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!


  1. What a marvelous idea, to run that last mile. I am so pleased that the crowd supported you, just the way they would have had it ended the way we all wanted it to. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Helene, fantastic. You make me proud - as an Arlingtonian, as an American, as a person. Congratulations.

  3. Helene, your story brought tears to my eyes! High Five Marathoner!

  4. Helene, I am so very proud to call you a friend and a neighbor.