I’m torn about which socks to wear for my fourth Boston Marathon on April 21. The same black over-the-calf compression socks as last year or the newer pink leg sleeves I haven’t tested on the full distance?
Obsessing about socks a year after a terrible bombing destroyed lives and the wonder of the annual Boston Marathon makes me feel insensitive. The more runners like me go back to our routines, however, the more normalcy we recover for our sport and the city that has hosted its most prestigious event since 1897.
I was safe in a hotel room without a view a year ago with Tomas Kellner, a friend of 17 years and fellow marathon runner, when we heard the two bombs about 100 yards (91 meters) away. At the end of the chaotic day, I returned to my hotel, by now part of a crime scene, and committed to be back in 2014.
All the runners I spoke to are as determined as I am.
When Chrissy Ribble heard the blasts, she was still in the finish zone recovering from an asthma attack.
“I decided I absolutely would return the day of the bombing,” said Ribble, a 48-year-old mother of two from Rose Valley, Pennsylvania. “I cannot participate in empowering any kind of terrorism by indulging myself in ‘what ifs.’”
Over the past months, we runners did what we know best to prepare for Boston 2014: train. We keep detailed workout logs and worry about pace, long runs, gear and injuries. With just a few days left before the race, standard anxieties are building up around the weather forecast and a new policy restricting bags for participants.
Mike Nichols, an engineer from Springfield, Pennsylvania, puts it this way: “I want to make it something normal.”
“When we see the people all along the streets, that’s when it will feel different,” said Nichols, 35, who ran in 2012 and is back this year after skipping 2013.
Lives were shattered on a beautiful day that was supposed to be about supporting runners like me who willingly endure hours of physical suffering (for a fee). A child and two adults were killed, and more than 260 were injured. Some are learning to walk again. The least I can do to honor them is to show up at the starting line.
Boston 2013, my ninth marathon in total, was my best race. The crowd transported me to the finish line in a time of 2 hours 54 minutes and 21 seconds, almost 5 minutes faster than my previous record. I was near exhaustion but elated after pushing myself beyond my limits, and then more, and more.
Less than two hours later, the cheers at the finish line, which I could still hear from my hotel room, turned to terror. I’m still struggling with guilt. As a runner, I constantly inflict pain on myself. Unlike the victims and their families, I have the freedom to stop when it hurts.
Back to Boston
Dylan Cohen, a colleague at Bloomberg LP from Jersey City, New Jersey, was watching his youngest daughter in a playground after running the race in 2h53m41 last year, unaware at first of the horror that unfolded 3 miles away.
Experiencing the 9/11 attacks while living in the New York City area has instilled “a fundamental belief that we cannot live in the fear of terrorism,” said Cohen, 41. The next day, as he made his way out of Boston with his wife and their two daughters, Cohen knew he needed to run the race again.
“When I told my wife, she was not surprised in the least bit, and our daughters simply liked the idea of going back to Boston to explore more of a city they had come to appreciate.”
Boston 2014 will be particularly special for Kathleen Roach, a Springfield, Pennsylvania, teacher who will run the course for the first time and on her 28th birthday. On April 20, 1986, her “very pregnant” mother insisted on watching the televised marathon rather than seeing a doctor after showing early signs of labor. Roach was born the following day. Last year her grandfather, who was supportive of her running, died six weeks after the bombings.
“I’m going to put it all out there for people who mean a lot to me,” Roach said.
After months of preparation through one of the snowiest winters on the East Coast, we’re all heading to Boston with our stories. And our personal goals, which come in two flavors: official and whisper.
Ribble wants to run under 3h55 and would love to break her record time of 3h47m35 last year. Roach is aiming for 3h30 and Nichols for “3 to 3h05.” Cohen wants to go under 2h50. (Cohen and I found out long after the 2013 race that we had crossed the finish line together. In a testament to the state of disorientation runners experience at the finish, we didn’t see each other).
After breaking my right wrist into pieces mid-December, I was prevented from running for a month and turned 40 with my arm in a cast. To get ready for 26.2 miles, I logged in 517.93 miles this year in runs ranging from 5 miles to 21 miles outside and on treadmills. Marathoners will tell you that’s a low total mileage. I will attempt to run under 3 hours even though I feel grossly underprepared. (My whisper goal is not for publication.)
Running Boston is an honor we must earn by qualifying in a previous marathon under a time that varies depending on age and gender. Kellner, the close friend and accomplished runner who was with me in the hotel room when we heard the blasts, won’t be back next week because he missed his qualifying time by 6 minutes.
“There is no other marathon that I ever wanted to run more than Boston 2014,” said Kellner, 43, who has run 22 marathons, including a record three last year. “I am working hard to qualify again in 2015.”
(Cécile Daurat, the team leader for U.S. company news editing at Bloomberg News, ran her first marathon in 2002 in Paris and got hooked on the distance. She ran her first Boston Marathon in 2008. The opinions expressed are her own.)