Monday, April 29, 2013

The Long Road to Recovery

Normally, it's simple.  It'll hurt a bit, but recovering from the marathon is straightforward and I'm back to my regular day to day in a few short days.  This year is anything but normal.  This year's recovery is a life long process.  The moment those explosions rocked the finish area everything changed.  My life would never be the same

Like all of us, I've read about horrible things in the news.  Sadly, it's impossible to avoid.  Academically, I know these things can, and do, happen.  Some hit a little closer to home than others.  NYC and the tragedy on Sept 11, is just over an hour from where I grew up.  I'd been there many times, and knew a lot of people that lived and worked in the city.  Thankfully my closest tie to this disaster was a relative who made it out OK.  Then there was Virginia Tech, one of many schools I'd visited to cheer on Boston College.  I knew that campus, it is beautiful there and the people are wonderful.  I grew up in CT, not far from the recent tragedy in Newtown.  All of these events hit close to home.  This one though, this one hit *home*

I was just past the arch when the first bomb went off.  I knew it was close, but I didn't realize how close at the time.  It took a couple of weeks before I was even able to look at a map of what happened and where.  As it turns out, I was somewhere in the range of 100-250 feet away.  So I was right *there*

It took days, even weeks before I could really start to process what had really happened.  Despite all of the media coverage, part of me couldn't believe this had actually happened.  I didn't want to.  Boston is, and always will be, home to me.  The marathon always will be my favorite day of the year.  I couldn't comprehend something so evil, so vile defiling this

To make matters worse, I was helpless when it happened.  Those who know me, know that I don't back down from a challenge, and know that I am always looking for (and finding) ways to have a positive effect on things around me.  It did not rest well with me that I could do nothing to help here, especially seeing the heroism of so many firsthand.  Walking or running away is NOT my style

So what now?  I'd survived the bombs with no physical injuries, and for that I am counting my blessings.  I was so lucky that I didn't even *see* it.  All I saw was goodness and heroism.  But there is more to it than that.  I did hear it, I did feel it (although at the time I didn't process that) and I did experience it - the good and the bad.  For several weeks after the bombings, I was not ok.  I couldn't sleep.  Those aren't words you expect to hear from a narcoleptic.  Consciously I had come to terms with what happened very quickly.  Subconsciously, not so much

I had, and continue to have, a great support network.  I am humbled and honored by how many people reached out as this happened.  My Mom and Dad, they were there too.  I know it's taken a toll on them as well.  The first thing I did was call Mom to say I'm OK.  The first thing she did was call the family members *furthest* away, before the networks went down.  My sister in Tampa, and grandparents in Naples knew immediately that we were ok.  They didn't know what in the world my mother was talking about though.  Between them, the news that we were OK was spread to the extended family, many of them also learning that we were OK before they even had a chance to worry.  My siblings even took to facebook to let those who have me as a friend there know I was OK.  Meanwhile I tried to respond "ok" to every email and text I could.  I didn't even read them, I knew what they were about.  I still haven't gone back and looked to see who exactly reached out.  But there were a lot, and many that I would not have expected.  Family, friends, colleagues and clients all reached out en masse.  I have never been more humbled in my life than seeing this outpouring of concern over my wellbeing.  I can't thank you all enough for being there for me

The running community in Miami has also been incredibly supportive.  Between the Brickell Run Club and the hundreds if not thousand of runners that showed up for the silent run the day after, and the South Beach Run Club that had a police escorted run that Thursday - the community here has been very supportive.  For that I am also thankful

In the grand scheme of things, the three deaths that day and around 250 injuries are relatively insignificant.  That does nothing to ease the suffering of the victims, but it is true.  It could have been worse.  It could have been much worse that day if not for the heroism of so many.  On top of that, every single day in this country there are more *preventable* deaths and injuries as a result of our car-first culture.   Every one of those victims suffers too.  I've personally come much closer to death on the mean streets of Miami than I did here.  Hell, on multiple occasions I've had people intentionally run me down with their vehicles.  Thats aggravated battery (or assault if they failed), if not outright attempted homicide.  In these cases I was personally targeted, not just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  So why am I having so much trouble with this?

I said shortly after the bombing that there are ONLY a couple hundred victims here.  Those who lost a loved one, and those who suffered serious injuries that will be with them for a lifetime.  They are the only victims by necessity.  The rest of us, myself included: We have a CHOICE.  We can be strong, leaning on our loved ones and find our way through this.  We can come out stronger as a result.  If so, we win.  The bombers failed to terrorize us and to terrorize our lifestyle and our city.  Or we can let ourselves be victimized and let them win

Even most of those who are victims can come out of this stronger.  Our society has showed tremendous support for them in the weeks since the bombing.  We cannot let that support waiver.  Together we can all get through this ok.  We can collectively stand 'Boston Strong', and refuse to let terrorism win.  We can all work together to make sure everyone affected is taken care of, now and in the years to come.  The One Fund is one of many ways that everyone can help

I personally will NOT be a victim.  Somehow I will come out of this stronger than I went in.  And I will use my fighting spirit to find a way to make something positive come of this.  This much I knew that night.  As I reflected on what happened, I knew very quickly that I had a new cause: Those who are victims of this by the necessity of their circumstances.  Those who a few minutes earlier were on that sideline cheering ME on, helping ME to finish MY race and accomplish MY goal.  Sure, none of them were there only for that reason, but they were there and they were MY support as I sprinted down Boylston.  To them I am beholden.  I knew then, that next year and every year after, would be for THEM.  It didn't matter if I knew them.  I share a bond now, with them and with all of the others who were there.  This event has forever linked our lives and I WILL find a way to make that a positive thing

