Tag Archives: Martin Richard

The Boston Marathon, My Experience

By Jack Kelly

Last Monday, on April 15th, 2013 I awoke with butterflies in my stomach.  The butterflies I felt were a mix of nervousness and excitement.  For anyone who has ever played a sport or a gave a big speech or an important presentation, you know the feeling I speak of.

I had these butterflies because I was about to run the Boston Marathon.

This would be my first time running and I was unsure of how I would do or even if I could finish.  The night before I hardly slept and could not stop thinking of what it would feel like to cross the finish line.  But crossing the finish line was certainly a non-guarantee.

Without a complete rendition of the whole grueling training process it takes for one to run 26.2 miles, my experience was subpar comparatively speaking.  I was hampered by a pesky calf injury that stubbornly refused  to allow me to run anything more than 13 miles. I ran over 13 only one time when I was able to run 15 after receiving a steady diet of A.R.T. therapy.  (a painful type of super deep tissue massage using a metallic instrument to loosen up your legs and muscles)

So the point of all of that regurgitation was to highlight my misgivings about finishing.  Sure, I portrayed bravado and self-confidence, but inside was less than sure.  In addition, when walking over to the Hynes convention center on Saturday to get my number and other assorted BAA blue and yellow marathon gear, I aggravated the calf muscle and slightly pulled it again, causing bruising on my right leg.

I was able to research online about what one could do in such a circumstances and found a product called KT tape.  This, along with compression socks, were my only hope of holding the calf together so I might have the opportunity to finish.

But that is another story, for another day.

On the morning of this now infamous day, I nervously walked around my house looking for things I would needfor the race.  In typical ‘me’ fashion, I forgot several items once I left my house.  I was picked up by my mother and was accompanied by my friends and fellow runners Kate Caruso and Emily Bryson who both lived close to my house in Charlestown, a neighborhood of Boston

We had a quick ride into the Boston Common, where busses would transfer runners to the starting line in

Hopkinton, MA.  During the ride, all three of us spoke about the task in front of us.  Emily and I were first timers, while Kate was a veteran, running not only Boston several times, but also several others.

I distinctly remember thinking that these two young ladies were going to absolutely crush me time wise and it was quite possible, I could not finish at all, while they thrived.  For someone who is socially conscious surrounding issues about equality in a political sense, I chuckled to myself thinking “the woman’s movement is certainly on display right now, and I’m just a cog in its rising domino.”

Of course, it was a light-hearted thought, but the spirit was clear that morning on the bus.  We were all nervous 0and excited but more importantly, we were piqued and supportive of one another for even being able to attempt something such as this.

It was a very distinct feeling of camaraderie.  All the training in the cold, the injuries, the sleepless nights were culminating on this very day.  In a short amount of time, we would be lacing it up and running towards Boylston.

As we arrived at the village in Hopkinton, our spirits were further uplifted.  It was essentially, a healthy version of Woodstock.  Instead of people passing joints and beer around, they were passing oranges, bananas and water.  People were lying around on the ground; stretching, talking, listening to the music playing, but overall, mentally preparing for the journey ahead.

We briefly stopped at the local police station to stretch more and linger around with other runners who were cops, mostly from Newton.

Then we walked back towards the village to drop our yellow bags off, which would be retrieved when we finished and got our medals.

Our wave started at 10:40am.  I verbalized how I would finish farther back from them as it was clear my time would be far off from theirs.  We all agreed to find each other at the finish line and depending on how we felt, meet up with all of our families and other assorted loved ones.  At least to briefly say hi and congratulate one another.

As 10:40 neared, Kate and myself left to go the bathroom one last time.  I was nervous but feeling confident.  My calf felt great, densely wrapped in the KT tape and compression socks I had on over them.

I devised a plan to run cautiously slow.  My normal training pace was about 10 minute miles, but I would scale it back to 12 1/2 or even 13 minutes.  I was still very concerned about my calf holding up and had never once trained on hills.  So I knew keeping my body strong was the most essential component for finishing.  If I went even a second too fast, my calves could easily ‘pop out’, especially once I hit the hills in Newton.

