"Let not young souls be smothered out before they do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride." - Vachel Lindsay
This was to be my second Boston Marathon. After my friends and I picked up our numbers at the expo, we went to check out the finish line since it was just a few blocks away. We took pictures, being careful not to step on the line. We all agreed it was bad luck to touch it until you cross it as a finisher of the race. We are a superstitious group. We also don't wear our race shirts or our Boston Marathon jackets we've covered the storied 26.2-mile course either. We all agreed its bad mojo.
As I looked at the finish line that day I couldn't shake a bad feeling I had about the race. I always write a blog entry the day before a race, signing off with "See you at the finish line." I left that line out this year because the feeling was so strong I would not see the finish. When one of my friends asked me if I was excited about the race, I said, "I just wish it was over already." I could not shake the sense that something was going to go wrong.
I wondered where the negative feelings were coming from, because I was healthy and well trained. This was my second Boston and I knew what to expect. Last year I set a goal to finish in the top three in the mobility-impaired division and ended up placing second.
Running the 2012 Boston Marathon was the accomplishment of a long-held dream. Because I had run to raise awareness of Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) Disorder, the degenerative neurological disease I have, I felt I was under some pressure. Because my run was so public I felt I couldn't fail and disappoint the many people supporting me at the race.
I vowed that this year's Boston would be a celebration. I wanted to really remember the experience. Because with my CMT, I never know if a race I run will be my last.
Since marathon Monday is Patriots Day, a Massachusetts state holiday, the course is lined with families. It is a long tradition in the small towns along the course to come out and cheer the runners and offer water, ice, orange slices and candy to meet runners' hydration needs and upset stomach issues. The course is lined with entire families who come out to cheer. It is not unusual to see a picnic or grill going in the background. It is a celebration in anticipation of the warmer weather after a long New England winter. It reminds me of some of our festivals here in Milwaukee. We know all about long winters here in Wisconsin.
I had reached mile 23 when one of my guide started getting text messages about something happening. She got so many concerned texts from friends and family that we stopped so she could answer them.
We were diverted off the course and told the race was stopped at the 25.5-mile mark. We continued to run not realizing the extent of events at the finish line. We ended up running 26.3 miles before we stopped. In a blink of an eye it was over.
This race experience was one of such contrast. I remember all the kids lined up on the route. So many little kids all along the course, holding out cups of water or just raising their hands to invite high fives from runners. One little boy held out his hand to me as I passed. In his palm, he had a single gummy bear. I did not really want or need a gummy bear, but he was so cute I just had to take it. I put it in my mouth and told him how good it was. He was so excited. He turned to his dad and said, "She took my gummy bear!" He was so sweet and so innocent.
I remember the girls of Wellesley College, screaming their heads off just like last year. I pretended I couldn't hear them and just to make them yell louder. Equally impressive were the students of Boston College, turning out in even greater number than the Wellesley girls. My right hand started to hurt and go numb from all the high fives I received.
I saw lots of runners dash off the course for a quick hug from friends and family. And many supporters rush to line up along Boylston Street to see their runners cross the finish line. One of my guides, Robert, said he intended to get close to the finish line to see us come in.
I interacted so much with the crowds I felt bonded to them. Last year they had loved me as a runner and this year I loved them back. It made my second Boston experience even better than the first.
That is why I think I was hit so hard by what happened. Martin Richard, an 8-year-old local boy, was killed in one of the bombings as he waited for his dad to cross the finish line. His mom and sister were with him and both critically injured, according to news reports. That little boy was like any of the thousands of kids I saw lined up along the course. It could have happened to any of them. The bombings were such an evil act, contrasting with all the good I had witnessed that day. My heart goes out to the families who lost loved ones and to everyone injured that day. It was such a senseless act that will change lives forever.
My friends and I were never in danger. I waited 20 minutes to meet one of my guides at the 16-mile mark. Had we not been delayed, we were on pace to arrive about five minutes after the first explosion. Still, it is impossible not to be affected by those that lost their lives or were hurt. Those bombs could have gone off at any time.
Life is fragile. Things happen that you never plan for. If that bomb had been planted at the start instead of the finish, there would have been even more carnage. In the starting corrals, runners are packed shoulder to shoulder between metal barricades. I shudder to think about the panic that could have happened if a bomb had gone off there. I, for one, would stand no chance in a stampede.
There was no happy ending for me or many of the other runners. It is estimated that some 4,000 runners were still on the course when the race was stopped. No finish line victory, no finisher medal, no finish line celebration for me or those runners. No sense of accomplishment for a goal met.
I saw runners at the airport wearing their finisher medals. I initially felt angry at the sight. I felt they were rubbing it in that they had finished. And they were celebrating a day that turned tragic for so many other people. I understood later they may have been wearing their medal to show support for the victims and the event. It wasn't rational to be angry, but I was.
A desire to return
I am still trying to sort out all my emotions about my experience at Boston this year. No punishment for the alleged bomber captured alive could possibly repair the damage he is accused of doing.
I did an interview with local television in Milwaukee about my race experience. I was asked if I would go back and run Boston again. I said I would go in a heartbeat. I would love to be there in 2014 to show my support for the Boston area and its marathon. I hope to go back and do what we runners do.
When you meet another long distance runner, you share an instant bond. We understand the strength and discipline it takes to train for and complete a marathon. It is what we do.
I handle stressful things in life by writing and running. I hope by running the 2014 Boston Marathon I can show my support for support all of the communities along the route. What I can't put into words I hope I can demonstrate by returning and showing the people there that I understand and feel their pain. Although we cannot erase the events of Monday, April 15, we can do what runners do: overcome obstacles, sometimes against all odds. We are strong and will be strong for the people of Boston.
They really are the greatest fans in running and deserved so much better than what happened that Monday.
Christine Wodke, an engineer and trainer at We Energies, lives and runs in Milwaukee. She founded Team CMT in 2011 and has helped more than 75 people to run, bike and participate in triathlons to raise money for the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation.