Monday, April 14, 2014

April 15, 2013 - I angrily answered my phone: “What? I’m trying to run a marathon here!”

Kelly Swan Taylor
In Boston, No One Runs Alone

As a runner in the 2013 Boston Marathon, rather than a day of tragedy, I prefer to remember the experience as one of a special race, with generous people, starting on such a beautiful day. The city truly came together to help its own, and adopted all Boston Marathoners as family.

I started my day with very little sleep, and woke at 4 am. I live in Providence, so we had a long trip ahead of us to drive to the Rt. 128 MBTA commuter rail station, and then take the train into Boston to meet the buses to Hopkinton. All of my race gear was laid out the night before, as I diligently packed things to bring to Athletes’ Village, and then to carry with me along the run. I packed a million things and have no idea how I thought I could carry so much extra stuff, including an extra two pairs of socks. Clearly, I never will be a light packer for any trip. Also, I should have carb-loaded during that morning adventure, but was just too nervous and excited to eat too much. Of course, I would regret the lack of food and energy later, but it certainly is a lesson learned.

I remember the morning being clear but chilly when we located the bus area on Tremont Street, and was anxious to get on-board and start moving toward Hopkinton. After some photos and nervous chatter, I hugged my family goodbye and proceeded to line up with all the rest of the yellow-bag-carrying athletes. Many people had cell phones with them, including myself, so we could contact anyone during an emergency and also capture the exciting sequence of events on camera or video.

It took a long while to get on to the buses, but it was even a longer ride to Hopkinton! Oh, my gosh, it took a long time, and all I kept thinking was that I had to turn around and run this same route back. As we approached the town of Hopkinton and got closer to Athletes’ Village, my excitement and definitely anxiety was building. The long ride certainly gives you time to contemplate the race and what could possibly go wrong along the way. Also, I was concerned about how my ankle would hold up, since I had been suffering from tendonitis for weeks. But it was fun to look out the windows and see the residents and their homes, as they set up BBQ’s, coolers, lawn chairs, and outdoor games. Along the main road I just kept seeing more and more runners, carrying their yellow bags, and looking ready to go.

When we finally reached Athletes’ Village and crossed the official Marathon entrance, I was overwhelmed by the amount of people, space, video screens, announcements, activities, and of course port-a-potties! But, I still had the task at hand in mind, tried not to get distracted, and grabbed some food and a space in one of the tents. I proceeded to do the necessary marathon preps of changing shoes, covering potential blister areas, loading my fanny pack, and of course still trying to eat some food.

I was anxious to just get going, and before I knew it, it was time to drop off my bag and proceed to the starting line. It was a long walk, and being only 5 foot 2, I could barely see in front or over me, with the great numbers of people. Runners were mixed in with spectators, and only bibs could distinguish one from the other. One lady helped me into my corral, after viewing my blue bib. Now the nerves really started to set in as everyone around me was jumping about, getting warmed up. I started to read the various names and messages scattered on the backs of all of the runners around me. It seemed that everyone was running for someone or something special.

And then, without warning or gun shot that I could hear, we just started running! (well, not really running because the road is so narrow we really walked across the starting line.) The energy was palpable, and soon I started to see some great spectator involvement. There were costumes, Santa Claus, signs that made me laugh out loud, and loads of runners all vying for better placements along the race course. I loved seeing all the runners in front of me, all going down a large hill together in one large cluster of colors!

I tried to take a mental note of special things along the course. Here are a few things that stood out to me: Girls jumping on little trampolines along the side of the road, little children holding out their hands, offering us "high fives" and oranges to keep us going, a couple running the entire race together (encouraging each other), kind volunteers all along the route, people speaking in all different languages in Athletes’ Village, Wellesley College girls screaming their hearts out to us (telling us there was NO WAY we were not going to finish), a guy who literally said when we finished he would, "let (us) punch (him) in the face, and (he) promised not to duck," a sign that read, "Your run is longer than Kim Kardasian's marriage," a woman handing out cold/wet paper towels that were so refreshing.

Because of my injury, this race really was just about finishing, and not pushing for a particular time. So, I definitely was not running to my normal potential or speed. It did give me time to take photos, and try to take in at least something from each mile marker, or at least each town. Of course one town that REALLY stood out was Newton! Wow, seriously, Newton is all hills, and at the time you want to trail off the course and just take a nap, you have to handle this challenge. I saw runners around me, really tired and strained, but just pushing on and on. I felt that pain, now in both feet and everywhere else. But, I had to ignore it, or I knew it would be overwhelming.

We reached the mile 20 water station and then moved further on. As we continued to run, we noticed something peculiar was happening. We were being pushed to the side of the road, off the course, for an ambulance to proceed by us. I figured it must have been related to someone being hurt ahead of me, perhaps a heart attack. I thought it was a brief and isolated event. We continued to run for a while, parallel to the course. At some point, I got a phone call from my dad on my cell. I had a few missed calls, but knew I could not answer my phone while running the Newton hills! I angrily answered my phone with, “What? I’m trying to run a marathon here!” And I hung up. Later, I would regret doing that, as I was unable to get any further cell calls or reception after that call. But, at least in the end my family knew I was okay and safely on the course.

Very shortly thereafter, while still running parallel to the course, I started to notice others on their cell phones, and even walking. Finally, I had to ask a group, are we still racing? I was told an explosion had happened at the finish line, perhaps a transformer, and they had stopped the race. This perplexed me, as in all my years of racing, I had never once heard of a race being stopped. We then proceeded to the closest medical tent, and were given broth, foil blankets, and water. By the way, if anyone ever tells you those nifty foil blankets are warm, they are sadly mistaken. I was wrapped in at least three of them, and was freezing!

