I'm on a quest to run a key race in all 50 states. I've run over 100 races to date in 18 states. Running is the best way to see the world!
This Runner's Recollections of the 2013 Boston Bombing
Never Give Up On a Dream
Qualifying for and running, the coveted Boston Marathon was a bittersweet experience. After a decade of trial and error, this was a dream come true, but an especially hard time, having lost my father the month before a late diagnosis of renal cancer. I was also amidst a 25-year marriage dissolution that caused significant family issues. I had no family support for my Boston debut. To top off my steady stream of turmoil, I sustained a last-minute piriformis injury two days before the marathon, while on my final training run.
Despite all the setbacks and heartache leading up to my big day, I was excited to have this experience finally. I'd almost given up hope of ever qualifying. It’s amazing what you can do when you have grit, determination, and life chaos to be your coach and motivator.
Running a Marathon Should Be a Safe, Right?
Words can't describe the emotions of crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon. For a brief moment, I was on top of the world, and even the excruciating pain in my backside couldn't negate my "Boston Marathon high." It's surreal just ten minutes later; I'd experience the fear and sadness of narrowly escaping two back-to-back explosions.
I'd barely made my way to the family meeting area when I felt the tremors from the blasts and saw smoke. I heard noises from afar and saw the blank stares of the people standing next to me. Was it the firing of a celebratory canon, perhaps? After all, it was Patriot's Day. I watched, stunned, as the first responders, who were there to aid the runners at the finish line, sprung into immediate action, corralling the runners and spectators out of the area.
I waited for Jamison, my fiance, and support, to come to meet with my change of clothes so we could head back to our hotel to celebrate with our friends. Instead, I watched fear and confusion unfold before my eyes. I tried relentlessly to get hold of him, but my cell phone would not even dial the call. I had no idea if he was still at the finish line or if he was also safe.
In the blink of an eye, the city shut down, no running subways, no buses, just people making their way away from the racecourse towards Boston Common, in what I called “controlled chaos.” Everyone was calling their loved ones on their cell phones to let them know they were okay. I still couldn’t get my phone to work. I finally saw an opportunity to duck into the ATM lobby of Bank of America, after someone used their ATM card to open the door. I joined about 15 other people who were hunkered down, trying to locate their support people. I borrowed someone's phone who had AT&T as their carrier (I had Verizon) and was finally able to reach Jamison.
He was okay and trying to make his way out of the area to find me. I told him my exact location, and he told me to "stay put," he was trying to get to me. Fifteen minutes seemed like forever, but he finally reached me. I quickly changed into warm, dry clothing, and off we went on foot to our hotel. It was a brutal three-mile walk on my stiff and very achy post-marathon legs. I couldn't believe after running a grueling 26.2; I had to walk so much more. But when you're alive and unharmed, you don't think about the inconvenience.
By the time we reached Boston Common, 33 texts and voicemails had come through my phone. Everyone from family, friends, and coworkers had heard about the bombing and were trying to find out if I was safe. As we continued to walk, we passed by a hospital where ambulances were unloading the injured victims. That's when the reality of the bombing truly hit home. I couldn't stop thinking about the innocent bystanders either wounded or dead, wondering how many there were and thinking this could've been us.
I wasn't present at the exact spot where the bombs went off, but Jamison was. He sat in the very place of the first bomb to photograph my finish. Had I been just a few minutes slower to finish, this story may not have had a happy ending for either of us. For the first time since I first started racing, I didn’t care about my splits, pain, or finish time. Three friends from my running club were also there. They all finished the race unharmed, and we all consider ourselves very lucky.
After the race, there was no celebration, only stoicism, and shock. All we could do was sit in our hotel rooms, watch the news, and replays of the day. Nothing else mattered, and we just wanted to go home.
Boston and the Runner Stayed Strong and United
This experience made me even more determined to go back in 2014 (my qualification was good for both years). 2014 wasn't a good training year with more injuries and still struggling with family issues. My heart wasn’t in training, but I didn't care. I was going back, and I did.
I slogged my way through the 2014 race with my slowest marathon time to date, but I learned so much from this experience. I learned I can't live in fear, and you should always be aware of your surroundings, no matter where you are, what you're doing, and despite how "safe" you think you are.