As the race started, it took Kate and I roughly 7-10 minutes to arrive at the “starting” line.  Once we did, it took some time to gain enough space to find room to start a slight jog.  Once I started jogging, I became euphoric. I was overwhelmed with the crowd and journey ahead.

Every initial forward distance was filled with spectators who were fired up and cheering the runners on.  After a few miles, my euphoria dissipated and I regained my focus and started to enact my plan.  I felt great both physically and mentally.

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As I ran, a certain feeling began to develop within me.  I started to notice the spectators more and my fellow runners.  I would see a random T-shirt in front of me of someone who lost a child and was running in their name.  I started to see people with all sorts of disabilities running beside me and at times, past me. (Which was a regular occurrence.  I was an equal opportunity ego boost for my fellow runners)

One man in particular had an amputated right leg and was just plowing through.  I looked at his face and it was a face that symbolized determination.  I could tell he was not a celebrity disabled runner we sometimes see, who can train for such an event and has the best prosthetics.  He was just like me, an ordinary guy, only he was  conquering an unordinary feat under extraordinary challenges.

Suddenly, that “calf” injury I had been worried and complaining about for months was laughable.

I was now adamant I would finish this race!

As I ran further, the race and all of the training I had endured had nothing to do with me.  This race  started symbolizing something much bigger than me as an individual. I was apart of an international community called humanity.  This race was everything good about America and people in general, before the tragic events that had yet to unfold.

As I ran through Framingham and Natick, I high-fived’ and fist-pumped’ kids of all nationalities and ethnicities.  I had a shirt on that said “I’M RUNNING” with my Twitter handle on it @Jackkelly111, which had people yelling my name with words of encouragement in both English and Spanish phrases.

As I continued to progress, I started to slowly experience every famous aspect of the marathon and more.  I hugged and kissed the famous Wesley girls and other random bystanders partying along the route.  I took water and oranges from little kids who were with their families celebrating.  I briefly stopped for pictures and pumped my fist and arms in the air when encountering a rowdy group of young revelers who were cheering me on.

I suddenly forgot I was nursing an “injury.”  As I made my way into Newton I saw a gigantic hill.  Up to this point, I was feeling confident and momentarily sort of ‘freaked.’  But that feeling of ‘fear’ was tempoarary.  I simply pushed on.  Never even thinking about the hill.

I falsely assumed Newton had only 2 hills, Heartbreak and the one before it.  It turns out, Newton has many hills, I counted at least 5, or maybe 4, although it could have been less.  It certainly seemed like 20.  At this point, my body was starting to alter down a negative path.  I knew from here on, if I were to finish, my mind would need to take over.

After ‘conquering’ another hill, (did I mention how many there seemed to be) I asked two ladies beside me, who looked to be in their mid-thirties, if the next one was the infamous ‘Heartbreak.’  One of them slightly chuckled and said “sorry to give bad news, but you still have 2 more.”   I instinctively yelled “F#(|{ me,” as a little kid was walking up to me, trying to hand me an orange.

I looked at his mother, who was laughing hysterically and said “sorry” and she said “no problem, that was great, you’re almost there!”

I “carried on,” like that great song by Fun, which happened to be playing on my iPhone at the time.  It was on in the background as I had my headphones on my shoulders so I could hear the people cheering me on.  I also started thinking of Matt Brown, the hockey player from Norwood who suffered a serious neck injury.  I attended his gala the week before at Fenway park and the song used in his tribute video was “Carry On.”  And I remember him saying at the end of the video something to the effect of “I will carry on!”

This is the point I want to emphasize.  For one of the only times in my life, something so physically and emotionally challenging was being impelled, not from myself, but of thoughts from other people and their challenges in life.  As the race became more difficult, the bystanders, the other runners, their reasons for running- plastered all over their T-shirts, etc, were propelling me to keep pushing forward when my body wanted to simply shut it down.

I finally encountered Heartbreak hill.  I looked to my left and saw a young girl running at the same pace as I.  I asked her, quite desperately, if this were Heartbreak hill.  She smiled and said “yes!”  I almost tackled her in excitement, only I would have probably fallen over if I had tried.

