Informed by this reality, my race report became a very personal narrative of my inner thoughts, drawing on Boston Marathons past and from my own personal Boston Marathon recollections. Like many runners, I had no inkling of what happened till I reached the Mass. Avenue underpass around mile 25½, so I can add little about the finish line tragedy. But hopefully writing this will give me some catharsis and hopefully you can find some truth and hope for yourself. Thank you for reading this, one of the hardest things I've had to write.
n the Fall of 1991 I ran my 3rd New York City Marathon. My times had gotten better first a 4:22 in 1989, then 4:05 and finally a 4:01. But I was feeling very down that I would NEVER break 4 hours. My half-marathon times were much better (1:33 in the 1991 Staten Island) but the marathon distance was defeating me.
In the winter of 1991-92 I got the idea from somewhere to go out of New York and run Grandma's Marathon in Duluth Minnesota. I can't remember who suggested that one since I had never heard of it. Coach Cliff Held also encouraged me and gave some training tips to break out of my slump, as it were.
I trained through the winter and Spring of 1992 and Flew into Duluth on June 18th arriving late at Minneapolis and then drove a rental car to Two Harbors Minnesota, a small town on Lake Superior north of Duluth. The next day I met David M. B., aka "Gumby" who would run the race with me.
In the race I surprised everyone including myself, by not only breaking 4 hours, but breaking 3:30 with a 3:28:43, my lifetime PR. I was
49 years old and qualified as a 50 year old in the 1993 Boston to be run the following year. Hear's my race report, a fairly amusing piece
written originally for the Summer 1992 Flyers Newsletter (since updated with scans of original photos):
David, aka Gumby also qualified for Boston (with minimal training) with a 3:11. And I still wonder who that young guy in the picture is?
He's wearing my number!
he 1993 Boston Marathon my first Boston! I remember it well, although it was 20 years ago. A number of Flyers were there: Jerry F., Ed O. Krim A., David and Marge K., Gordon L., David M.B. aka Gumby, Mary Ann G. and Judy M. and maybe a half dozen others (with Melinda R. working in Medical). Don't know who these folks are? Don't worry, some of them have faded from my memory too.
But I remember some important things: we stayed in a group of rooms in the Park Plaza Hotel that someone had arranged through another running club; we ate our pre-race dinner at Papa Razzi on Dartmouth Street, an old favorite; and we hung out in a private home (owned by friends of Jerry) in Hopkinton near the start. And most importantly, my father, age 88, met me by the Chesnut Hill Reservoir near mile 22. He had introduced me to the Boston Marathon some 40 years earlier when I was but 10 years old.
There's a report by the Flyers of the race in the July 1993 Newsletter: . A couple of other bits: Gumby got his picture on the front page of one of the Boston papers on the day after, and my son Peter gave Gumby his horse Pokey at mile 22 where I met my father. And here's another little bit I wrote as part of a larger article back in 2010:
I also recall it was a rather hot day but I managed my Boston PR of 3:36:50.
The race set several records. It fielded over 40,000 runners, the largest marathon field on record at that time. It was also the first major race to use the electronic timing chip. It was also the first, and only Boston to accept a number of runners through a lottery in addition to those who qualified.
Flyer participation was also a record: 45 Flyers ran the race.
We did lots of things and had a great time.
Here's the report in the May 1996 Newsletter:
(scroll down to page 4). And here's another bit I wrote as part of
that same 2010 article:
But back to Boston — in October 1998 I got back to marathons and did the . Although not a qualifier (it was a 3:42), it was a come back of sorts, since it was the same course as the Avenue of the Giants race that I had DNFed the year before. And what is more, I was 3rd in my age group, a quite unexpected accolade. The real effort came a year later when Gary H. and I decided to do the and hopefull qualify for the 2000 Boston. Well, we did and it was a real test for me since I was fighting chronic calf problems. My time was 3:34 (and 4th in my age group) which qualified me in the next age group. Yikes I was turning 55! I would also say my marathons were catching up with me and it was sad to say they were getting to be more work and less fun.