A few people said I was crazy for going back. "What if it happens again"? I said, "I need to do this, and it will be safer than ever. Fear will not win, and we should never let it. I wanted to experience the celebration of not just running this well-earned race a second time, but also the strength, unity, and resilience of what is the human race!
All I can say about my second-year back was I ran it with my heart 100%; my legs had nothing to do with it. I wanted to go back and experience the good and not let fear, evil, and hate win. I accomplished that. I will qualify one day again, and I will go back and run with purpose and intent; but until then, I will be content with all I’ve experienced and learned.
2014 - Let's Do This
A Timeline From April 15, 2013 in My Husband Jamison's Words
6:00 am: I got on the subway (Lechmere Station) with Deb, bound for Boston Commons so she could catch her ride to the start line.
6:15 am: I arrived at Boston Commons, left Deb so she could get on the bus, and then I walked to finish line to find a spot to camp.
6:30 am: I got to the finish line, no one was camping yet, so I could take any spot I wanted. I chose spot #1 (see the map below) because it was as close as I could get and still see the finish line.
6:45 am: I wasn’t happy with the location because the fence in this area was 4×5 scaffolding, and it was hard to take pictures over it. Plus, I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to be there. At this time, the country flags were not up yet. I decided to walk a bit and see if I could find a store to buy a chair.
6:50 am: As I was walking. I noticed that just 100 ft away, at Exeter and Boylston St (spot #2 on map), that there was only the standard metal fence up, but with a great view. I decided that would be my spot, and I continued to find a chair.
7:05 am: I found a chair at Walgreens just up the street. I went back to #2 and sat down. There were a couple of people starting to do the same now, but I got my spot.
7:05 am to approximately noon: I sat there just zoning out. Occasionally I followed the race on my iPad until the area gradually filled up. A trio of college girls sat to my right and older couple to my left. The college girls told me I could use the bathroom at Starbucks just up the street (spot #3). I went several times, but not after the runners started coming in at noon.
Noon: After elite runner, Kara Goucher, finished, the college girls packed up and left. I watched all the runners come in, and it started to get dizzy from seeing so many people run past. The area filled up with people standing. I got crowded and couldn’t leave to go to the bathroom any longer, for fear of losing my spot. So I held it.
2:31 pm: Deb finally came through the finish, and I took her pictures. I had to use the bathroom so badly, and I couldn’t wait. I decided to walk back to Starbucks to go.
2:38 pm: I got to Starbucks after fighting the crowd.
2:42 pm: I finally got to the bathroom after waiting in a line.
2:43 pm – 2:48 pm: I walked to the finish line to start the process of finding Deb. I passed the area where the first bomb went off (spot #1, also the first place I sat) around 2:48. It was a very crowded area.
2:50 pm: I stopped at spot #4 to try and figure out how to get to the family meeting area to find Deb. Boylston St. and Dartmouth St. were fenced off for the finishers. As I was standing there, the first bomb went off. I could feel the concussion but didn’t see anything, not even smoke at this point. All the people standing around just looked at each other. No panic, and I heard no one screaming. One person said maybe a canon; another thought an electrical transformer. I started walking up Dartmouth when I heard the second one. No one knew what was going on, and there was no immediate panic.
2:50 pm – 3:???: Things gradually got chaotic, as sirens started going off and lots of cops started running. My cell phone wouldn’t work, and I couldn’t figure out how to get across Boylston. It was fenced off for blocks. I heard people start to talk about the bombing. I saw some people crying. I got a text from Deb saying she was at the bank on the corner of St. Charles and ?. I finally got there after another 20 minutes. We walked perhaps an hour more back to the hotel as the subway had been closed down. It gradually became clear from the chatter that there was a bomb at the finish. We ran into someone from the hospital that said people were being bought in with missing limbs. In spite of all that, everyone was extremely calm, leisurely walking out of Boston Commons. It was very surreal, and if Deb had been two minutes slower, and had I done the same bathroom break, I would have been right on top of #1.
