I spent the past weekend in Boston. It was my husband and my fourth trip to the Boston Marathon in the past 11 years, and my memories of this epic event are a mix of highs and lows, triumphs and tragedies.
Our first visit in 2008 was a joyful adventure. I had run my first marathon 18 months before on the cusp of my 40th birthday, and my time had qualified me to run in Boston. And so, my husband and I packed up our family, including (at the time) four kids and my in-laws, and we headed to Boston for both an epic adventure and a super-fun event to add to our runner’s “bucket list.” In addition to participating in the race, we hiked the entire Freedom Trail with our family, taking in the sites of historic American Revolution events.
At the time, I didn’t know how much there was to be grateful for on that trip. There were so many highs and great memories from that one week.
I’m reminded of the words of Counting Crow’s Big Yellow Taxi song, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…”
At the 2008 Boston Marathon:
• With the kids all young and still living at home, we had the flexibility to pull them all out of a school and travel together.
• My mother-in-law (who now has trouble walking any significant distance due to her Parkinson’s Disease) walked the entire Freedom Trail.
• I ran my fastest marathon.
• We felt safe and unafraid.
Five years later my husband and I were back in Boston – just the two of us. I wasn’t running, but instead was there to cheer on my husband. Shortly after he had finished running his fastest marathon ever, we met up at our hotel. As we headed back to the finish line to watch our friend Amy finish her race, we heard the explosions, saw people running towards us, and heard many sirens. We knew something terrible had happened and soon learned of the tragic events that changed our (and everyone else’s) memories of the 2013 Marathon. Our elation over my husband’s great run lasted for 10 minutes and was not ever celebrated.
We were thankful that neither of us were near the explosions and that (unlike on our previous trip), we had no family members spectating on Boylston Street. We were also shocked and saddened that so many innocent people were injured or killed and that an event we loved was now yet another setting where we would all fear future violence.
Like many others, I got caught up in the Boston Strong spirit and trained for and qualified for the 2014 event. With a smaller family group, we headed back to Boston and found both heightened security and more spirit and strength than we’d ever seen before.
In a pre-race error, we hiked the steps of Beacon Hill the day before the race, turning our legs into tired noodles. Neither my husband or I ran very fast due to our aching glutes, but it was a beautiful day and we were thankful to experience a safe, spirited event.
At this year’s Marathon, I spent a few hours cheering on runners on Heartbreak Hill, the epic, gradual climb during mile 20 that runners dread. I yelled encouragement until I was hoarse, remembering how much a “You’ve got this!” helped me through when I was running that hill myself. While waiting for my husband to pass by, I saw people running steadily, pumping their fist as they approached the crest of the hill. I also witnessed a young, fit runner collapse and need to be carried off the course on a stretcher. Later, in a text from my mom, I learned that Notre Dame was burning.
My days in Boston at four different Boston Marathons serve as a reminder about how life is a complicated mix of triumph and tragedy and how – like the people of Boston – we must never let the lows keep us down for long. Together we can rise up and triumph once again.
I’m even thinking about running that crazy race again.