I know myself.  I now have the motivations, the desire and the ability to do this.  So why then does this weigh down my soul?  What is holding me back and preventing me from continuing to live my life?  It's effected my work.  I've had to walk away from jobs because I don't currently have the mental capacity to tackle the difficult problems.  I'm an IT consultant.  Solving problems is what I do, often problems clients don't even know they have.  This current situation: that is a major problem.  It's effected my health.  I can't get any proper rest, no matter how much time I try to spend in bed.  It's effected my training.  How the hell am I supposed to run further, faster and harder if I'm constantly exhausted?  I know myself, but obviously I'm missing something

Why?  I am NOT a victim.  Why is this holding me back?  I've pondered that for weeks now and I've gotten no where.  I wake constantly in the middle of the night, and even when I don't I'm not getting quality sleep.  I wake in the morning just as exhausted as I went to bed the night before.  Night after night after night.  I don't believe I need to put this behind me.  No, it will always be part of the fabric of my being.  I need to make that a good thing.  I need to find and expel the demons that haunt me and prevent me from finding a way to make something positive happen

As I've pondered this for weeks on end, it's started to hit me.  I need to go back.  I need to visit Boston to find closure.  I know that will help me to move forward.  But I also know that this recovery will never be completely over.  It's up to me how it effects my future.  This can be a festering wound that never really heals, or this can be scar tissue that forms, stronger than before.  Either way, the events on Marathon Monday had and will continue to have a profound impact on my life

I'm a Bostonian: strength and resilience and winning is in my DNA.  I'm a runner: tearing myself apart to make myself stronger is what I do.  So yes, this will hurt.  Yes, this will be excruciatingly painful at times.  But out of these formative fires I will emerge triumphant, stronger and better than ever before.  It just may take some time

I Can't Blend In

I’d since discovered that the guy that interviewed me near Copley had been with the New Yorker, and his article had been posted shortly after we spoke. As a result I’d had a reporter from McClatchy Newspapers reach out looking for an interview.  Now for the first time, I did not want the coverage, yet it had found me.  But my New Yorker interview had been a revelation for me.  I did have something to share: positivity.  No talk of atrocities from me.  What I saw and experienced on Marathon Monday was the goodness and heroism of those around me.  Maybe that was why I was there

I ended up flying back early.  I had a flight booked the next evening with AA out of Logan.  The same flight I had taken pretty much every year.  I was back in CT now, and especially considering the circumstances wouldn’t be flying out of Logan that night.  AA had refused to help, insisting that I pay close to $500 to change my flight.  (That flight I was supposed to be on ended up being about five hours late anyway, so I'm glad I didn't have to deal with that on top of everything else.)  So we called JetBlue, who waived as many fees as possible to make the cost of a new last minute flight a bit more palatable.  Now instead of returning home that night, I would get home early afternoon, and in the meantime I’d chat with another reporter from the airport

A friend had posted on Facebook that one of the local run clubs would be doing a silent run in honor of those effected in Boston.  I knew I needed to be there.  It wasn’t my normal Tuesday night run club, but this wasn’t an ordinary Tuesday.  I debated whether I should wear Boston gear, or even bring my finishers medal.  I decided against it.  I wanted to blend in.  I was going to this run for the same reason as every other runner who would be there.  I was going to show my support for those most affected by the previous days tragedies.  This was bigger than me, and it was not my time for any sort of spotlight.  I went without anything Boston on me, the only link being the running shoes that had carried me to Boston the day before, still with bits of red paint on them

I stopped by the Miami Beach Police Department at 6:30.  I wouldn’t be running with the R.A.M. Runners today, but I wanted to stop in and say hello, just to let them all know I was alright.  Next I hoped on the bike and hauled to the mainland to catch the Brickell Run Club for their silent run.  This being South Florida, it was no surprise that some crazy driver ran me off the road along the way, literally driving in the bike lane inches in front of me

As I approached the area where the group meets, I had to stop.  The turnout was amazing.  Every local news crew was there, and probably a thousand runners were crammed into a little parking lot.  I have said for years that Boston is home, I just live in Miami.  At this moment I finally embraced Miami as being home as well.  Boston will always be home, but now I had a second city as well.  And now everything that had happened the day before was quickly sinking in

I needed to stop to regain my composure.  I wouldn’t blend in if I was crying.  I suspected I would be the only person there who was in Boston the day before, and certainly who had been as close to everything as I had been.  I took a few seconds and then rode in, just in time for the welcome from the groups organizer.   He invited previous Boston Marathon runners to come to the front, so I joined the decent sized group of runners who had completed Boston at some point, and carefully positioned myself behind a couple people to remain out of sight (sometimes its a good thing to be short).   I managed to keep my composure through the national anthem and for a few minutes after.  Then I saw a couple of friends, friends who knew I had been there, and one of them gave me a hug.  I broke down.  The horror of what had happened behind my back just a day earlier finally hit me full force, but I was blessed to again be in the company of friends and fellow runners

Unfortunately, with that first tear I shed, my anonymity disappeared.  The media were like sharks in a feeding frenzy.  Although I initially refused to be interviewed, I eventually gave in.  By this point I’d decided that this was at least part of the reason I was there.  So I gave the first reporter an interview, and promised a second that they could interview me after the run

