Monday, April 22, 2013

My Boston Marathon Experience

Photo from Sports Illustrated

This photo shows the runners stopped about 1/2 mile from the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  I know that I am not in this photo, because I could not see the front of the stopped runners, and there were businesses lining a sidewalk in the area that I was stopped.

The Boston Marathon proved to be the most difficult marathon that I have run to date (my 4th marathon).  I had set a time goal of 4 hours, 29 minutes, which is ten minutes faster than my previous PR.  My plan was to run the first 10 miles at a 10:00 pace, and then pick up the pace a little bit through mile 21, and lastly, run as hard as I could (at that point) from mile 21 to the end.  Miles 16-21 were just as challenging as I was told they would be---four big hills culminating with "Heartbreak Hill", which I cried on.  By mile 21, I could not pick up my pace any, because "running as hard as I could" resulted in my barely hanging on to my current average pace.  At this point in the race I began walking more often than every two miles like I had trained.  My legs were screaming at me.  My mind was engaged in an internal battle....."just walk and forget your!  Keep on going.  You can do it.  One foot in front of the other...." I kept thinking about Heather, and how I wanted to be able to tell her that I pushed myself the entire marathon.  So I kept pushing.

I passed the 40K checkpoint, the last one before the end of the marathon (42K, 26.2 miles).  I was mentally celebrating the fact that I had only 1.2 miles left of this grueling race.  I walked one more time after this checkpoint.  I told some random person that I didn't think I could finish.  Then I pulled myself together and began running.  Fast.  My legs were numb, my mental status was focused on the finish line and finding Jimmy and Heather.  I just looked straight ahead and ran.  And ran.  And ran.  

And then it was like I hit a wall.  All of a sudden all of the runners stopped.  Hundreds of runners, at a complete standstill.  My first thought was that a runner was down.  I figured that the emergency people would assist him or her off the road and we would continue our race.  I stopped my watch.  I noticed my time and distance.  4 hours, 23 minutes.  25.8 miles.  

I had no cell phone, no I.D., no money, no hotel room key.  However, I did have my lipstick.  

When you finish (or are nearly finished) a marathon, your brain is in a fog.  You have just pushed yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally just about as far as you can push.  Normally, when you cross the finish line you keep on moving.  That is important.  Your muscles start to cramp, and walking usually eases some of that pain.  You walk on through the finish line chute.  You continue walking to get your finisher's medal.  You walk on through to get the much-needed refreshments, and then you keep moving on to the family waiting area where you find your family and friends.  The  key is to just keep moving.  Within about 1 minute of our stopping, both my legs seized into cramps, reaching from my waist to my ankles.  I still had no idea why we were stopped, and neither did anyone else around me.  I hung on to two strangers, trying not to cry about my legs hurting so bad.  They were both so kind.  One of them kept trying to show me different stretches to relieve my pain.  The other one had a cell phone, so he tried to figure out what was going on.

About half the runners around me had cell phones.  Everyone was texting, calling, emailing, trying to access the internet.  Finally, word began to travel.  

"We think there is a bomb threat at the finish line." 
"There have been two explosions at the finish line."
"There were two bombs at the finish line."

Ironically, no one, including myself seemed to panic.  There were no tears.  It was not chaotic.  We were all just standing there, mentally numb.  The information seemed hard to process.  Bombs at the finish line?  What does that mean?  I could not form a mental picture.  It is so hard to explain, and I know it must hard to understand if you were not there, but we just did not understand what was going on.  We had no idea of the extent of the damage.  We had no reports of injuries or deaths.  We had no way of comprehending the horror that was unfolding just 1/2 mile down the road.

One of the men standing beside me, (the one who was helping me to stretch), shared his Clif Bar with me.  Then as the news began to sink in with him he realized that his family was at the finish line.  He worked for John Hancock, and his family was waiting for him to finish in the VIP tent at the finish line.  He said, "I'm going to the finish."  He asked me if I wanted to come with him.  I was unsure about what to do.....I began to follow him--we moved a barrier and got on the sidewalk--but he began moving faster and faster, and I just couldn't keep up with him because my legs were hurting so badly.  He slipped away from me, so I just stopped.  His name was Scott.  I have no idea if his family were victims.

I rejoined the runners in the middle of the road.  We all began shaking, because we were wet with sweat from running and the wind was really blowing...spectators came into the road passing out trash bags for us to wrap up in.  I put one on like a dress, and then took another one to wrap up in too.  Then a man began passing out discarded clothes he had picked up along the race course.  I took a man's shirt and tied it around my legs.