Nevertheless I went into the 2000 Boston with high spirits and some good friends and had a pretty good race (see
But if you read through that report you can't fail to notice that the excitement is fading. I think the most exciting thing
was going to the Red Sox game on Sunday.
However, two tragic events before Dublin tempered my enthusiam: the passing of Andy Palmer, a highly respected coach and personal mentor to me, in the summer of 2001, and 9/11, just 6 weeks before the race. It turned into a long story to get to the 2003 Boston. Here's the story in my words: .
Probably the best thing about this Boston was the finish. Look at the photo — it's not so much my expression, but that on Vicky C's face that is most striking (click on the photo for a full size image). Vicky jumped in at mile 18 and "got" me to the finish. Thanks Vicky!
But in the year after the race, in which I DNFed in one and limped through another marathon, I made a resolution:
"This was my last Boston. It's not fun any more. I'm getting too old for this sort of thing!".
I had "officially" retired from marathons.
But then something occured to me that I never expected: I was soon going to be 70 (that's seven zero) years old!
So what to do? Have a party — of course. But how about getting in really good shape and doing somthing spectacular? Like maybe run a marathon? Like maybe run the Boston Marathon? YES!
So 1) I officially "unretired" from running marathons, and 2) I registered for the St. George Marathon (in Utah) with its famous down-hill course and the reputation as the #1 Boston qualifier.
But first I needed to get past some chronic calf problems which still bothered me. One course of physical therapy helped, but the real help was engaging Joe Yates, massage therapist and coach extraordinaire. Joe helped me get through some tough times and made it possible to get back into serious training. Through the hot summer of 2011 I sweated and ran and ran and sweated and ran. When I got to St. George I was ready. And for once, everything went according to plan and I made my qualifying time by nearly 9 minutes. I was in! (See .)
And it was fun again!
Well, I never got to that point. At week 11, we had the one snow storm of the season and I must have strained my right hamstring. The following week I had to limp through the Cherry Tree 10 Miler. At that point I put myself on the disabled list and started serious rehab under Joe's directions. I was happy that this was 2 months before the marathon, not two weeks. By weeks 18 or 19 I was doing reasonable runs again — although the so-called long run schedule was long since abandoned. Feel free to read through the whole blog () to get the big picture.
I ran the in Washington DC last week (April 7th) and it went rather well. By relaxing and taking it easy, I had a pain-free steady run at a reasonable pace. I would hope to do as well in Boston. My plan when I get to Hopkinton is to take it easy and have some fun. I got myself here, and that was a huge accomplishment. Now it's time for a "Victory Lap" so-to-speak. I'm writing this on Thursday. In 4 days I'll just go with the flow and hope for the best. Wish me luck!
I told myself at the start to take it easy and hold back. Don't go with the flow on these easy downhill miles. But I can not run the first few miles at Boston without thinking of Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to get an official entry (in 1967) and whom the race director Jock Semple tried to forcibly evict from the course. Look at the photo (click on it for a larger version) — Semple is apoplectic and Kathrine is scared for her life. Her boyfriend runs interference and eventually pushed Semple out of the way. Even now 45 years later, when I think of this scene (which made the front page of the NY Times) I never fail to conjure that image shown in the photo.
But I told myself to take it easy, so I put Kathrine out of my mind and concentrated on my pace. BUT I'M STILLED PISSED OFF!
Thanks a lot Jock you jerk! Once again you messed up my pace.
My right foot was hurting starting aound mile 7, so I stopped and gave it a little massage. It felt better and I got back into my pace. But at Natick I got an even bigger lift. My entire family was there. My daughter Susan, my son Peter and his wife Nancy, their children and of course my wife Joy. Peter took a video of my meeting and it looks lile a bunch of chaotic hugs and kisses, "Good Luck"s, "See You Later"s, and the rest, It was one of the high points of the race for me. I took off with renewed energy and headed for Natick center and thence on to Wellesley. The photo (click for a larger version) shows me coming in with my son back to the camera with an iPad, my wife to his left and my daughter-in-law behind her.
Thank you one and all for the support you have always given me!
