Hooo boy. My fingers and the (admittedly stiff) body connected to them are certainly counting their blessings tonight that they’re all healthy and able to be typing these words to you. And brother, there’s a LOT to type, so we’ll certainly put their gratitude to the test by the end. This is the story I’ll hopefully be telling my grandkids 50 years from now about what granddad did when he was a crazy youth. So let’s start from the very beginning (a very good place to start).
Anyone reading this blog will probably know I’d been training for last Monday’s 117th running of the Boston Marathon for months on end. Weekly long runs, trips to the gym for lifts, dieting, just overall healthiness in general had become integral parts of my everyday routine in preparation. After the excitement had been building all last week during classes and such, I drove into Boston last Friday with my dad Pat to the Prudential Center, where the first of the weekend’s many goosebumps came as a marathon volunteer handed me my official number bib. After years of watching my dad and his buddies run with theirs, I finally had my own personal registration – number 25168 (I was further on down the line from Jean Valjean in the prison for all you Les Mis people out there). $250 later, I was walking out of there with pretty much every piece of marathon apparel not bolted down to the floor, more excited for Monday than I’d ever been before.
The rest of the weekend went by in a rapid succession of relaxation, pasta and water, on repeat. I swear by Sunday night I was hearing sloshing noises whenever I moved, I drank so much. Come Monday morning wake-up though, the bags were packed for before, during and after the run, and after my dad had taken the obligatory album’s-worth of pictures, I was off for Hopkinton with Barry and Tommy Scanlon and Sean Kenny in the backseat of my neighbor’s car. We got dropped off at the start area, and before I knew it I was in the runners’ corral and we were off, goosebumps and adrenaline abounding.
It could not have been a more perfect day for ANY kind of run, but for a marathon, it was literally the ideal: gentle winds, temps in the mid 50s, with some steady sun occasionally hidden behind a nice cloud cover now and then. Maybe the only ones more appreciative of Mother Nature were the spectators, a crowd whose size easily numbered up into the millions without breaking a sweat. For 26.2 miles, on both sides of the road for as far as you could see, the sea of onlookers never let up; seriously, these guys were literally dozens deep from the street in some places. I really can’t put it into words, and that for me is a rare thing. Picture – that kind of reception on either side of you; in front of you and behind you, thousands upon thousands of brightly colored heads bobbing up and down, your fellow runners. For twenty. Six. Point two. Straight. Miles. Yeah. Me too.
Wearing a spandex Iron Man shirt for the first half of the run, I lost count of how many high-fives I gave out to the 15-under crowd who were yelling out “Iron Man!” as I ran past; just as good (if not better), I made a quick change at mile 14 into a generously supplied Holy Cross pinny, and there was MUCH love for ‘Sader Nation out there on the course. For twelve miles, wherever I ran past, there were shouts of, “Hey, Crusaders!” “SADERS!!!” Go Holy Cross!!” The stuff of dreams, I’m telling you.
Various aches and pains started popping up right as I was making my way past Boston College, about five miles out from the finish; these turned into flat-out injuries as the miles ticked on, coming to a head as I felt the ligaments of my left knee pop as I crossed over the Mass. Pike at mile 25. Hobbling through Kenmore Sq., up Hereford St. and down Boylston St. towards the finish on a popped knee and an injured right foot (tendinitis, I later found out), the only thing keeping me going was my will to get to that finish line. Looking at some of the pics taken during that stretch, I barely even recognized (and certainly didn’t want to, when I did) the grimacing, scowling, sweaty mess of a runner pictured, spit flying from his mouth as he shambled along without stopping. My dad thankfully was able to drive down to the finish line and meet me 1/4 of a mile out, egging me on the whole last stretch while serving as my own personal paparazzi. As soon as I threw my hands up in the most elated sense of accomplishment I’ve ever known after crossing that finish line I collapsed onto his shoulder, literally unable to support myself on my own two feet. My body’s never known that amount of pain or stress before, and while I’m not looking to get back to it any time soon, it’s still pretty impressive knowing the human body can endure through that kind of trauma.
Then, it all went south.
I had been across the finish for about two-three minutes, and had only been able to stumble forward about 20-30yds down the chute towards the medals and those silver cape wraps, when a deafening BOOM shattered the atmosphere. In my altered state, I actually thought cannon blasts were being fired to commemorate my finish, and was about to say “Aww shucks dad, you shouldn’t have,” before I turned around just in time to catch the second blast further on down the street. The general reaction, and it’s the absolute truth, was: One’s an accident, two’s something bad. Completely and utterly exhausted as I was, I of course was registering the events occurring around me, but failed to fully comprehend them. The feeling I can remember now was something along the lines of, “K. That just happened. That seems like something bad. I should probably be moving out of this area. If my legs can do it…” My dad, thank God, still had his full bearings about him, and draping my arm around his shoulder, practically dragged his son down the chute.
From there, we escaped to the family car as fast as my numbed legs would carry me, and as soon as we had my mom and sister safely in hand we drove out of the city as quickly as we could. Sirens could be heard down all the streets headed towards the direction of the finish area, and we were actually only just able to make it out in time before the city was totally closed off to all traffic. When I had finally got home a few minutes later, and was sitting under the hot water in the shower, I finally began to recuperate and THAT’S when what had happened finally started to sink in. THAT was when the, “Wow…… That actually just happened,” moment took place. It’s a scary, scary feeling, let me tell you. The close-call stories started coming in then from friends and family around the finish, who, by nothing else than the will of God, had been lucky enough to escape all injury. There were some guardian angels working overtime that day, no question.
More importantly, there were angels on the ground as well. Mere seconds after the blast, as shown in the endless news reels that have been showing in the aftermath, marathon volunteers, Boston police, first responders and good Samaritan runners and spectators made a bee-line to the blast site, totally heedless of their own personal well-being, to give much-needed aid to the victims. A friend of mine, fellow E-Streeter and Lowell cop Nick Laganas, had actually just crossed the finish line, and after running the 26.2 mile distance, turned around and ran another 200yds in the opposite direction to help out the wounded. Nick, you’re a hero in every possible sense of the word my friend. Reports came in later of runners who ran right on through the finish area for another two miles straight to Mass. General to give blood to the victims; dozens of websites went up within hours made by Bostonians and residents of the surrounding suburbs offering up free housing, food and showers to all stranded runners. These are the kinds of stories that keep my faith in the human race, even after all the tragedies. The single act of one coward is what’s been making the headlines, but it’s the countless acts of an entire city that made the day.
Will I be doing Boston next year? Give my battered and bruised legs a few days to compose themselves before asking me that question. Will I be doing Boston again in the future? I’ve never been more sure of anything. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I can-not-recommend-it-enough to anyone sitting on the fence. Each and every single person involved in the running of this will go down in the history books as a champion. Nick, Barry, Tommy, Joe Patuto – we were part of history guys. Regardless of how or when we finished, this is with us now for the rest of our lives, something we can keep our heads up and talk about for years to come. More importantly, we’ll all be out there again. The B.A.A. has already announced next year’s 118th running will take place, and record registrations have already been charted. The coward responsible for this heinous act underestimated the human spirit, but what’s worse for him/her, he/she underestimated the city of Boston and its people. We’re known to be tough for a reason, and Monday afternoon and the days following have only confirmed that reputation. We’ll be back to run it again, because we are not afraid. We run marathons – put our bodies through the exertion involved in running that distance – for leisure. We’re from Boston. Brother, you don’t stand a chance.
“Boston, you’re my home.”