Roughly a quarter of a way through, she started walking and she yelled “go for it!”   I ran for another quarter of the way up and decided to walk the rest of the way.  One of the the pieces of advice I received from my PT and other veteran marathon runners, was to walk up Heartbreak.  At that point, I had not yet stopped running, accept to briefly stop for water and some”homo-sapian sanitation cleansing.”

I was so close and did not want to ‘blow it’ now.

After reaching the top, I grabbed some water and an orange  and proceeded to move forward.  I immediately was overcome with a sense of confidence.  I started to feel “it.”  My body felt terrible, but good. (people who have run this thing will know what I mean)

I knew I was going to make it.  I ran through some marketing stretch of what I thought was peanut butter Powerbars.  Guns’ and Roses’ “Welcome to The Jungle” was playing.  I was singing the lyrics and jamming to the solo by slash as I ran.

I was feeling great, and I was going to finish.  In my head I could see Boylston.

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I started to embark on a downward stretch. I would later come to learn, that this stretch was Boston College and was another infamous part of the race where you eventually filter into Cleveland Circle and start the final embark to Boylston.  Or otherwise known as the longest 5 miles known to man.

Or at least I was told it was.  I would never experience it.

As I ran down this stretch with BC on my right and the usual cascade of drunk college kids and enthusiastic onlookers, I noticed to my left, a biker cop frantically jump on his bike after talking into his radio attached to his right shoulder.  My initial thought was someone must have fallen down or had a heart attack or something.  At this point in the race, people becoming ill is a somewhat common occurrence.

So I thought nothing of it and continued on.

As I continued to run, a photographer was kneeled down to take a picture of me as I ran.  Throughout the race, this is a common occurrence.  Paid photog’s, as well as media outlets, litter the race taking pictures of everything.  As he kneeled down, I started to hear police sirens.  One at first in the distance, then it became more pronounced as it raced towards me from my backside.

I turned to my left and it was racing by me, followed by several others.  It almost knocked over the photographer who was taking a picture of me.  I knew something more than an injured runner was causing this.  I was certainly alarmed at this point, but not in a way where I felt my safety was endanger.

As I ran, I heard a radio broadcast emanating from a spectator that was saying something about “bombs at the finish line” in a panicked voice.  I could not believe what I was hearing and kept running.  I was trying to reconcile what I had just heard.  There was no way what I had just heard was real.  And to loosely quote David Ortiz, there was just no “Fucking way” someone had really bombed the finish line.

It had to be some mistake.  A false alarm.  A drunk idiot acting stupid.

But then, it happened.  As I came to a crossroad, ready to pour into a bowl that seemed to be entering the start of the finish embark into Cleveland circle, I encountered a barricade of cops and a scattered assortment of other runners.

We were stopped at the St. Ignatius Church at Boston College.  We were eventually brought into the church and tended to by earnest and exceptional first responders, firefighters and cops.  At every stage, people were calm but alarmed.  I immediately recognized one of the cops and a friend of mine who worked at the T.  I was told of the truth of what had happened.

That someone or some group or something, had set off bombs at the finish line and people were dead and gravely injured.  I immediately panicked.  I was horrified.  All I could think about was my girlfriend Lisa, her friends and my mother and father and other friends I had waiting for me at the finish line.  Because of my location and the tracking device on me, this is precisely the time they would arrive on Boylston to watch me come in.

I had over hundreds of text messages and Facebook messages and direct Twitter messages.  Because I use my iPhone as an iPod, my phone was with me.  All of the messages were concerning my safety.  But, I knew that I was safe.  My only concern was to find out about my loved ones.  I spent a frantic 30 minutes trying to reach anyone who could give me information by phone.  Finally, I saw through the hundreds of text messages, a message from my Dad asking me where I was.

This message seemed to indicate he was at least ok.  But it wasn’t until I received a call from my uncle who was not at the finish line, to tell me everyone was ok.  They were close to the bombs, but had been far enough away and were heading home and ok.

Eventually, as other runners frantically called their loved ones or tried to find out more information and were loaded on busses to head to some unknown destination, I was picked up by my brother’s girlfriend Sara who lived in Brighton.