When you get to mile 12 in Wellesley, runners start to glance at one another expectantly. When they get to Wellseley College, they encounter a screaming phalanx of "Wellesley Girls" (and now some Wellesley Boys) lining the course with all manor of signs and suggestions. You have to be there to appreciate this tradition which goes back to he earliest days of Boston.
But in 1966, something very special happened at Wellesley. In the year before Kathrine Switzer's "push seen round the world", Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb, who just loved to run long distances and did it well, applied for entrance to Boston but was rejected because she was a woman. She ran anyway as a "bandit" and was ignored by the race officials, but the other runners and the crowds adored her. She made headlines throughout the region, easlily finishing in the 3:20s, ahead of about two-thirds of the field.
When I get to Wellesley, I always remember Bobbi, who one year when I was just 23, brought the screams of the Wellesley girls to a higher level, and unknown to many of today's Wellesley Girls, opened the door a little bit wider for them.
Thanks Bobbi for just doing your thing.
After passing the wall of screams at Wellesley College, you pass through the town of Wellesley, plus a golf course or two and then you cross the upper reaches of the Charles River at Newton Lower Falls and enter the town of Newton. This point is the low point on the course, so it's all up from here. Then you quickly go over Route 128 aka I-95. I think of this little overpass as the first Newton Hill, although it wasn't there in the day of Johnny Kelley or Tarzan Brown so technically it "doesn't count". But don't tell that to your legs. But there's a relatively flat portion prior to the real hills where you travel over miles 15 and 16.
Then having just passed the low point, you reach the high point — especially if you're a Flyer. Here you will find on the left side of the course an aid station that has been here since 1996. Principally the "baby" of Ed A. with the generous help of his Newton friends Martha and Jay H. and staffed by Flyers too numerous to name. They will give you everything you need provided it's legal, plus a very large supply of encouragement. Here's me coming in: . I stayed there almost two minutes massaging my right foot (again!) and imbibing in some `dihydrogin monoxide as a chaser to some vitamin I. I told Ed I had been stopping every 4 miles or so to give my foot a little massage and we both hoped it would last till after the hills this time.
Thanks Ed for doing this for us for so many years.
Well, not only did my foot pain abate for the notorious hills, but I charged up and over the same at a strong pace. I decided the hills are all in your head and just a little foot pain is all you need as a distraction. Well, maybe. In any case, they start as you turn onto Commonwealth Avenue at the Newton firehouse and last for about two miles till you reach the last and most famous hill, Heartbreak Hill. Why do that call it Heartbreak Hill you ask? Ah, therein lies a story.
It seems that Johnny Kelley (the elder) won the race in 1935 and was a favorite to win again in 1936. Then out of nowhere came an unknown Naragansett Indian named Ellison "Tarzan" Brown who took off and broke all the check point records up to Newton. Then when he got to the hills he slowed down. Kelley, seeing an opening, surged past Brown and patted him on the back as he went by. Soon after the gentle pat, Brown passed him back and after some give and take, surged and never looked back. Kelley could not respond. Kelley fell apart on Beacon Street and was relegated to walking 6 times. Will Cloney, a reporter for the Boston Herald noted "Kelley was walking like an intoxicated man". Brown won handily and Kelley ended up 5th. Jerry Nason of the Boston Globe coined the name "Heartbreak Hill" for the 3rd Newton Hill where Kelley met his demise, because Tarzan "broke Kelley's heart". And for all the years since 1935, that's what they have called it
Today I had a picture of Brown and Kelley in my head as I ran these hills. But I played the part of Brown, not Kelley — my heart was unbroken,
hah! So there. So I'll give ½ credit to Tarzan and ½ credit to Ed's aid station.
After the last of the Hills, you pass by Boston College. It offers a distinctly different culture than Wellesley. Instead of the screams of young women you might be offered beer by some guys. It's all good and enjoy it while you recover from the hills. Soon you will take a giant step downhill when you get to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. Boston College, unsurprisingly is in Boston as is the Reservoir. But when you get to the bottom of the road running along the side of the reservoir and get to Cleveland Circle, you will enter Brookline.
