The finish line area of a marathon is melting pot of emotions: equal parts joy and pain, triumph and disappointment, but on Monday afternoon at the Boston Marathon, the completely unwelcome and unexpected feeling of horror penetrated the security barricades and spread far beyond the post-race holding area on Boylston Street.
Now, nearly 24 hours later, that section of the city remains a crime scene and investigators, runners and spectators, along with the rest of humanity, are left searching for answers to an unspeakable tragedy which has claimed the lives of three people and injured nearly 200 others.
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Late yesterday morning just before noon, some 3,000 miles away in San Diego, I had just plopped myself down in a posh leather chair at my local Starbucks, excited to unwind and relax with a cup of coffee two days after celebrating my wedding — a joyous, once-in-a-lifetime event that I didn’t mind missing the first Boston Marathon in my adult life for — when I received an alert on my phone about an explosion at the finish line. A quick scan of Twitter turned up a Tweet from Competitor senior contributing editor Peter Vigneron, who mentioned “a report of two bombs at the finish of the Boston Marathon.” For me to fully describe the emotions that engulfed me like a tidal wave at that moment would be an impossible task, but I immediately thought of my colleagues Toni Reavis, Matt Turnbull, Steve Godwin and Kevin LaClaire, who I knew had just wrapped up our RunCenter recap show not more than 100 feet behind the finish line on Boylston Street only moments beforehand. After a flurry of phone calls and text messages confirmed that our finish-line team — a crew I would have been apart of any other year except for this one — were OK, I frantically phoned, Facebooked, texted and Tweeted at everyone else I knew that might be in the vicinity, including the rest of my fellow co-workers, numerous friends, and the three athletes I coach who ran the race. Thankfully they all escaped unscathed, but others, of course, weren’t so lucky. Over the phone, my boss, Competitor editor-in-chief Brian Metzler, told me, “It’s bad. Really, really bad.” That may have been an understatement, but I’m not sure the right words will ever exist to describe the situation that was unfolding outside his hotel.
Monday’s incident hit close to home. Too close. Last year, at around the same time that the explosions went off yesterday on Boylston Street, Toni Reavis and I stood in the finisher’s chute analyzing what had gone down in the elite races earlier in the day. While talking to my new wife on the phone yesterday afternoon, I imagined myself back in that spot, where my co-workers were just minutes before the explosions occurred, and it brought me to tears.
As a native New Englander who grew up 45 minutes outside of the city, I watched the Boston Marathon on TV the third Monday of every April even before I took up running in high school. In college, our track team volunteered at water stations along the course. As an adult, I’ve run the race once, covered it for various media outlets eight years in a row, and coached dozens of athletes to compete in the People’s Olympics. There’s no event I get more excited about on an annual basis. The Boston Marathon has been a meaningful part of my life for more than half of my 30 years on this earth — as it has for countless others — and to experience our sport’s ultimate symbol of accomplishment and inspiration being scarred by a spineless coward or cowards is a mark that will take a long time to heal.
As deep and pervasive as this wound is for fellow runners, spectators, fans of the sport and residents of Boston alike, it will heal. In fact, that slow process has already begun. A marathon, you see, is more than just a footrace — it’s a symbol of strength and unity, regardless of where it’s held or how many people are on the starting line. It has a unique ability to bring people both inside and outside of the running world together during tough times — as we saw in New York last fall — and the number of runners who took their shirts off at the finish line yesterday for rescuers to use as a tourniquet, or rushed off to hospitals minutes after finishing in order to give blood to victims, only serves as evidence of the unselfishness of this tight-knit community. And that unselfishness is infectious, as others inevitably follow suit, offering their homes, food, or whatever other assistance they can muster to help the innocent victims of a terrible tragedy.
The marathon has a way of touching nearly every human emotion. Before the explosions that rocked Boylston Street yesterday afternoon blanketed the day with devastation, the Boston Marathon finish line area welcomed feelings of exaltation, disappointment and everything in between from the runners on the course as well as the spectators cheering them on from the sidelines. But not horror. That wretched emotion has no place inside or outside of those fences.