When I arrived at my house, I hugged everyone and sat down to watch the news.  I could not believe what was happening.  I was in physical pain because of the race, but I was more shocked.  I was still unsure if any of the wounded were personal friends of mine.  My phone continued to receive text messages for hours asking about my safety.

Like everyone else in Boston and the world, I could not comprehend what had just transpired.

As the following week ensued, we saw the insane media circus and the manhunt for the terrorists who had done this.  Rumors swirled wildly on Twitter and Facebook and main stream media outlets, who will shall we say, did not have their finest hour.   Fingers were pointed, theories were put fourth as to the why and how.

But, the worst of the carnage started to illuminate itself.  I saw the pictures of little Martin Richard and the pretty freckled-face girl named Krystle Campbell.  I personally knew people who knew the Martin family and Krystle.  We eventually found out of the name of the Chinese B.U. student, 23-year-old Lu Lingzi.

We all saw the horrific injuries of hero 27-year-old Jeff Bauman Jr, who later provided key information to authorities.

The following days, I attended the now famous Bruins game where the fans of Boston sang in harmony during the National Anthem.  I attended that game with a friend from Dorchester, where Martin Richard lived.  I attended the vigil and even stood up and was part of a standing ovation during that aforementioned Bruins game because I was a “runner” in the marathon.

I watched the interfaith service where President Obama absolutely hit a grand slam and gave our city a much needed collective psychological boost.

Eventually, I went and picked up my medal, but It all felt empty.  I have spent this week walking around in my marathon shirt.  I felt the spirit of my city.  I felt the pride we all have as Bostonians and Americans.  I also felt the human spirit.  However, I also felt sad and forever changed.

As I stood looking at my medal, all I could think about was how I had spent months training to obtain this piece of metal.  I was doing it for a personal, some could even call it a selfish reason.  Sure, positive, but selfish nevertheless.

Now, as I sit here writing while simotaneously looking at this medal, all I can think about is Martin, Krystle, Lu Lingzi, Sean Collier and the victims like Jeff Bauman Jr.  This medal no longer represents an individual accomplishment.  This medal is something bigger.  And, when I look back at my experience during the race, the Boston Marathon was always about something bigger than an individual achievement.

For those who do not understand Boston, we are a big city squished into a small town. We are pragmatically liberal in our politics, at least collectively, but ‘hippies’ or naive fools we are not.  We are tough and resilient, but also compassionate and caring.

After the manhunt ended, I wrote this on my Facebook wall:

I am so proud to be from Boston. The first responders, doctors, the BAA volunteers, the heroic cops, the nurses, the bystanders, the runners, the firefighters and yes, the good work of our Mayor, Governor and President and anything and everyone in between. I have never felt so connected with people from my city than I do now.”

It was a remark born out of emotion and relief.  I was happy a symbolic end had transpired with the capture of suspect #2.  Like everyone else, I was frantically following Twitter and the news during the week, culminating with the event in Watertown.

 

As far as the suspects are concerned,

WHO???!!!???

 

I cannot believe that as I sit here and write, that it was exactly one week ago that I sat in this same spot on my couch.  Continuously massaging my right calf thinking “I hope it holds” so I can raise my arms and slap the hands of my loved ones and friends as I run down Boylston Street towards that iconic finish line.

Unfortunately, that moment never came to be.

The healing has just begun for many of us, especially the families and victims of the attack.  I know personally, people very dear to me who were close to the bombs that day.  They have a long journey of emotional healing ahead as well.  This event touched us all.  We will heal together and be there for the people recovering in our hospitals and families of the fallen.  We will attend fundraisers, and hopefully, be kind to one another and appreciate the preciousness of life.

So next year when I lace up my sneakers in Hopkinton and embark on that long, arduous, but beautiful 26.2 mile journey to Boston, I will slap the spiritual hand of Krystle, Martin, Sean and Lu Lingzi as I race down Boylston towards that still iconic finish line I could not cross this year.

I await the day when, one by one, the victims leave the hospital and I have the pleasure of lacing up my sneakers with them to reclaim a spot in Boston that is rightfully theirs, and finish the marathon.

I love my city and despite the evil we have encountered, we shall continue to pursue the light, as one!

 

#BostonStrong

 

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