Monday, April 29, 2013

It wasn't about me.

I keep thinking to myself, "This is the last thing I'm going to say about the marathon...this is the last thing I'm going to write about the marathon." And if this had been a normal marathon, I suppose that would have been true roughly two weeks ago. The marathon would rest as a complete narrative; I'd casually swap times and running resumes with other runners. I'd look forward to next year.

Five months ago, I didn't start in on this marathon to be all about myself; however, through the process of training, recovering from injury, and running the marathon I learned much about myself as a community member and athlete.

This marathon doesn't end being about Shaira and her community any more than it ends being a story about me. Couple of local guys with explosives made this marathon about so much more than any one person's story. Looking at a roomful of 100 people in this community, I see at minimum 1,000 stories of connectedness to just this year's race; everyone in Boston knows at least ten other people who ran, volunteered, cheered, waited at the finish for their heroes, either this year or some other. Many have hearts heavy with grief and pain for victims in their personal circles.

People remain hospitalized making unthinkable decisions about their bodies. Funerals, memorial services, interfaith services have been held, spring erupts, life goes back to something like normal in these parts. Since the story is now bigger than I can imagine, I will share the story of my last mile - many others will run this last mile in the coming weeks. This mile does not belong to me, this story does not really belong to me, but I think it shows something about the character of this city, and the strength of the shared social fabric we comprise.

I went downtown April 27, a gorgeous spring afternoon, to run my last mile. 

In the coming weeks, more and more runners plan to get that last mile - many of those who couldn't finish are local, running for charities. We are able to get downtown to finish without incurring another plane ticket since most of us call the Boston metro area our home. 

I didn't head into town alone. A full minivan including my running buddy and her husband and my daughter's soccer coach (and family friend) who came to run with me. Also in the van, a friend and my partner who both came to cheer (supplied with a cowbell I reluctantly agreed to let them use). We were met downtown by another pair of long-time friends, one of whom got me into endurance charity events as a bicyclist who has dedicated much of his free time over several years to raise money for AIDS research and program support. They brought chocolate.

We were also met by a reporter from WBUR to talk about recovering from the events of Marathon week.

While waiting outside Marathon Sports for everyone to park and catch up in the crowds, I met a couple of therapy dogs, including Burton, a 155lb Lionberger with paws the size of my hands. Crowds silently took in the memorial at Copley Square, boarded up windows and such damage as remains visible. There were crowds shopping, eating, walking, taking pictures. Three blocks of Boylston teemed with people.
The four of us running headed back from the finish line, jockeyed our way through throngs to take a right on Hereford and a left on Comm Ave, me looking for the place I left the course to go find safety and start putting things back together.

I found the stretch - between  Charlesgate and the Comm Ave underpass. 

We turned and headed back to take the right on Hereford and the left on Boylston that I had so looked forward to since I learned I had gotten a number last December.

As we run, I get a taste of what will meet us at the finish - we start getting smiles, nods, applause, high fives.  

My group approaches our cheering section which is ringing that cowbell and whooping it up a bit. I wanted things low-key, figuring public safety personnel have enough to worry about, but as we threaded up in traffic and our cheerers cheered, Boylston St. became the street it had been at 2:49pm on April 15. High fives. Cheering. Whooping. Clapping. From both sides of the street. From cars stuck in traffic. Hands stuck out car windows for slapping. Smartphones went up snapping photos. Not one complaint about impeding traffic. 

When I came to a stop a small crowd gathered to exchange hugs and stories. A Watertown firefighter stopped, graciously accepting our appreciation. I felt like a rock star. I felt the social fabric mend. I felt a bit of healing, a bit of closure. I felt electric. 

This is a town that knows how to cheer for a marathon. Home-grown explosives did not dent that spirit. Saturday I ran two miles. I crossed a totally worn blue and yellow finish line on a busy street to the delight of strangers from all over the world. I would do it again in a heartbeat. That last mile was for me, but more so it was for my cheering section, the city of Boston, the marathon itself... Armed extremists will not shut me down, did not shut down Boylston St., and did nothing but strengthen how much this marathon symbolizes. I needed the mile, and I am guessing the crowd needed me, needs us, to get that mile, to keep going. I can't imagine how powerful the "official" last mile event will be. 

