on the sport and lifestyle of marathon running?”
My contribution: This tragedy hit close to home for all of us, no matter how far from Boston we were on April 15th. Our first thought was, Are my friends there okay? Our second thought: I could have been there myself. Only later did we think how much and for how long the aftershocks might rattle the sport.
My hometown marathon in Eugene was one of the first post-Boston races. The local media went into a frenzy over potential risks here.
However, local organizers took reasonable and unfortunately now necessary precautions with security upgrades, but these were largely invisible to the runners. Few if any of them stayed away out of fear for their safety, nor did many volunteers or spectators abandon their posts.
I trust this will remain true nationwide, as we remember Boston 2013 without overreacting to it. As in the running itself, we must not let the remote threat of something going terribly wrong keep us from taking part in all that will likely go wonderfully right on marathon day.
Photo: Meb Keflezighi, an American by choice, responded to the 2013 attack on America by winning the 2014 race.
[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from Amazon.com. The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]