Of the 118th Boston Marathon last week, the second of my life, the first after last year’s tragic bombing at the finish line, which the city has since mourned in myriad public and private ways, this much can be said: it was one of best experiences of humanity I’ve ever witnessed. And this is from someone who had a shitty race—a statement you will come to realize is both a clever and unfortunate pun.
It wasn’t my day out there, and the most delicate way to put it is that my stomach fomented a rebellion. I struggled. I walked. I hung in. It took me 45 extra minutes and two emergency bathroom stops to finish, one in the home of a total stranger at mile 11 (technically, a friend of my running partner, so pardon the exaggeration, but till the moment I ran clear through her front door to the restroom, she was unknown to me) and a Port-a-Potty in Boston College territory surrounded by SWAT. I can’t make this stuff up… When I finally did make it to Boylston Street, I was sunburned and near tears. Maybe I would have cried if I weren’t so dehydrated. A high school friend happened to cross the finish line close behind—she started 30-minutes after me and still caught up—we hugged, and when I tried to speak, the words came out in croaks.
The next person I recognized was a new friend, sitting on a curb wrapped in a foil finisher’s blanket. We attended some of the same Saturday morning training runs at South End Athletic Company, and he became a regular yoga student in my Om Athlete classes at Equinox on Sunday mornings. I bent down to give him a hug. We’ve never discussed it explicitly, but I know he ran last year and was injured just steps from crossing the finish line. The injuries were minor compared to most, but seeing him in that moment made me remember the reason I decided to run in the first place.
I love this race. I love my city. I wanted to be part of a team, along with my brother, coached by my boyfriend, raising money for the American Red Cross, an organization that heads into harm’s way to help others in times of disaster. They were at the finish line last year. Hundreds of volunteers lined the course this year. And, I love to run. I have since being a teenage sprinter on the track team at Loomis Chaffee. It’s not that I actually enumerated any of this for myself. In 2009, when I last ran, I actively made the choice. This year, I felt like the race chose me.
In hindsight, the race also carried me: the crowds that not only lined the course but went deep on either side, my running partner, Jessie—my wing woman—who refused to leave me to be gobbled up by the Newton Hills alone; the thoughts I had of everyone who’d donated or wished me luck, my friends at Runner’s World who told the stories of our race with such clarity and care this year, my best friend, Cynthia, who flew from California to watch, and every running buddy who charmed my long winter of training with some bright spot of good advice or company. The athletic prestige of the race, the faces of lives lost, survivors who inspire us still, heroes made that day, and the city’s need to heal—they carried me, too. All 36,000 of us were swept up in a current of love and yelling and Gu and Gatorade.
I got to watch a whole city on its feet for each other for hours. Many times, every hair on my body was standing on end from the energy. Even before hearing that Meb had won and watching the footage for days afterward and Shalane had broken the U.S. record, elevating her competitors and entire sport in the process, I knew I was part of running history. I knew I’d witnessed the best from every human in my city. I’d run with them, high-fived them, hugged them, and thanked them for the bus ride, the water, the ice cubes, and motivation. When I finally did finish, my best human (a speedy one, at that) was there waiting, with a flower and lemonade.
Sure, I’m disappointed with how my body felt and performed on April 21st. But my heart will hold the day close forever, specifically because it wasn’t my day out there. It was everyone’s.