I will not close by saying this is my last word about Boston 2013. I've learned that lesson. I am always going to be someone who ran the 117th Boston Marathon, someone who lived in the Boston area for that unbelievable week when the news was hard to believe and really bizarre things were happening in places where I  go about the business of living my life. There are countless stories to be told and connections to be made from living through these events. 

Just after the marathon, I spoke with Amina Chaudary, editor of The Islamic Monthly, who did a beautiful job producing a podcast, up on That's Some American Muslim Life, about my reason for running Boston as a Samaritans fundraiser.  

The day I ran my last mile, I spoke with Asma Khalid for a WBUR story: "How Does a City Heal?," about how various people are recovering from the shock of the week's events. 

Click here to see a collection of photos from the last mile. 

What's your marathon week story?

PS: Support Samaritans! Thank you!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

So what happened?

A very nervous Helene got out of the car at Charles and Beacon at 6:45 Monday morning. It was cold. My legs were both purple taped. 

I met up with much of the Samaritans team. I highly recommend the Samaritans team. The runners are good, solid people, and the non-profit staff is caring, attentive, and grateful for our commitment to fundraise and run. I bounced, nervously, in the back of the bus for an hour out to Hopkinton. 

I didn't really think I'd see Copley on foot, and I was right but for the wrong reason. No one could have expected that, except now we all will every time a number of us gather in one place. 

I ran  until I ran out of course. If I had been in an earlier start wave, I would have finished and I might well have been blown to bits. So many ifs, so many in my circles have stories involving a thin veneer of "what ifs" that would have put us in imminent danger, so innocently choosing a bathroom break over acceleration, or factors out of our control like a later assigned start. 

Before I get to the end, much has been written about the first 26 miles of this course. I dreamed of being able to run Boston, then I was pretty certain I wouldn't be able to, and then I did. The whiplash from being stopped at mile 25.2 being told there were explosions at the finish after running, nay being floated through the course by angels, just like everyone said, still hurts.  

I had the running day of my life. Yeah, my quads both blew (Boston does that), and yeah, my balky IT was sore afterwards, but nothing, really, nothing impeded my progress on the course. I still got it (fist pump). No permanent damage. I was truly guarded by angels. Lifted by Shaira. Out of my mind happy to be running, finally.  My IT did not snap and roll up like a windowshade. My glutes stayed quiet, my Achilleses stayed attached. When I was able to run these past few weeks, my neck had been seizing up, tense from keeping my gait balanced on a balky knee. There was no way, realistically, I should have been able to pull off 26 of those miles. My calves had started to twitch and cramp, but only after I had gotten far enough into town (yes - into Kenmore Square!) that I knew I would finish. I am sore the day after, but so thankful for even that. 

The weather was perfect. The spectators are the greatest on the planet. The Biker Bar, the Wellesley Scream Tunnel, BC screaming, and every town along the way full of really cheerful faces - probably glad they weren't running themselves, no?

 I kissed boys. Girls. High-fived kids and grownups. I saw the Hoyts. I saw soldiers. Blind and disabled runners being guided. (Hm...can I fundraise and guide next year?) I saw both Juli and John, dwarves running Boston for the first time. I saw Angry Birds. Hamburgers. Wonder Woman. I learned I need to spell my name phonetically next year. I was in tears crossing into Wellesley. Newton. Yikes- I'm going to make it!

And then I wasn't. I would have run across the finish line somewhere around a 4:35 (without proper training are you kidding me? Thank you CoonDogg Fitness!)  Instead, I walked off the course and a couple more miles to the Samaritans office, then another mile or so to the T, on my feet from 6:45am through 6:45 pm. And so thankful for that. Sore, yes, but moving. 

I was probably at mile 22 when It Happened. I don't remember hearing anything, but as I came over into Kenmore with the Citgo sign drawing closer and Fenway Park on  my right I realized I was hearing way more sirens, and helicopters, than I would have expected at a marathon. Sure, someone might go down and need an ambulance, but just one. As I drew to a stop at 25.2 told the course was closed, and as it slowly dawned on me that something significant, and sinister, had happened, I began to shake. To change speeds, to stop running, to go from one of the greatest of days to yet another Marathon Monday that I would prefer not to look in the eyes, the trauma is still sinking in. I know many people who were in the midst, who have seen worse, and were able to help, or are going through worse. 