Along that short stretch of downhill known as Chestnut Hill Avenue a wonderful thing happened in 1993. It was my first Boston Marathon and I was supposed to meet my family along that stretch. I spotted my son about halfway down on the right and stopped. "Where's Da?" I asked. "Across the road with Mommy." So I cut across the road thronged with runners annoying a few of them with my sudden retrograde course change. I found them and got a big hug from my dad. It was probably the first time he had been to the Boston Marathon since the 1950s when he took us to watch. The proud look in his eyes was all it took for me to finish strong. A circle of some 40 years had been closed.
I thought of "Da" when I ran down this stretch yesterday. He died in 1998 at age 93 and this brief "encounter" with his memory is always uplifting. I don't have any photos of him at the 1993 Boston, but the picture shows my whole family at Da's house on Cape Cod after the '93 Falmouth Road race (click on it for a larger version). It's fun to compare this photo with the one above taken Sunday night at the dinner. What a difference 20 years can make.
Thanks Da for introducing me to the Boston Marathon. And thanks for everything.
When you get to Cleveland Circle at the bottom of the hill, you get onto Beacon Street. Beacon Street takes you all the way to Kenmore Square, just past Mile 25. Almost the whole of this stretch is in the city of Brookline, which is almost entirely surrounded by Boston. It's also in Norfolk County although it is completely separate from the rest of that county. I'll bet there were interesting politics going on when Brookline was founded. From the looks of it along Beacon Street, you would never guess Brookline is not part of Boston.
I've always felt kind of lonely on Beacon Street. It's straight with a few rolling "bumps" but I usually have little steam left when I reach this part. You would think a flat section after the hills would be welcome, but I never find it so. I just never can wait to finally see the Citgo sign and know I'm finally getting to Kenmore Square.
Perhas to give myself a lift, I usually think of Bill Rogers who, in 1975, on his way to a course record, and running in a hand lettered T-shirt, stopped to tie his shoe somewhere along this section. Yes, he really did. Look at the photo if you don't believe it. I think I get my lift from the sheer craziness of it.
Thanks Bill, you helped get me through another year of the Beacon Street Doldrums.
My son and daughter had taken the train from Natick to Boston and we had agreed to meet at a spot underneath the Charlesgate overpass, about ¼ mile before where Mass. Avenue crosses the course. This is roughly a half mile from the finish. Later we would realize this was a very lucky plan. As I passed the 25 mile mark just before Kenmore Square, I saw that the race clock showed a time of 5:19:xx. (xx = don't remember). Subtracting 40 minutes for the wave 3 start meant that I had 21 minutes to break 5 hours. Since I was running between a 10 and 11 minute pace, this was reassuring, since at least I would break 5 hours.
Just before the Charlesgate overpass, I spotted my kids and went over. They said how strong I looked (but of course) but also said that they had heard that "something happened" and it might be a problem meeting at the Arlington Street Church we had agreed on after the race. So I said I would just call them on my cell phone and we would arrange another spot to meet.
A few blocks later things came to a halt. There was just a huge mass of runners waiting but not moving. Many were on their phones trying to figure out what was happening. I would guess that it was about 3:20 to 3:25 PM. The police were stopping runners at the Mass. Avenue underpass and said that the finish line was closed and the race had been stopped. At first I thought that they might start it up again but I soon learned that things were much more serious than I imagined. At this point, perhaps at 3:30, I knew my race was over. Only later did I learn that this was about 45 minutes after the explosions at the finish line. I was probably a little past Mile 23 when it happened.
I was standing on Commonwealth Avenue near Mass. Avenue. People around me were crying, trying to call friends, trying to find out details. Only now did I learn that some explosions had gone off and that some people may have been killed. After finding out what I could, I realized I had to do something for myself. I had on only shorts and a singlet AND, thank goodness, I had my cell phone and I was beginning to get cold. I had to go back and find my kids. They had some clothes for me and we needed our own strategy to get through this.
I walked back to Charlesgate and looked around where we had met (about 100 yards west of Charlesgate). Cell phone coverage was non-existent to very spotty, but finally I got a text through to my daughter Susan asking where they were. She texted back but I did not understand her directions. At least we were talking. I texted again and said I would go to where we met and stay put. In the mean time I went to the first aid station near Charlesgate and got a plastic bag to put on. I got another text from Susan saying she was at the spot and Peter was circling. A few minutes later he found me and we were reunited. I would guess it was around 4:00 PM.
