The author at the finish line two days before the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Two hours, fifty-five minutes, and forty-seven seconds after excitedly striding over the starting-line timing mat, I crossed the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon. It was a personal record. I turned and gave Adam a hug. I had just met Adam two hours and fifty four minutes earlier and he proceeded to coach me to my best-ever marathon time.
It had all the trappings of a truly memorable athletic event: goals achieved, heartfelt camaraderie, wildly cheering fans (even if I didn’t stop to kiss any of the beckoning Wellesley girls), and, of course, all of the hoopla of one of the biggest races in the world. The weather was perfect, and the 27,000-runner race was beautifully organized. I was beaming and, after picking up my drop bag, began fielding an influx of congratulatory messages from family and friends.
Adam and I limped our way through the buffet of post-marathon food, smiling, recounting the race, and making plans to meet for future races. We stuffed our faces with Hawaiian rolls and granola while guzzling Gatorade.
I gave Adam a parting fist bump and headed to meet another friend — Seth Jayson, a sharp-witted, wise-cracking fellow Fool and avid marathoner. Normally flanked by a cheer section of his wife and daughter, he was flying solo for this race. And because he’d scheduled his flight back soon after the race, he’d had to check out of his hotel in the morning, before the race. As a favor to whomever he’d be sitting next to on that flight, I’d offered to let him shower in our hotel — the Lenox, located just across the street from the finish line.
My mom was running the race with the Girl Scout charity team and I needed to get back out to meet her at the finish line. I still had time though — I was tracking her online and I calculated that it’d be around 20 minutes before she’d be finishing. Nevertheless, it’d be better to get out there sooner. I didn’t want to chance missing her finish, and we could cheer on other runners in the meantime.
When Seth and I arrived back at the hotel, the Boston Marathon gear-clad employees and a gaggle of random guests gave us a round of applause. I was more than a little embarrassed. I awkwardly nodded and we hopped on the elevator. Seth and I reviewed our respective races. He showered. He dawdled and, in his good-natured way, poked fun at himself for it. I continued to watch the updates on my mom. She had tweaked her back and was worried that she’d run slower than usual. She was. Finally, Seth and I gathered our stuff and prepared to head to the finish line to cheer on my mom. “Hang on,” I said, “I’m going to use the bathroom.” I was taught young by my doctor aunt to never ignore my bowels. I had no idea how fortunate the advice would prove that day.
I hustled out of the bathroom, stuffed $10 in my pocket and grabbed my half-eaten bag of Hawaiian rolls. I was standing by the window.
Suddenly, I heard what sounded like a cannon blast. I looked out the window and saw a plume of smoke. People were running, I saw good Samaritans dragging flailing, injured bodies out of the blast zone, police knocked over barricades. “Jesus,” I gasped, “was that a bomb?” Seth was sure it was. We froze. Seconds later another blast sounded. We could hear screams from the streets below.