From my spot at Kenmore Square, a few strides before the “1 Mile to Go” marker, I saw so many emotions. There was joy, pain, excitement, regret, more pain and relief.
Runners saw that sign and they checked their watch. “Am I still on pace for that PR?”
Runners saw that sign and slowed down to take a picture, capturing the moment they realize “I’m actually going to finish the Boston Marathon.”
Runners saw that sign and threw a finger in the air or threw their hands toward the sky, asking the already screaming throng of fans to scream even louder.
Some runners slowed to work out cramps, wondering if they would last that final mile. There were a couple of runners dressed as hot dogs, others (including a few men) wearing tutus.
There were a few runners who were not runners at all, but military men and women in full fatigues, including combat boots and backpacks, walking the most famed 26.2 mile route in all of running.
Monday, Patriots Day, Marathon Monday, was supposed to be a celebration. A celebration of all those runners who felt so many different emotions when they saw that “1 Mile to Go” marker and raced their way toward Boylston Street and the finish line of the Boston Marathon. A celebration of all the hard work it takes to qualify or raise funds to get into this race.
Monday, we were supposed to celebrate the elite athletes, including hometown girl Shalane Flanagan of Marblehead, Mass., who finished fourth in her first Boston Marathon.
We were supposed to celebrate Joan Benoit Samuelson, who continues to inspire so many runners and raced her way to another record.
We were supposed to celebrate Maine runners Sheri Piers, Rob Gomez and Erica Jesseman, who weren’t too far behind the elite runners.
We were supposed to celebrate the charity runners, who earned their spot in this race by raising money to help others.
We were supposed to celebrate the greatest road race of them all. The holy grail for anyone who puts on a pair of running shoes and decides to become a distance runner.
No one really feels like celebrating today.
I was nowhere near the finish line when Monday’s tragic events took place. After spending the better part of the day as a fan in Kenmore Square at that “1 Mile to Go” marker, I started to walk that final mile, toward Boylston Street and the finish line. The crowd grew larger and larger as thousands of people tried to find a spot along the street to see the runners, to cheer on loved ones, to feel the energy.
I never made it to the finish line. I knew I had a train to catch to get back to Maine and was tired of fighting my way through the massive crowd (I’ve never been so thankful to be claustrophobic) so I decided to get a bite to eat and make my way home.
Taking first the Green Line, then the Red Line on the T to get to Cambridge, where I stayed for the weekend, I was in awe of all the runners, proudly sporting their race jackets, medals and space blankets. Some walked with a limp and a frown, others looked like they were ready to run another 26.2.
I had no idea what was unfolding on Boylston Street. The mood on those subway cars never changed. People were happy or tired or rushing to get somewhere. Plenty of people talked about the marathon, but no one had a clue what was happening.
I didn’t find out until about 3:20, when I dug my phone out of my pocket and saw I had a message from my brother. “Just checking to make sure you are all right, I heard about some explosion at the finish line. Please give me a call.”
I spent the next hour on the phone, talking, texting, posting to Facebook and Twitter. I spoke to my parents, spoke to a few friends. I fired off a text to local runner Seth Hasty, who I knew was staying not too far from the finish and whose wife and young son were set to join him Monday. The sense of relief I got when I heard from him and other friends I knew who were in Boston to run, watch or report on the marathon was as great as the sense of relief I felt in all the phone conversations and texts from family and friends when they heard I was OK.
Like those runners at the “1 Mile to Go” sign, I felt so many emotions yesterday. I felt lucky I decided to leave the race when I did. I felt loved by the outpouring of concern from those who knew I was in Boston for the race. I felt sadness that one of New England’s great treasures was attacked. I felt anger that someone would ruin such a celebration, attacking my friends (runners are all friends, even if we’ve never met, even more so after Monday).
I started running not quite two years ago and it has changed my life in so many ways. It’s not just the health benefits, yeah those are great, but also the community. Like I said, runners are all friends. We are all in this together. Yes, we compete, but the beauty of road racing is that everyone is accepted. I had marathoners whose marathon pace is faster than my 5K pace offering advice, encouragement and a handshake after my PR in the BAA 5K on Sunday.
And I think that is why yesterday’s events hurt so much. Yes, it was an attack on America, but it was also an attack on family and an attack on something that means so much to so many people.
I’ve joked recently that my goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon by the time I’m 50. That would give me 10 years. The amount of work it would take me to reach that goal is something I can’t possibly imagine. I’m not sure I have the dedication, desire or talent to reach such a lofty goal. Spending the weekend at the marathon expo with so many runners who had reached that goal, running part of the same course, crossing the same finish line, I was convinced it was something I had to try to accomplish. I can’t think of anything that would mean more to me as a runner to be a “Boston Qualifier.”
After Monday’s events, I’m pretty shaken up and have questioned whether I could run to that finish line without fearing for my life. But to see the way so many people have rallied in the last 24 hours to support each other, care for each other, lend a hand, I think now, more than ever, I want to be a part of it.
I want to be a part of that celebration.
I want to feel all those emotions when I see the “1 Mile to Go” mark, to feel all the love from all those fans, and to prove to whoever is responsible for this, you can’t break our spirit, you can’t take this away from us.
Scott Martin is executive sports editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel.
Scott Martin — 621-5618