Then the run started.  I started out slow.  My legs hurt, a lot.  I hadn’t gotten to properly cool down after my first 26 mile run in 3 years, and fastest in about 7.  But I had both legs, and I was going to do this run in honor of those who couldn’t, pain be damned.  Apparently the camera crew had decided they wanted to film me running.  This pissed me off.  This was not about me.  This was about Miami showing solidarity with Boston.  Yes, I was the link between the two here, but it was NOT about me.  I picked up the pace as much as I could and tried to evade the camera guy as much as possible.  Attempting to sprint away from the camera made this run a lot more painful than I had hoped.  I wasn’t very successful at it either

After the very painful run, I grabbed one of the shirts they were selling to raise money for the victims.  Bright yellow with 4:09:43 and #runforboston printed on it, I knew I needed one.  Since the profits were being donated, I could have a shirt to show solidarity and contribute a bit financially.  Then there was the issue of the interview I had promised…  but I was a bit worried.  The first interview had ended up being too much about me for my liking.  So I agreed to additional interviews so long as the reporters promised that the segment would not be about me.  Now I had to trust they would uphold their end of the bargain, and I found out later that night they did

Going into this years race, I had hoped to get some more media coverage.  I could have never imagined the circumstances under which I would get it

What I Saw

It was about 2:40 on Marathon Monday afternoon as I rounded the corner onto Boylston Street.  I felt pretty good considering how far I’d just run.  Time for the final stretch, I was finally here!  As I usually do, I took the corner tight and hugged the left side of Boylston Street.  I am almost always along the edge of the course, closer to the crowd and the cheers.  I’ve run about 26 miles at this point, so I have no desire to run a single step further than I have to… and I can never remember at this point that my parents are pretty much always on the opposite side of the street looking for me.  I picked up the pace, leaving everything on the course.  I was having an awesome race, I wanted to finish it with a nice kick.  I remember hearing my parents yelling my name cheering me on through the noise of the crowd.  I took off down Boylston that last quarter mile, waving my arms frantically to fire up the crowd.  I crossed the finish line throwing my hands up in triumph!  I had done it.  I had finished my 12th Boston Marathon and I had run better than I targeted

Strangely, the paint I wore seemed to rush into my eyes (particularly the right eye) as I finished.  This was my ninth painted Boston, and this was a problem I’d never had before.  It made it a bit more difficult to fiddle with my phone, as I couldn’t see very clearly.  I slowed to a walk, grabbing my phone from the armband I wore, attempting to stop my workout tracking as close to my finish time as possible.  It took a bit, but I managed to unlock the phone and stop and save the workout.  I crammed the phone back into its pouch on my arm and meandered down the road slowly.    As I crossed under the arch, someone stuck a camera and a mic in my face and interviewed me.  I was covered in red paint, so the interview wasn’t surprising… just the location.  Photographers swarm the area, both on top of the arch and everywhere else.  The video cameras though, tend to be a few blocks down the chute.  I’m still not sure who it was who interviewed me, or even what was said.  I probably never will know.  But I stopped and spoke with whoever it was for a bit, trying to walk in place the whole time.  If I stopped moving, the lactic acid would hit me hard.  I don’t stop moving until long after the race

After the interview, I stopped again to thank a few of the volunteers in the finish chute.  After a couple more brief conversations, I decided to get a photo of myself with the arch in the background.  I fiddled with the phone for a bit, but between paint in my eye and on the plastic wrap I used to paint proof the phone, it took a while.  Eventually I got to the camera, and asked a volunteer to take a photo for me.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t see the screen well enough and weren’t able to get one.  I thanked them for trying and walked half a block to get water, and some paper towels to try to get some of the paint from around my eye.  I wanted that picture though and turned back around once I had a bottle of water.  As I stood right behind the arch, and reached for my phone again, the day took a drastic turn

BOOM!  It sounded like a celebratory cannon.  Or at least thats what I told myself.  This was Marathon Monday, I refused to entertain other possibilities.  Deep inside, I already felt something was wrong.  I looked up from my phone and towards the finish line.  As I stood in near the Old South Church all I saw was the arch, it blocked most of my view in that direction.  From my vantage point, everything *looked* normal.  I saw some random guy in the chute near me jump up and do a little jig.  Apparently he thought it was a celebratory cannon as well.  For about ten seconds I pondered:  What in the world were they celebrating about 4 hours in? And where was that cannon?  It certainly seemed close by…

BOOM!  A second explosion.  My worst fears were confirmed.  Something was wrong.  Three thoughts immediately overwhelmed me:

1) Call Mom.  My parents were close by, I had just passed them further down Boylston minutes before.  The explosions, especially the first, were so close to me that I was sure they were ok.  But they knew I had just finished the race.  They knew that the explosions were between us.  I didn’t want them running in to look for me and getting hurt in the process.  I had to let them know I was OK.  Who knew if there would be more…

2) Helplessness.  I was overwhelmed by the most powerful feeling of helplessness.  I stood there, powerless as the day came crashing down around me.  I wanted to help… needed to help… but I could do nothing.  I had left it all on the course.  Even my adrenaline stores were depleted.  I could barely walk, and I could barely see.  What could I do?  I was a liability being there, to myself and to others.  I was helpless, I was worthless

3) Craig should be here.  I was grasping desperately for anything I could do.  Anything!  I’m sure partially to make up for my own perceived inadequacies at the time, I couldn’t help but wish my little brother had been able to come cheer me on this year.  He’s a volunteer firefighter back home… he could help, I could not

Moments after, I realized something else:

I was supposed to be here!  For reasons unknown to me, I was meant to be a part of this.  There were too many things that led to me being *right there*…  I was put at this place, at this time for something… but what?  This made the helplessness even more unbearable.  Why was I here if I could do nothing?  Why must I endure this if I am powerless to do anything about it?  There was too much for it to be coincidence.  This catastrophe that had just defiled the most important day in my world… I was meant to be in the center of it.    I was safely past, but then I was stopped.  I was held right there by seemingly random minutia.  But why?  I could do nothing to help

I don’t know how long I stood there.  I suspect it was only a few seconds, but time was at a standstill.  So much was happening around me, and so many thoughts rushing through my head.  I came to the painful conclusion that I couldn’t do anything and began to walk away.  I didn't look back.  Nothing has ever hurt me more than this.  I have called Boston home for many years, and now in its darkest hour I was helpless and walking away from my city’s trials.  My body trembled uncontrollably and continued to for quite some time.  It wasn’t shivering.  The cold no longer bothered me.  But I was shaking, likely anxiety

I already had my phone in my hand, but I could barely use it. I called Mom as quickly as possible.  I couldn’t read the names due to the paint in my eye, but I was able to find it based on the length of the name in my address book.  I needed to get the call through now, I knew that the networks would be overwhelmed momentarily.  When she answered I said something along the lines of “I’m OK.  I can’t hear you… just go to the hotel.  I’ll meet you at the hotel”  I couldn’t hear her response, but I knew they were ok.  I was sure they were still where they had been when I ran by minutes before.  They were in a safer area… they could relay the news to the rest of the family.  I hung up the call and moved on, still unsure of exactly what happened, but knowing it was bad

As I shuffled down the chute, I passed Dartmouth.  I needed a heat sheet.  I had only a pair of shorts and paint on, and it was chilly.  I grabbed a heat sheet and kept moving.  I asked a few volunteers what was going on.  They didn’t know.  Just keep moving they said.  Clarendon Street was up ahead.  I saw a volunteer still handing out medals to the fleeing runners.  I hesitated.  I wanted a medal.  I had earned it this year, I had run well today, and gotten the crowd fired up along the way.  Part of me still hesitated.  I couldn’t take advantage of this chaos to get something I shouldn’t have.  I usually get one though.  Plus, I knew this one would come to mean a lot in the days ahead.  This medal would not be like any other in terms of sentimental value.  I reached out for a medal, thanking the volunteer.   Clutching my phone, my medal and a few bottles of water, I moved on

I turned down Clarendon, on several occasions asking distraught folks “Are you OK?”  The answer to that, I knew, was relative.  Here… yes physically they were.  But many of these folks saw the unspeakable.  By this point I had heard chatter.  Bombs, limbs lost… I knew it to be true, but still hoped it was just people overreacting.  I still wanted to believe everything was OK

The few bottles of water I carried quickly dwindled to just the one I had been drinking.  I didn’t *need* more than that.  I offered my phone to make calls, but at this point networks were overwhelmed.  I don’t think any of those calls went through.  I distinctly remember one woman asking me ‘Are you sure?  It’s long distance.’  At that point in time the cost of long distance calls didn’t matter.  I didn’t care who they were calling.  On the other end was someone who was surely panicking, praying that this runner was OK

I saw the media area.  Normally I like this spot and spend a lot of time here.  I often joke that I am a media whore.  I’ve been in quite a few articles and videos and so on as a result of my marathon attire.  Now was different.  This was bigger than me, much bigger.  My playful marathon antics weren’t significant in the current circumstances.  I didn’t want to be interviewed, I deliberately avoided it.  I could contribute nothing to this ‘story’

As I tried to navigate my way back to the hotel, I left the finish area.  Wearing paint, shorts and a flimsy heat sheet, it was a bit chilly.  That was the last thing on my mind.  I honestly didn’t even notice anymore.  Once the bombs went off, I forgot that it was cold.  But many people on the streets didn’t… I was offered several jackets.  Literally people offering the clothes off their back to warm up a runner who needed it.  I didn’t though.  I didn’t want a free $100 jacket, if they were to give it to someone, there were others who needed it much more than me.  Eventually I did accept the offer of a second heat sheet.  That would be enough to keep me warm

My sense of orientation was off.  It normally is after the marathon.  I was wandering around aimlessly for a bit.  Random small talk between myself and other runners served as a small amount of comfort.  None of us knew what happened yet.  As I got further from the finish, I got more information.  They were bombs, I could no longer hope I was wrong.  Just then, in the distance, another explosion.  It wasn’t over.  The nightmare wasn’t over yet.  I grabbed my phone again.  I logged into Facebook.  Quickly posting “third bomb just went off… I’m ok”.  I knew my family had shared the news that I was OK after the first two, but now there was another.  I didn’t want a renewed panic from loved ones.  I couldn’t read any of it, but I went into my text messages.  I typed ‘ok’ to every one of them, and there were quite a few.  I hate text messaging, so especially with that in consideration, I was humbled by how many I got.  I needed to let people know I was *still* ok

A random guy with a notepad walking next to me asked if he could ask me a couple questions.  So much for avoiding the media!  I agreed, mostly because I figured he would have a lot more information about what had happened than I did.  He asked me what I saw.  ‘I didn’t see anything’ I told him. ‘It was behind me’… The interview continued.  ‘I saw the first responders running towards the explosions.  I saw the race volunteers helping to get people out of the chute safely’.  And then it hit me hard:

