Wednesday, September 24, 2014

April 15, 2013 - “Why are they rerouting the course this close to the finish line?”

Vicky King
I did not start running until I was 48 years old. I decided I would run one marathon, just to see if I could do it. So I ran the Santa Barbara Marathon in 2010 at the age of 54 and finished it in 4:11:10. Not a BQ time (4:00:00), but I was elated with being able to accomplish this feat. I was glad to cross that off my bucket list and never have to run another marathon! But as many runners can testify, something happened, and I found myself registering for the local Surgical Artistry Modesto Marathon in March of 2012 to run alongside my Sole Sisters.

It just so happened I ran well enough to BQ (I needed to do it under 4:10:00 and my time was 4:04:24). A dream I’d never even had suddenly blossomed and I found myself strongly desiring to go to Boston and run the marathon! As a bonus, I also took first in my age group. What a wonderful and unbelievable surprise!

Getting the funds to travel and register for the 117th Boston Marathon was a huge obstacle, but as I prayed about it, I kept sensing this was something I should do. About a month after the Modesto marathon, I received a phone call from a race representative informing me I had won the drawing for $1000 to use toward Boston expenses. This confirmed my thoughts and so when September came around, I registered and was accepted! How exciting! I was going to run the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, something I had never even contemplated. Now my mind was flabbergasted at what lay before me. Getting this wonderful opportunity to travel back to our great country’s origins and participate in such an iconic event sent my spirit soaring high, and I was eager to start my training!

Anticipation at the finish line
Our son and his girlfriend traveled with my husband and I from California to Boston. My daughter, her husband, and their two year old daughter were also going to go. However, since she was very pregnant (due in May) and had delivered her first child five weeks early, her doctor advised her against it; so they stayed home. We would later be grateful for this mandate.

My sister from Washington State surprised me when she showed up at my hotel room Sunday morning. None of us had ever been to the New England coast, so we were very excited to take it all in. My family and I decided to make the most of our visit and enjoy all the wonderful richly historical culture in Boston; no pre-race resting for me. Wherever we went, people greeted us and asked if we were there to run the marathon. They were very happy we had come. Some would even share their stories of running or watching the marathon in previous years. This surprised me because I have never been to a place where so many people welcomed and embraced the runners so enthusiastically. There was an instant bonding and feeling of community and family.

Blessing of the athletes
On Monday morning, Patriots Day, I took the shuttle provided by our hotel in Newton, to catch the buses to the Athletes’ Village. I was still suffering with a groin strain I had sustained four weeks prior, so I knew I would be running the marathon dependent upon God’s strength empowering my weakness. I was in Wave 3 and I ran at an easy pace and even walked at times, just enjoying every part of this “Once in a Lifetime” experience (or so I thought). There were so many spectators cheering us on all along the course. It was unbelievable and exhilarating! I had to interact with them and high-five all the kids holding their little hands up, along with blowing kisses, yelling out “thank you” and smiling from ear to ear with indescribable joy! Those feelings of elation were pretty much constant throughout the run, except for small moments when the pain and fatigue from my injury would mount up; and I would just slow down and ask the Lord to help me just keep stepping forward. He enabled to continue on.

There was one point as I was coming up on mile 8, I could see the marker, where all of a sudden I had a really bad, ominous feeling hit me, enveloping me in a strong sense of fear! Because of my faith, I guessed I was experiencing a personal spiritual attack because I had been thanking, praising and giving glory to God for enabling me to continue to run the marathon in spite of my injury. So I rebuked the enemy (Satan to me) and told him he had no power over me; I would not let him cause me to be afraid or stop me from running that race. I prayed out loud, “Greater is He that is in me (God’s Holy Spirit) than he that is in the world!” and “God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” Immediately a scripture verse came to me I didn’t recall ever hearing or reading. It was Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The Godly run to it and are safe.” I remember thinking, well that’s a strange verse but it does have running and God’s strength in it… Okay; so I prayed it out loud and the bad feeling left and I never had another negative thought or concern or fear about anything else until…

At Mile 25 point something
I had passed the mile 25 marker when I heard someone yelling my name and I looked over and saw my sister, so I went over and gave her a hug and then she encouraged me to get moving and finish my race because I was almost there and she took off running on the sidewalk along Commonwealth Avenue behind the crowd of spectators and I headed under the Mass Ave overpass, made my right on Hereford and as I approached Boylston, the police officers were grabbing barricades to block a left turn onto Boylston and I was thinking, “Why are they rerouting the course this close to the finish line?” Suddenly an officer raised his arms and shouted, “Stop, turn around and run back the way you came!” I don’t ever recall hearing a police officer tell me to “run” anywhere or anytime! I looked down at my Garmin as I pressed the stop button and noticed it showed I had run 26.06 miles in 4:10:01.