I borrowed a cell phone to text Em and start getting the word out that I was fine, then nearly burst into tears as Garrett and Ron from Samaritans materialized at my shoulder and walked me back to the office. To the person whose left-behind jacket I sweated up - shivery from the physical exertion and overwhelmed by the horror unfolding a few blocks to the east - sorry. If it's any consolation, I didn't really get warm. 

Back at the office, I hopped on social media (after Samaritans had already started) to let my world know I was ok - and I am still overwhelmed by the concern - and the kindness - we have been shown. 

This is not the ending I imagined - either I'd finish or I wouldn't, but I thought I wouldn't finish because my own body would betray me. Not some stranger with malicious intent. 

I am so sorry for the losses  innocent people, perhaps having the greatest running day of their lives, have had put upon them (This guy wrote the most eloquent paeon to Boston. Instead of copying, I'll just link. What he said.) 

Although I won't get a finisher's time for Boston, I will not asterisk this one. I am a Boston Finisher. Got the medal - thought it wasn't important but it has taken on quite the symbolic weight. I am a runner, a marathoner, a Boston marathoner. I have run up - and down - Heartbreak. I have not right on hereford and left on boylstoned, but in time I'll correct that. I nailed everything else. Nailed it. 

I remain grateful for the opportunity to run and do something good for Samaritans, I am  humbled by the support my community has shown. 

To continued recovery, to pray and to fight, and to run. Thank you for running with me this spring! 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Plan X...

And just like that I'm a marathoner without a plan. Which is not a marathoner-like thing to be at all. 

About 6 weeks ago my IT band went useless. I have found ways to manage the pain, to walk again, to bike, to keep up the CoonDogg Boot Camp conditioning, to do everything but run much. This marathon brought to you by KT Tape and naproxen sodium. 

About two weeks ago there was a little bike mishap where I wound up on my butt and, again, a little sore. 

Can I run? Yes. Should I run? I have not yet gone medical establishment, paying money and taking time I don't have to hear things I don't want to...

I accomplished what I wanted to do for Samaritans and for Shaira and those who miss her. I have been blessed by support from all corners - more than 100 donors, and roughly $7,000 later, I am humbled. Proud to champion Samaritans, grateful for everyone who helped the non-profit and also helped me get closer to the finish line at Copley. Wishing with every step, every conversation that I wasn't doing this for the reason I am. 

Even after I became fairly certain I am not going to run across that finish line, and in fact will probably be dropping off the course well short of that goal the support kept coming.  I have the best sponsors on the planet.

As I wrote recently to a small group who asked to sponsor me, "So if me finishing this marathon is important to your donation decision, wait till next year because I'm definitely going to give it another go. If joining in support of Samaritans in memory of Shaira Ali and to help spread the word about an important resource for teens and families (both as clients and as volunteers!) Then I am happy to have your support!"

They donated. In my thank you, overwhelmed with gratitude for what members of my community will do for one another, I wrote: 

Thanks, guys! I have been blown away by the community I live in. Completely humbled by how much everyone has been not just willing but eager to support this effort.I consider the support only partially for me but mostly for our kids - Shaira, obviously, and her family, but for everyone. The town I live in really gets it that we are connected, that there is a common good and that we each can grab an oar and share responsibility for each other's well-being. Big thoughts, but I've been having these conversations for several months now and I am just so grateful!The marathon is a selfish undertaking- takes time away from my family, but I  personally get a lot out of it even without making the finish line. To combine my selfish pursuit of running long and getting away with eating like a high school football player while with having these conversations about mental health and social supports tending my little corner of our village has been, well, gratifying.

What's going to happen on Monday? I'm going to the starting line, and I'm going to start running. I will probably bawl for the first mile, adrenaline will take me for an hour or so, and I will run as long as nothing hurts. I will walk, run some more, and at some point I will either cross the finish line or stop running before I undo the recovery I've managed, setting my sights on next year. The irony of running so strong for so many years and finding myself injured before the reward that was supposed to be 26 miles of history. Feh. I will walk into the Expo tomorrow like I own it, and wear my spiffy jacket with pride - and gratitude.  

So. Thank you. Going for a little run on Monday. See you after.