What did I see?  I saw Boston at its best

I saw first responders putting their lives on the line to help others.  There had been two explosions, and no one knew if there would be more.  They charged in to help, to use their training and experience to mitigate the harm done.  They risked their health and safety for people they didn't know

I saw volunteers hold their ground and help get people out safely.  These were people with no ‘training’ and people who really didn’t know what was going on.  Empowered by a unicorn on their jacket, and the need of their city, they did what they could, holding their ground and doing exactly what they planned to that day… they made sure that the runners got throughout the chute safely and in a somewhat orderly fashion

I saw random people helping random people in any way they could.  Offering a hug, their phone, clothes off their back, food, shelter, directions… anything.  I saw strangers become family, sacrificing what they could to support those who needed it

I saw businesses being human.  Restaurants providing free food and shelter.  Hotels sacrificing their profits to help those without a room

I was blessed in that I not only was safe physically, but I was spared of the visuals of what had happened behind me.  I only saw what happened after

What I saw was wonderful.  I saw countless people finding ways to help each other in a time of need

I saw Boston… I saw humanity at its best

My *After*

I ran my twelfth Boston Marathon two weeks ago today. I'm still recovering, but not in a way I could ever have imagined. I've run it enough times to have my post race routine figured out. Normally, I cross the finish line physically and mentally exhausted, paying the price for my lack of training (again) and promising myself that next year will be different. With what little energy remains, I attempt to hold my head high, proud of my latest accomplishment. I have just completed the marathon... Not just any marathon either: THE Boston Marathon

I wander around in the finish area for hours absorbing all the energy, relishing in the pride, the confidence, the triumph of all those around me. I lived for this day, for this moment! I’m in no rush to let it end. It would be another year before I'd get to do it again. My legs feel like dead weights and it hurts to walk (if you could even call my movement walking). I know I was going to be hurting the next few days, much more than I am now. I also know that the more I walk it off, the less the lactic acid will be a problem in the coming days. Or maybe that ias just my excuse to live in that moment a little longer

I usually even end up with a medal (although I am not supposed to get one as a bandit).  My PR is 3:23:32 by my clock, still shy of qualifying unfortunately.  The first few years I ran, my pleas of 'I'm sooo close to a qualifying time' were usually sufficient, especially as official runners were coming over to pat me on the back and thank me for firing up the crowd. A volunteer would hand me a medal and I'd wear it proudly. In 2004 I was official, I actually was supposed to get one then. In recent years, those pleas were met with 'Im sorry' - and understandably so as I am a bandit. What followed though made the medals even more meaningful. On at least one occasion, official runners have handed me *their* medal, saying that I deserved one too.  Moments like this make it all worthwhile

Inevitably at some point, someone stops me for an interview. The full body paint tends to have that effect. From small local and school papers, all the way to AP coverage... I love every minute of it.  I don't even know who most of the folks that interview me are, so I'm sure I'm in plenty of places that I'm not aware of (if you know of any Red Runner appearances let me know)

Then I drag my weary legs to the place I called home (or in recent years the Sheraton, where I always stay). I'd take an excessively long, hot shower and attempt to wash the paint off. With all my aches and pains and the sheer quantity of paint, I'd always end up missing spots on the first few attempts. So I'd make sure I wore a red shirt for the next few days.  I still have little bits of paint until I finally get out for my next run and sweat it all out

My parents, and often other family members, almost always come up from CT to cheer me on (and somehow frequently end up being the ONLY people on Boylston street that don't see me running by painted red). We meet at home or hotel and then we go have dinner. P. F. Changs, Legal Seafood or wherever we end up is great... it would be better though if i still had the strength to eat. Some years, i barely touch my food. Those of you who know me, know how exhausted that means I am

Tuesday is my recovery day. Since moving south, I always fly back to Miami that next night, enjoying one last day in Boston (although I sleep most of it). Once back in Miami, I take every opportunity to soak my weary legs in the waters of the Atlantic. Those next few weekends especially, I’m at the beach any opportunity I get, relaxing with new and old friends.  This is a nice upgrade from the epsom salt baths the first few years I ran. One thing is certain though: By Tuesday I am already anticipating the next marathon

This year is different. My 'after' was thrown out the window minutes after I finished as two loud explosions shook the finish line, and me. I was right there when everything I love was attacked.  Those two explosions changed my life forever. I haven't cared this year about physical recovery (although this is the first year in a long time I really was physically ready for it). Mentally, emotionally, psychologically... That is how I am struggling to recover now. And that is a totally alien experience. This years recovery isn't nearly as cut and dry as years past. This years recovery is an ongoing process, one that may well take a lifetime. This much I can tell you though:  I WILL be back in Boston next year.  I WILL run Boston next year, and hopefully every year going forward.  And now it means even more

The Finish Line

Boylston Street, between Exeter and Dartmouth has been the location of some of the most intense and powerful emotions I have ever experienced.