A lady (I think from a hotel) worked her way through the runners with a silver pitcher of water and a sleeve of paper cups.  I drank a cup of water.  We still just stood there.  I borrowed three or four strangers' cell phones and texted Jimmy that I was ok.  That were were stopped about 1/2 mile from the finish line.  He didn't receive those texts until 2 hours later.  The cell service was basically non-existent at this point.  More people were passing out water bottles.  I drank a bottle of water.

I still was not in a panic.  It is such a blessing that we runners did not really know what was going on, or I think mass panic would have set in.  I knew that my texts were not going through, and I hoped that Jimmy was not worried about me.  I knew that my family and friends were tracking me online, and that they would be wondering why I stopped running.  I had no idea that they were back home watching it all unfold on TV--worried sick about Jimmy, Heather, Koach, and me......

Helicopters flew overhead.  Police motorcycles zoomed by on the other two lanes of the road (adjacent to the lanes the runners were in). A long, long line of unmarked grey police cars came flying down the side of the road we runners were in.  We had to quickly move to either side to make room for them.  The gravity of the situation still did not register......

I lost track of time.  It was like a slow motion dream.  Runners idly talking.  Wondering what to do.  Where to go?  I kept asking myself, "What does that mean?  Bombs at the finish line?"  I could not process that information (again, I attribute it to mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion from running for over 4 hours.)

At some point (I am guessing about 1-1.5 hours later), a policeman worked his way alongside the road of runners, making announcements at every block.  When I could hear him, he said, "The race is over.  You need to evacuate this area immediately.  If you are staying in a hotel downtown, begin walking to your hotel.  If you need to retrieve your runner's bag from the buses, walk down Berkely.  If you need to get elsewhere, go ___ (I don't remember where he said), buses will be there to take you to (somewhere).   I just paid attention to the part "Begin walking to your hotel.".  I did panic a little bit at this point.  I had no idea where I was or where my hotel was.  At first I just stood there, unsure of which crowd to follow.  I walked a short distance in no particular direction (wrapped in two garbage bags and a shirt tied around my legs), and found another police officer.  I told him the name of my hotel and asked for directions.  He said, "Go down to Mass. Ave., and turn left.  Then follow that street until you reach Huntington.  Turn left (or was it right?).  Then you will see your hotel.  I was confused.  I asked him to tell me again.  And then again.  And after he patiently repeated those simple directions for the fourth time, and man walked up behind me and said, "I'll take you.  I'm staying there too."  I was so grateful!

I followed this nice man to my hotel, and we were still oblivious to our surroundings.  Emergency personnel were everywhere.  Policeman were at every street corner.  Runners filled the streets, walking...and we just walked, shivering to our hotel.  I did not get the man's name, but I found out that he was a urologist from Atlanta, and he was attending the same medical meeting as Jimmy.

We made it to the hotel, and later I realized that it was now 2 hours since the race had been stopped.  As I entered the hotel lobby, praying that Jimmy was in our room since I did not have a room key, I ran into one of our friends who was at the marathon to work the medical tent.  He is a cardiologist like Jimmy, and he and his family were our neighbors when he and Jimmy were doing their medical training in Jackson.  He was white as a sheet and visibly shaken.  I asked him what happened.  What is going on at the finish?

He asked me if I had seen Jimmy.  Had I heard from him?  And then he proceeded to tell me in great detail what he had just experienced.  I stood there with my mouth horror.....he described what by now all of you have seen on TV, and more.  Tears came to my eyes.  It all sunk in.  I began to feel sick, like I was about to throw up.  He kept on telling me about all the people he had treated--their injuries, their prognosis, the blood, the chaos.  My heart was pounding, and it was then that I panicked. Where was Jimmy?  Where was Heather?  Where was Koach?  I began to do the math in my head.....I knew what their predicted finish times were (way ahead of me)....could they have been in that area?  I told him I had to find Jimmy, we hugged and I ran to the elevators.....

I was stopped by a hotel employee. He was checking all people who wanted to enter the elevators...only hotel guests were allowed.  "Could you please show me your room key" he asked.  I frantically explained that I had just run.  I had no I.D., no cell phone, no room key, but I needed to get to my room to check on my husband.  I told him my name and my room number.  He checked his list and let me through.  

That was the longest elevator ride of my life.  I timidly knocked on our hotel door, praying.....Jimmy asked, "Roan, is that you?"  YES!  He let me in.  I have never been so glad to see him and to hug him! And then I was about to be sick so I ran to the bathroom.  

What followed was just as surreal as the entire afternoon.  We watched live Boston news until well after midnight.  We were on lockdown in our hotel.  At first in our rooms, but later we were allowed to come to the hotel restaurant to eat...and then back to our rooms.  The SWAT team was guarding the front of our hotel.  Emergency and police and FBI vehicles whizzed past our hotel for hours.  On and on and on.....