Meanwhile, back in Natick at Peter's house, everyone was frantic, not knowing our whereabouts or if we were OK. Peter's daughter, age 8 was hysterical. We soon realized we had an advantage in that we knew we were safe and we knew we would get home. They could do nothing but try to call us, and watch TV, which had a constant flow of very disturbing scenes and commentary. Finally, a text from Susan to Nancy (Peter's wife) got through and things settled down a little, but they still wanted to hear Peter's voice. A text was not quite enough for the reassurance they needed.
My kids and I were standing around at our meeting spot. Someone was cooking some stuff on the green in the middle of Commonwealth Avenue and I accepted a leg of chicken and something to drink. Thanks guy.
We heard rumors that the T was shut down and commuter trains were not running (this was a false rumor). So we decided to walk up on Beacon Street to get away from the Back Bay, find a place to eat and drink and call Nancy to come pick us up.
About then Susan realized that in spite of the tragedy, we needed the finish line photo I would never get. The following photo is my "Finish Line" photo. We look happy because we are safe and we are together. But beneath the smiles we were pretty freaked out. But given the situation, I love this photo, taken by an unknown teen somewhere on Beacon Street. Thanks kid.
[After some sleuthing with Google Maps Streetview, we determined the picture was taken in Brookline from the SW corner of Hawes &
Beacon Streets, facing across Hawes Street with No. 1093 Beacon Street on the SE corner. See
We decided to walk up to Coolidge Corner (about another half mile further) since there would be several places to eat there and it would give Nancy a place to pick us far enough away from the Back Bay. We first looked into a bar, but it was packed and the TVs were blaring out the gruesome news and it was just too much for us. We then found the perfect spot on Harvard Street a block from Beacon. It was Otto's Pizza and they had really good Pizza and a variety of beers, both of which we needed. After further conversations with Nancy, it was decided we would walk down Harvard Street to Commonwealth Avenue (about a half mile) and meet there so she could get off and then back on the Mass. Pike.
Meanwhile we couldn't help but talk about what had happened. Contrasting our own lucky situation with that of the wounded and families of the dead was difficult. There were very bad things out of our control, and a few good things we could control. We had, you might say, survivor's guilt. It won't go away, so we each tried to cope with it and we will continue to do so for a long time. Thoughts of 9/11 came to mind — a much larger tragedy but much less personal. My wife just walked in as I was writing this and said she was in a state of shock on Monday and she realizes now that she could have lost her husband and two children just like that. How lucky we are!
At about 5:45 we walked down the hill and met up with Nancy. She got us back to Natick in about 20 minutes and soon we were back with the very grateful members of my family.
t's now the second day after the race and my thoughts are still in flux. Being home in New York City reading the New York Times makes the whole thing worse, the more I read. A front page article about the bombs, another article about the victims flooding the ERs. It's very, very hard to take.
Given the tragedy we experienced, plus my own experiences, past and present, what do I think about running future marathons and in particular future Bostons? Will I ever go back? In 2003 I said "This was my last Boston. It's not fun any more. I'm getting too old for this sort of thing!". Well, that was about fatigue and burnout and those things don't bother me now.
After the race, someone emailed and suggested "I know in the scheme of things it's not your focus, yet I'd think not being able to cross the finish line is still disappointing on some level. So I hope you may run it again next year if it's something you want to do." Honestly, with all that happened, not crossing the finish line was not on my mind.
I thought a bit about some of my mental scenes from my run. There is an interesting comparison bnetween Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb. Kathrine became an outspoken activist for women's sports equality. I'm guessing she ran the race in 1967 because it was right and fair. Bobbi, on the other hand, ran because she just loved to run. Her agenda was personal, not political. I strongly respect both points of view.
But thinking through my experiences yesterday, and my personal feelings developed over my 70 years, I think I will lean towards Bobbi:
"I will run Boston again, not because I must, but because I can! I'm old enough to know there's lots of other great things out there besides Boston that I can do, but still young enough to want to do them all!"