In 1999, my Freshman year at BC, I opted to watch the marathon for one year (already knowing I'd be running it in future years).  I couldn't do it.  It hurt.  Every runner that ran by all I could think was 'That should be me!'  So I went back to my dorm room and put on my running shoes.  I ran a bit over 6 miles to the finish (along the local road, NOT in the race) and then back home.  When I was near the finish, I stopped for a bit to take it in.  I walked down Boylston behind the crowd, and stopped to cheer on a few runners myself.  Seeing so many runners cross that finish line in exhausted triumph… I was Inspired and driven.  I already couldn't wait to until the next marathon

One year later, I was a sophomore, and I was 'out of shape'.  I'd had some health issues that year.  Nothing major, but it prevented me from working out for a while - I believe most of January and February.  This eventually led (in part) to my quitting the crew team, and well over three months of doing very little by the time the race rolled around.  But I ran anyway, and raised a bit of money for the Boston College Campus School.  Despite advice to avoid it, I let the crowd energy get to me, and I went out too hard.  I ran all the way past Wellesley at a 7 min mile pace, before I reigned myself in and slowed down a bit.  The hills were coming up, and I just needed enough to get to BC.  Then I was home, and after that the last 5K, a distance I thought I could do in my sleep - or so I figured.  I was so wrong.  My legs were on fire those last three miles.  They were bricks.  I ran down Beacon towards the finish as fast as I could.  I managed 9, 12 and finally 15min mile pace on my last three miles.  Running. As. Hard. As. I. Could!  I finished at 3:23:32 by my watch.  Not bad for my first marathon.  It took every last ounce of emotional and physical strength to cross that finish line as those last few miles were brutal.  It wasn't until 5 minutes later that it hit me.  I did it!!!  I ran the Boston Marathon!  I cried, sort of… I didn't even have the strength left for that.  I called my parents and a high school cross country buddy from the finish chute - I still remember Nextel had a booth there.  I've never been that proud of myself.  Although finishing every year is emotional, nothing has ever compared to that sense of accomplishment and fulfillment

2003 came before I knew it.  My days of traveling with BC teams, painting my face (and body) had drawn to a close.  I had but one last hurrah.  For my fourth Boston, I would run the whole race painted.  That would get the crowd fired up.  I called it the Retirement Run, and it was bittersweet.  At the time, I thought it was the last time I would ever wear the body paint, and the gold cross on my otherwise red face, which had become my trademark at BC games.  When I crossed the finish line that year it was over, a new era had begun.  I'm not sure how to best describe that feeling.  It was a mix of post marathon accomplishment and emptiness.  Boylston Street marked the end of something that had been so much a part of me for four great years.  It was a transition to something new and unknown.  In hindsight, I was wrong… I got such a positive reaction out of running the race red, I decided to do it the next year as well.  I called that the Retirement Sucks Run.  It has since become my (almost) annual tradition

In 2008, I returned after a one year hiatus.  The previous year (and I am still kicking myself for this) I had backed out due to weather.  Having just acclimated to Miami heat, and not trained yet again, I convinced myself that it was ok to miss it.  What was I thinking?  Upon my return, for my 8th Boston (5th painted red) I was shocked as many runners, volunteers and spectators welcomed me back.  I couldn't believe how many people *noticed* I was missing.  I was a bandit for all but one of my runs, I didn't matter.  I just ran to have fun and do what I do best by firing up the crowd.  In the process I'd developed a small part in many peoples Boston Marathon experience.  A very small and inconsequential part, but still a part in one of the biggest events in sports.  I had fans… and an excuse to keep painting for years to come!  It was an incredible feeling as I embraced my role in this incredible event.  A conversation with one of the medical volunteers who had seen me almost annually in the finish area really made that hit home.  Wow, there are no words for how that felt!  This was the Boston Marathon, and now I had a special part in it

As the years had passed, it had gotten harder to get a finishers medal (although they are always available on eBay).  After one of the more recent marathons I'd run, I was pleading with a volunteer for a medal.  He did his job, and turned me down.  What happened next was one of my greatest honors ever.  Another runner, a registered runner who had just gotten his medal from another volunteer turned to me.  He patted me on the back (now covered by a heat sheet) and said something along the lines of 'Here.  You deserve this.  Thank you.'… and handed me HIS medal!  I've always been that crazy guy screaming and yelling at sporting events in part because I enjoy it, but also because I know it makes a difference.  Crowd energy is something many, many athletes thrive off of.  The crowd energy along the Boston course is one of the things that makes the race so special.  And that crazy lunatic running by in red body paint yelling at the crowd to make some noise… that energy gets the crowd going, which in turn gets me and every other runner nearby going.  Its always an honor when other runners reach out with words of encouragement and thanks.  Knowing that I helped give them the lift they needed makes it all worthwhile.  When I was given a medal by a runner who had earned it himself…I was at a loss for words.  That act made that medal and every other Boston finishers medal I will ever earn mean so much more

I had another medal related emotional motion too, but this one was not so good.  A volunteer had either not noticed that I had no bib, or decided to give me a medal anyway.  A medal was placed around my neck and I felt the familiar rush of pride.  A feeling which never gets old!  Seconds later as I walked away another volunteer walked over.  "You can't have that" she said.  In shock and with nothing left to resist, I could do nothing as she lifted the medal off me.  I'm sure that medal got thrown out, as it was now covered in red paint.  Was it really necessary to strip me of that token of my achievement?  I had worked just as hard as the official runners to earn it.  And while I completely understand volunteers refusing to give me a medal, this woman went overboard.  It was the most insulting and demeaning experience I have ever had

In 2010 I ran it to raise money and awareness for the BC Chapter of Uplifting Athletes, founded that year as Mark Herzlich battled and beat Ewing's sarcoma.  To celebrate this, and all those who had fought similar battles, I ran with "94 Beat Cancer" painted on my chest and back.  Before, during and after the race cancer survivors and the loved ones of those who had fought valiantly against the disease approached me to share their story,  I heard so many moving stories that day.  Runners who during their battle vowed they would recover and run Boston.  Runners who were pounding the pavement for a loved one who couldn’t.  I wasn’t exactly in very good shape for that marathon, but if all those survivors could fight those battles, surely I could finish for the sake of those who couldn’t.  Someone gave me a hug after the finish line, and I nearly cried.  Once again, words can’t describe how powerful this was