Our cell phones began to work again, although sporadically.  Jimmy received two burst of texts, including the ones I had sent hours before.  We were able to contact all of our family and friends and assure them that physically we were ok.  Mentally and emotionally shaken.

Jimmy relayed to me that he had finished the race, gotten his medal and mylar blanket, and was working his way to the refreshments when the he heard and felt the first explosion.  He estimates he was about 300 ft. away.  His first thought was that was an odd place for a cannon....then he heard the second one.  He and all of runners around him were quickly evacuated....he eventually made his way back to the hotel to wait for me.  By his calculations and by tracking me online he was pretty confident that I was safe with the stopped runners.

We left our hotel at 4:30 AM the next morning, amid yellow crime scene tape and SWAT officers still in the lobby.  We walked a block or so to catch a taxi to the airport.  We were still in a daze.

The events of last Monday still weigh heavily on my mind.  Actually, I am having a hard time getting it out of my mind, even for a brief time period.  The "what ifs" haunt me, and I am heart broken and profoundly sad for all of the victims and their families and loved ones.


  1. Praying for healing of your mind....I cannot imagine what is going through your mind.

  2. Thank you for sharing your personal Boston story, Roan. I'm so thankful the Lord spared you and Jimmy and your friends that day. Psalm 91 comes to mind.


  3. I was so glad to find out you and yours were physically unharmed. I am sure you are being kind with yourselves while you process it emotionally. Love to you, hscamp friend!

  4. Thank you for sharing! I'm so glad ya'll are all ok.

  5. Roan, I also want to thank you for sharing your story--you wrote it very well--I felt all of the emotions you were going through--I wanted to cry as well as be sick! I am so grateful that you, Jimmy and friends made it home safely. I will pray for you as you process your experience.

  6. Oh my goodness, Roan. The hand of God was on you and your family. I am so thrilled to hear that no harm came to any of you. What an awful experience. I can't even begin to imagine. Actually, I tried to imagine that day what it might have been like to have been a runner, pushing my mind and body to the limit to finish a race, and trying to comprehend what had happened. And I thought how totally odd it was to have an act of terror at a marathon. I know it's a big marathon, but still. Just so weird. Thanks for sharing your story. Yours is definitely a unique perspective, but more than anything, I am so thankful not a hair on your head was harmed. God will help you work through this as the days go by. Just keep giving it to Him, and allow Him to cleanse your mind when need be. I am praying for you.


  7. Thank you for sharing your story, Roan.

  8. You are such a gifted writer, thank you for sharing your experience. I cried, I prayed, I laughed (Lipstick!)

    Praise God for your safety and Jimmy's and your friends. I am so glad you were not in harms way and you encountered angels who helped you.

    I am sorry you did not get to finish the race, I know that seems like it would not be as big a deal as getting hurt, but I also know you were so looking forward to this race. I pray that you will feel God's peace in your heart and mind about all that you experienced.

  9. I enjoy reading your blog. I am thankful you all are ok. I had several friends running in Boston as well and thankfully they were all safe. Just curious as to how you were able to run Boston? Did you qualify at a race in MS? I'm a fellow runner here in MS as well. I don't think I could ever get fast enough to do Boston. Take care.
    Julie Jackson

  10. I can't imagine how hard it was to put that into words, but you did a wonderful job. And I think one day in the future, you will be glad that you documented the day so vividly. We are so thankful for your safety. We pray for the healing of your minds. And by the way, you are a finisher, amazing, and a true Southern lady (lipstick?!).

  11. God bless you, Roan. When I heard about the bombings I wondered if you were running Boston, but I couldn't remember. I am so, so glad that you are all okay. So glad for your protection. I can only imagine the relief you felt at getting back to your hotel room.

  12. I hope that perhaps just the telling of your story here has brought you some healing from what all you experienced. I am a journaler and I know sometimes I don't want to write about the hard things but I'm often relieved when I do. I am so thankful God protected you from physical harm and I will pray for you as you work through all the thoughts and emotions.

  13. I am so thankful you all are ok. I cannot imagine what it must have been like. We watched it unfold on the television and just prayed.

  14. I just found your blog through a homeschooling pin on Pinterest. Thank you for sharing your Boston Marathon experience. A horror that for me seemed compounded because it was directed at people trying to achieve one of the greatest physical feats there is...and the people cheering them on.

  15. It was so interesting reading your perspective. It was such a surreal day. I am so glad that your family was safe and that you were reunited with your husband. What a scary few hours!

    I hope you are now recovered both mentally and physically.

  16. Thank you for sharing your experience. I found your blog recently, and knew you were training for a marathon, but forgot it was Boston! I am so relieved you and your family are safe.
    What an awful tragedy.

  17. Thanks for sharing your story! Thank God that it ended all right for you and your family. I just cannot imagine being in your shoes.