I was jerked back into reality as a woman started yelling she was going to run across that finish line and I was thinking, “Do you see the officer’s face? I don’t think you want to go down there!” Another woman started panicking about her family being down at the finish line and even though I had no clue what was going on or why we were being turned back, I knew it was serious and we needed to comply with the officer’s orders! I wrapped my arm around the shoulders of the lady who was concerned about her family and tried to console her as we walked back down Hereford. Suddenly I felt the need to pray and I threw my arms in the air and shouted, “Father, God, You are above all; You are greater and more powerful than anyone or anything else, You are greater than whatever is going on down Boylston Street, and I ask for Your help right now in Jesus name. Jesus, we need You! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus help us! Amen!” And it was like I felt the protective presence of the Spirit of God come down over us.

Then I realized I had turned left onto Newbury Street and it was chaotic and people were coming out of cafes and businesses saying they heard explosions and some thought it was an exploded gas line in a restaurant. I was standing against a brick wall to get warm when a woman walked toward me. She was holding a cup of coins so I thought she might be a panhandler. She approached and asked if I was okay and we talked a bit about things going on when she noticed I was shivering; so she took off a hoodie she was wearing and told me to put it on. She had another one on underneath, so I accepted her kind offer. I asked her name; it was Cassie. She needed to leave so I started to give her jacket back, but she told me to keep it. The temp was in the 40s and I was afraid she would be cold, but she told me God would take care of her like He always has and He would take care of me, too. I was very grateful for the warmth. Cassie was one of many angels sent to me that day.

Next was Paola, who was from Argentina and was visiting her sister who attended Harvard. Paola was out shopping alone prior to the explosions, so she asked if she could stand with me. She actually became my human crutch to help me walk because after standing still for a while, my injured leg would not work. Paola was another angel. It was about 45 minutes later as she and I were standing at the corner of Mass Ave and Newbury when we found out about the bombs and I was reminded of my experience around mile 8.

All of a sudden tons of emergency vehicles drove by us with sirens blaring and I realized how bad the situation must be. That was the first moment I broke down and feared I might have lost my family who were waiting for me by the finish line. I prayed and told the Lord I needed them to be okay because I couldn’t go on without them, and that my husband needed to meet his granddaughter who was about to be born. That later felt like such a selfish prayer, but it was the cry of my heart right then. It was then I also realized had I not stopped to hug my sister during mile 25, I would have been further down Boylston and in the middle of this unbelievably horrific incident. I was humbled and deeply grateful at the same time, but still afraid for my family and others down Boylston.

I still did not know any details except bombs had been detonated. We stood there trying to determine what to do, and I thought about taking the T – Green line back to my hotel in Newton, just as the transportation police drove up and closed off the T station on Mass Ave. I had been trying to call my husband on other people’s cell phones because I did not carry mine with me during the race, but I had no luck getting through to him. People said they’d keep trying and if they got through what message should they give? I told them to tell him I would be at the corner of Newbury and Mass Ave. So Paola and I just stood there waiting. Paola did not have cell phone service but she sent an email to her sister at Harvard asking her to get a message to my daughter in California (the only phone # I could remember other than my husband’s, and he didn’t have a smart phone) and let her know I was okay and my whereabouts. We never received a response from Paola’s sister so we had no idea if she got the email or not.

It seemed as though no one was moving anywhere. I kept looking for my husband’s Disney Goofy hat he said he’d be wearing, but I never saw it. It finally looked like runners were moving north on Commonwealth, so I decided to walk down there and join them. The National Guard informed us runners were being redirected to a new family meeting area at Boston Commons where our families were waiting for us, so I headed in that direction with my newfound companion and wonderful crutch Paola. As we walked, people came out of their homes offering us clothes, snacks and water (more angels) and then we came upon a couple who was offering use of their cell phones. I told them my call would be long distance and they replied with a smile, “Most of them are – no problem!” So I tried calling my husband again but no connection: it would always just ring and ring and ring, and then disconnect. So then I tried calling my daughter in California and she answered. After an emotional cry, she told me she had received a call from a woman saying I was with her sister and we were okay, so my daughter had relayed that information to my husband and son and sister so they were aware I was okay, but they were prevented from getting to me due to the blocked areas. I was so relieved to hear they were alive and waiting at the family meeting area for me. This communication occurred about two hours after the explosions. Hope was restored!