Two years later, with absolutely no running in over a year leading up to it (I'd missed the 2011 race due to an injury), I struggled through my 11th marathon.  I had to stop running at mile 8!  I forced myself to walk the rest of the way in.  Crossing the finish line last year was strange.  I felt almost like I didn't deserve it, yet I had still pushed my way through those 26.2 miles.  This was a feeling I never wanted again, a wakeup call to return to my passion of running, and another chapter in the sequence of powerful emotions in that famed finish chute

This year was something totally different.  I had just finished my 12th Boston, my 9th as the Red Runner.  I'd started running again, so my goal of running a sub 4 hour marathon again was actually an easy goal.  It felt great to say that.  I hadn't run more than 13 miles in 3 years, and I hadn't run a sub 4 hour marathon since 2006!  This year I did so relatively easily, coming in just under 3:50 on my watch!  It felt great.  The excessive leg pain (a result of poor training) was gone from Boston.  The glory and the joy of the race were stronger.  I felt great.  I was just starting to soak in the awesomeness of the situation when it happened.  After the first I was confused.  What in the world were they celebrating?  Was it a cannon?  Subconsciously I forced out the other option.  It couldn't be!  After the second I knew something was very wrong.  The joy vanished.  It was instantly replaced by the most overwhelming feeling of helplessness.  As I saw others rushing to help in any way they could, I was powerless.  I had just finished the race, and had left everything on the course.  I didn't have the strength left to lift or move anything.  I had more paint in my eye than had ever been an issue before and so my vision was blurred, plus that paint while fine on the skin I was sure was not good for what I knew was behind me.  I was worthless at that moment.  I could do nothing positive.  I was a liability to myself and everyone while I stayed.  So I walked away, helpless, shocked, pissed.  This was my city, my race, my day.  This was Boston.  Nobody messes with my city, my race.  But I was helpless.  What could I do?  Temporarily defeated, I could do nothing.  Why was I here if I couldn't help?  I can never allow myself to feel that way again.  It was, and is, devastating to me

Despite all the incredible highs and devastating lows Boylston has already given me, I know that next time is going to be magical.  When I finish next year, in celebration of all that Boston and the Marathon stand for, and in honor of those most effected by this years tragedy… I get goosebumps just thinking about it.  This city, this race, this street somehow now means even more to me than I ever thought possible

What The Marathon Means to Me

Imagine this: New Years Eve, July 4th, Christmas, your birthday, and the SuperBowl all rolled into one day.  Pretty impressive, don’t you think?

That, my friends, is what the Boston Marathon has been to me for nearly 15 years.  All year, every year, I am counting down to this day.  For about a month leading up to the race the excitement for my upcoming trip builds to massive levels.  Then I get to Boston.  I’m back home!  Apprehensions start to pop up.  I worry about little things, because I want the day to be perfect.  Sunday night, I can’t sleep, the day is almost here.  I get a couple of hours of sleep and then I’m off.  The minute I get to Hopkinton the fears wash away.  I’m about to run Boston!  My day is finally here!  This is what I live for!!!  And then when it’s over, it STILL drives me.  For weeks afterwards it still powers me through my day with some extra oomph.  You see, this one day really defines nearly two months of my year

What’s that you say? ‘But it’s just a road race, right?  How could running for four hours be so important?  It sounds crazy to me!’

How do I even begin to explain?  Marathon Monday is a big day for tens of thousands of people in Boston every year.  Unless you’ve been part of the Boston Marathon, as a runner, as a volunteer or as a spectator at least once it’s impossible to understand.  But let me try…

This race embodies EVERYTHING I love, and everything that is good in humanity.  Try to follow me here… try to see this the way I do…

First of all, there is the exuberance of the crowd!  I thrive on energy.   The crowd gets me going, and I play to that.  Conversely, I get the crowd going.  The result is lots and lots of energy.  There are half a million people lining the Boston Marathon course, and close to 30,000 runners.  For someone who loves the crowd, it doesn’t get much better than that.  As a little extra personal motivation, the marathon is the one day a year during which I can relive my college days as the crazy face painted sports fan… but this one day I get to be both the fan and the athlete

Who are these people that make this race so great?  The spectators are my friends and family.  Even those I don’t know.  These are people from all walks of life spending their day to cheer on runners.  The course is lined almost from start to finish with crowds often several deep.  All day they cheer on runners.  A special shout out to the girls at Wellesley College and my fellow Eagles at BC.  You rock!    Keep bringing the noise every year

Many spectators are there looking for runners they know - that’s what brought them out.  They get to cheer on those individuals for a few seconds.  The remainder of the day, many of them are out there cheering on any and every runner that passes by.  Often giving those runners a much needed boost.  Lining the course, slapping runners five as they go by, handing out cups of water, fruits and other bits of fuel for the runners.  They read names written on peoples bibs, and cheer them on with a personal touch.  They’ve never met, but the marathon brings us all together.  This day, we are all friends

Then there are the volunteers, folks who give up their day to help make this race run smoothly.  Staffing water stations and medical tents, or handing out heat sheets, medals and food, these folks get a jacket for their efforts… but more important, they get to be an integral part of the marathon.  Every volunteer I’ve ever talked to has loved their experience, most coming back again and again to be a part of this race