At the medical tent, I found a cot, and proceeded to sit and try to contact my family. Honestly, there was a part of me that was glad to have a break from running and finally be sitting down. I think we all were in a bit of a state of shock, between stopping abruptly, having little nutrition or change of clothes, and being utterly confused. I did worry once I had sat down and rested, I might not have the energy to get back up. And somehow I had to meet up with my family.

Since cell reception was not available, Twitter became my only form of communication with my family and friends. They were safe, but no one knew how to reach me. As runners, we were stranded on the course. My friend Lisa, who lives in Newton and was watching the race, tried to reach me via Twitter and she said would try to pick me up. She just needed me to walk back about a mile on the course, as she could not drive any further up. I simply got up from the tent and started walking down the course all alone. But soon I realized the street was now blocked off, with a potential bomb threat. What was going on? Ultimately, it was impossible for us to meet, and I was stranded more than ever, further down the course, cold, exhausted, and now alone. I knew I did not want to walk all the way back to the medical tent, but what I could I do?

As I stood by the side of the road, all by myself, a couple appeared beside me. They seemed just as confused as the rest of us. We talked for a while, and they asked me how I was doing. I explained my family was near Copley and my friend Lisa could not reach me either. They noticed by now I was visibly shaking from the cold (those darn blankets again, which I did take with me, did not help). The woman, Lauryl, offered me her sweater. She absolutely insisted, and honestly, I had to take her up on the offer. Then, she and her husband Steve did the most selfless and generous thing: they helped a perfect stranger. They offered to take me to their home, so I could get warm and use the landline to contact my family. I certainly accepted.

It was a long walk to their home and they kept apologizing and checking on me. They said they were not runners and had no idea what effects I might be suffering. When we arrived at their home, they offered their bathroom, some warm socks, a jacket, an unending amount of food, and a seat to finally rest. I called my husband and we tried to arrange a way for me to get home. And again, Lauryl and Steve generously offered to drive me to the Rt. 128 train station, to meet my family. I simply was floored by their generosity. As we left their home, they loaded me with bags of extra socks, food for an army, gave me a jacket to keep, and more things I cannot even remember. This is what makes the Boston Marathon special. The people of Boston accept everyone, especially the runners, as family, and take care of them. I am forever grateful to them.

It was wonderful to see my husband and father at the train station, and know they were safe. They were so grateful to Lauryl and Steve. Unfortunately, my experience continued with several somber interviews with news agencies and papers about my experience, in some instances even before I had a chance to change out of my race clothing, get home, and digest what had happened.

Eventually, once I finally arrived home, it was to dozens of phone calls, messages online, and emails, asking if I was okay. But, it was not until I turned on the news I realized the extent of what had happened. I had been isolated from the details, and for that, I am very grateful. I would later find out my special hairdresser, Celeste, at a spa a few blocks from where I worked on Newbury Street, had lost both of her legs in the blast.

On the Wednesday after the marathon, my husband and I boarded the train once again to Boston, to collect my "yellow bag" belongings and to bring some closure to my experience. During our visit, it was difficult to navigate the "heart of the city" -- Copley, as areas around my office and favorite sports store, Marathon Sports, were the center of a crime scene. I thank the BAA for treating me like an Olympian, congratulating me, and allowing me to "cross the finish line," on a replica in a doorway in their headquarters. A medal was place over my neck, with many hands shaking mine, and congratulations given. I was also told to have my picture taken over the "finish line," with my bib in hand. While I am grateful for this experience, I do share the tremendous disappointment of the other athletes who were abruptly told to stop running. Most of us continued to run, even while diverted off the course. As marathoners, we do not stop, and when we were told we could not continue, we simply stated, "but we did not finish..."

And for those who do not believe in what goes around comes around: On the long bus ride in to Hopkinton at the start of the race, an older gentleman sitting next to me saw my cell phone and asked if I could text one of his family members to wish her a Happy Birthday. I told him, "How about you call her," and handed over my phone. Then, after the race, at the med tent where they assembled us, a gentleman saw I had no cell service to call my family. He offered me his phone, and while I still could not get through to my family, the gesture was important.

For so long during my training I wondered if there was a reason for why I somehow ended up with this painful tendon and ankle injury that really hampered not only my training, but my race performance. Now, I know it was a blessing. The end result was I had to run the race much slower, which kept my family away from the finish line just a little longer (they were walking through Boston Public Garden on their way to the finish line). I do think the results of my injury ultimately kept them safe.

Now, as sit at home and wear a comfy pair of socks Lauryl so graciously gave me, I have a special memory of she and her husband Steve, who saw me standing all alone of the road, shivering in a foil blanket, after I had walked backwards on the course almost a mile to meet up with Lisa, but it proved impossible to do so. They offered their home and unending generosity to a perfect stranger. I know I am forever their "Boston runner." And I am forever grateful for their warmth and kindness.

And finally, I have learned so much from this experience as a Boston Marathoner. Ultimately, marathon running may seem like a solo sport, even lonely at times (especially around mile 20). But, no one runs alone. We take the love and support from those around us, including family, friends, and even strangers. And especially in Boston, as runners of this special event, we carry everyone to the finish line with us.


Kelly Swan Taylor
Providence, Rhode Island
Bib# 22887, 2013 Boston Marathon

For more personal accounts of the 2013 Boston marathon, click here.

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