Paola was also able to call her sister, who was coming to pick her up back at Mass Ave and Newbury, so I told Paola to head back, that I’d be fine walking on my own. I continued hobbling up Commonwealth. A race volunteer handed out Mylar blankets and told us to go to the buses and pick up our gear check bags before moving on to Boston Commons. There were a ton of buses (27,000 runners) and I finally found the one with my bib # and was waiting for the volunteer to find my bag when I heard someone yell behind me, “People, move off this street NOW! Move to the left and move NOW! I am serious – Move now, people!!!”

I started to head out when the volunteer literally dropped my bag out of the window into my arms. I made it to the Public Gardens, but I didn’t see any area that looked like a family meeting area nor did I see any runners going a certain direction. So I just stood on the sidewalk feeling so lost and confused. A group of college young men (more angels) approached and asked if I was okay and could they help me. They were unaware of any meeting area but one of them asked if I wanted to use his phone. So I tried again to call my husband and this time he answered. He said they were still at the original family meeting area, but when I told him where I was, he knew the spot because we had visited it a few days prior to the race. He told me to stay put and they’d be right there. To see my husband, son, and sister come running into that park was the most awesome sight ever! The HUGE hugs spoke a lot louder than any words ever could. They were surprised to see me with a hoodie because my husband had some post-race warm clothes for me. I put those clothes on and gave the Mylar blanket and hoodie to other runners standing close by who had nothing but their race clothes on. Cassie would be proud to know her hoodie helped more than one person that day! I had also had some hand warmers in my gear bag so I gave those out to waiting cold, runners.

Reunited  with my family: Boston Public Gardens
Being reunited with my precious family, finally two hours after bombings felt so good! However, we had no idea how we were going to get back to our hotel in Newton because all public transportation had been shut down. A police officer told us we’d have to get a cab and all of the ones (very few) we saw were full already. I thanked God for the help and protection He had given me all day and then I asked Him to help us find a way back to our hotel. We were standing on the sidewalk in front of a closed Starbucks watching for a cab when a little compact car pulled up and the driver was wearing a race volunteer jacket and he asked if he could give us a ride somewhere. When we told him it was about 12 miles away, he insisted that was no problem. There were five of us, plus John the driver, and so we crammed ourselves like sardines into that compact car (me sitting on top of my sister) and he drove us all the way back to our hotel in Newton. My husband gave him money for gas and we thanked him profusely because he was another angel sent to help us. It wasn’t until I got into our hotel room that I saw what actually happened, the same as everyone else saw it who watched TV. My son and his girlfriend were about 60 feet diagonally across Boylston from the first bomb and they witnessed the worst of the horror and trauma because they were trapped behind the barricade and could not move. But thankfully, none of my family was physically injured, even though they suffered some PTSD later!

As my family and I exchanged stories, they asked how far I had run and I told them to the corner of Hereford and Boylston, and that my Garmin said I had run 26.06 miles. According to the race course I still had .4 mile to go, but as far as I was concerned, I had finished the race set before me; I had run as far as I was allowed and that was good enough for me. It wasn’t until later feelings of “unfinished business” haunted me. We were at the airport the next day when someone said the BAA might invite those of us who didn’t get to finish to return in 2014 to run again. I was asked if I would come back and run it, and my husband and I both responded, “In a heartbeat!”

I had already qualified for 2014 at CIM in December of 2012, so I was planning on registering with or without an invitation back. When the invitation came from the BAA, I chose to accept it and register that way. I was afraid I might not get in with so many runners interested in running in 2014. This was a race I had to run again and finish, not just for myself but for those who lost their lives, limbs, family members and more! I needed to let the enemies know they might have destroyed and maimed and murdered precious people, but they could never destroy or even touch or damage our spirit!!!! I (we) needed to reclaim what was lost, especially our freedom over fear, and to celebrate the greater good that always outshines the darkness. There you have my reason, my passionate goal and desire: what compels and fuels me to continue training and come back and run the 118th Boston Marathon. My story continues into 2014……

Vicky King
Salida, California

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

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