Over 20,000 involved are fellow runners.  Folks who know the effort that goes into this race.  They’ve trained and prepared for this day.  They are well aware of the challenge they are undertaking, and well prepared to conquer it.  26.2 miles is not a comfortable distance… it is a difficult but rewarding race.  For the elites, this is a way to make a living and they race to win.  For well over 99% of the runners there are no losers.  Every person that runs, walks or crawls across that finish line is a winner.  There are NO losers.  Although many think running is an individual sport, nothing shows better than a major race how inaccurate that is.  During the marathon, we are all on the same team.  Every runner helping each other to cover that distance, to cross that finish line.  Should a runner falter or fall, countless others help them up and provide the boost to get them going again.  I’ve seen this personally many times… whenever I’ve needed to slow, or seem to be facing a tough stretch, some runner I’ve never met shares words of encouragement and helps me to keep on moving.  No matter the motivations, we all work together to accomplish our personal and collective goals

As for motivations?  Here there are so many incredible stories.  There are competitive runners aiming for a PR.  There are newer runners aiming just to finish.  There those who run to raise funds for so many deserving causes.  Some run as cancer survivors, or to complete their recovery from a major accident.  Others run it to reach the pinnacle of distance running, having undertaken goals of couch to 5K to marathon.  There are so many different stories.  Team Hoyt and John Kelley are among the legends of this race, but here every runner has their own story and they all lead to one goal: finish

Whatever the details of each individuals participation, the Boston Marathon as an event is a showcase of humanities triumphs.  It is a showcase of goodness.  It is thousands of people out only to help each other, to support each other and to encourage each other.  It is a day of enjoyment and celebration for everyone involved.  For the runners it is a day of triumph, of overcoming ‘impossible’ obstacles

I could go on forever about how awesome the Boston Marathon is, but you really need to experience it for yourself.  Will I be seeing you on April 21st next year?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Victory Parade - repost from Facebook

Boston, Massachusetts is used to winning. And when we win, we throw extravagant parades to celebrate our accomplishments. The Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, New England Patriots, Boston Bruins, Boston College, and even Boston University know this. I am wholeheartedly looking forward to the parade to celebrate our most recent triumph

It's already set for the third Monday in April, 2014: The Boston Marathon. We have one year and one day to prepare for the most incredible parade Boston has EVER seen. Complete with well over 25,000 participants (runners) and over half a million spectators, this parade will span the familiar course from Hopkinton, Massachusetts to Boston and will last for the better part of the day

This will be a grand parade indeed! I don't know about you, but I can't wait to be there


Friday, April 19, 2013

Boston Celebrates - repost from Facebook

Today's events should make it a little easier to put this behind me, to move on with life. I am blessed, truly blessed, to have escaped physically unscathed

I will never forget how powerless I felt after the second explosion; the overwhelming feeling of guilt that there was nothing I could do to help those less fortunate mere feet away, that I was a liability to myself and perhaps others as long as I remained nearby. I will never forget the roller coaster of emotions that the day and the week have been

I take consolation, and even pride, in most of what I saw this week. I saw a city I call home (still) stand together in one of its darkest hours. I saw thousands of strangers helping strangers with food, clothes, shelter, or even just a hug. I saw first responders risking everything (as they do time and time again) to protect and aid those who needed it, and today fighting for justice. I saw untrained volunteers, empowered by a unicorn on their back and their cities dire need, hold their ground in the midst of chaos and guide others to safety. I saw thousands contributing financially and emotionally to the recovery of those most deeply affected by the tragedy, some with direct ties to the suffering, others inspired just by the goodness in their hearts

What I saw was amazing. What I saw makes me proud: of the overall goodness of humanity, of my city (both Boston and Miami), of the Boston Marathon and the running community, and most importantly of the incredible people I know. I am honored and humbled by the outpouring of support by those I know and love to help me through this. Thank you all

For most people, it's over. There is nothing more to worry about, it's just another chapter closed

Not everyone can say that. Those who witnessed the horrors on Monday can finally start to move on with our lives. There is some closure, some peace, but there will always be pain. Most of us have a choice: with the love and support of those we hold close we can move on, we can choose not to be a victim OR the emotions, the horrors we witnessed, can stunt our growth, forever tainting who we are. For those who went through this with me, whether I know you or not, I share your pain and your sorrows. We are forever linked by this moment in history. We must look upon the strength and the support of the masses this past week and upon our loved ones: for there we will see the true character of our city, of our society. For there, we will find healing

Those who have suffered most can finally start to move on with their lives, but for them the fight has just begun. In the days, weeks and months that follow we must never forget them. Financially and emotionally, they have a long road ahead. They deserve the outpouring of support witnessed this past week to continue. Let us not forget their trials, and stand together with them as we have this past week


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

That Night - repost from Facebook

Headed back to CT for the night. Blessed to be alive

I had finished mere minutes before the first explosion and was still right there (had just finished an interview at the finish line). I grabbed a post marathon water just before I heard the explosion. Once the second bomb went off everybody was running frantically (except the volunteers who guided everyone out safely, and the first responders charging towards the danger zone). I found my way out of the finish area and immediately checked in with my folks. Did what little I could by letting random phone less runners contact their loved ones

Safe and sound with my family now, and extremely grateful for the outpouring of support from my incredible family, friends, clients and colleagues. It means the world to me to see just how many of you reached out to me in every way imaginable

This event will NOT define Boston. The response of the first responders and BAA volunteers and the countless random people helping random people - THAT is what defines the great city of Boston, and the potential of the human race in general. Today and everyday I am proud of this city

Today we are all "All in For Boston"