Diagram of the Streets and Bomb Locations -Jamison is in the Blue Cap Waiting For Me at the Finish
I would love to hear from other runners and spectators from this day. Please leave me your comments, your personal story, or blog address below.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Debra Roberts
Julia on April 13, 2020:
As I'm writing this comment, I can't see very well as tears are still running down... I remember this day as clear as I remember 9/11/2001.
I live a few miles north of Boston and we were watching the news the whole day and the following week. At the time, my son was a student of Berklee Colledge of Music, and he was also attending Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown. We've visited the self-made memorial on Boylston Street right where Berklee buildings are located. The following Friday, we watched the manhunt in Watertown as it was very near the Perkins school, where my son's friends lived.
I'm so glad that you came to the finish line at the time you did and not 2 minutes later. And thank you for coming back and running the marathon the next year.
Smita on April 13, 2020:
A very touching piece, Deb. So glad that you and your friends were safe. Kudos to you for not letting fear win and going back for the marathon again!
Lyosha on April 12, 2020:
It must have been so terrifying and horrible. Runners are so special and I don't really get it how come people could do that to others.
Sonia Seivwright on April 12, 2020:
What a scary experience this must have been. I'm just glad that everyone got out safe. My heart goes out to the victims family.
Ashlee on April 12, 2020:
I remember hearing about the Boston Marathon Bombing and initially thinking this cannot be real! When the reports came in, I was so beyond shocked. What a thing to actually be there and I think it's so brave and awesome to go the next year. It's not about the bombers, but the rise of true human spirit. Also so happy Jamison and you are still healthy and alive! It puts alot into perspective.
jerry godinho on April 12, 2020:
I just saw a movie on the Boston Bombing from a different perspective and it was moving, touching just touched the heart. For a runner like you I am sure you take it personally and how do you deal with all those feelings and emotions of why did I survive what if it was me. I also feel for all those who are injured and they get a few moments of glory but then have to go back to their lives injured emotionally spiritually and physically forever thanks for writing this moving and wonderful article.
KathrinS on April 12, 2020:
Wow, this is so incredibly scary, thanks for sharing your memories. It's amazing that you are able to go back and keep running in races even after such an experience, congratulations. I admire all marathon runners, as I've never managed anything longer than a 10k, but especially someone who's gone through such a traumatic event and still keeps going. Wishing you all the best in your future running endeavours.
Sarah Emery on April 11, 2020:
Whoa! A flood of emotions ran through me reading this. I admire you and all the other runners who ran and continue to run the Boston marathon. Thank you for continuing to show us fearless strength, resilience and motivation.
Alice Mola on April 11, 2020:
Thank you for sharing your experience, that's so surreal that you could have been #1. Wonderfully written
Jess B from United States on May 29, 2019:
Oh my gosh Debra, what a scary experience. I'm so glad that you guys were safe but that is so close to devastation for comfort. I am from Boston (the city of Everett just outside) My first job was at a restaurant in Faneuil Hall but I moved in late 2004. I visit every couple/few years. It broke my heart when this happened. Like you said, a marathon should be a safe event (with the exception of a muscle cramp or two Lol!) I know that feeling of surrealness, I was in Manhattan on 9/11 when I was 16 years old. I was in mid-town so I was close but far enough away to be physically unharmed. It is weird to go through something like that. When we are not physically hurt, it's an emotional roller coaster of something so real feeling unreal. I love that you went back and didn't let fear stop you. That is so important for all of us. Amazing story!
Erica (The Prepping Wife) on March 15, 2019:
Wow, what a story! I’m so glad you told it too. Because it needs to be told. We all need to hear it. I love that you went back the following year and did not allow fear to win. I look forward to following your journey when you return again.
clio on March 15, 2019:
what an experience! It must be terrible to witness such a horrible and scary act of violence. At the same time, as you underlined, humans can show so much resilience and courage and love, especially during these moments. Thank you for reminding us, and congrats for your big achievement!
Swagata on March 14, 2019:
I admire your courage and grit! And also liked the fact that your husband is so supportive. Your post once again reminded me that terrorism can never stop people from doing ANYTHING. Love and passion always wins over hatred.
Nina Nichols on March 14, 2019:
I still get goosebumps whenever I watch documentaries or read something like this regarding the Boston bombing. It definitely was so surreal and I'm glad you're okay.
Live Learn Better on March 14, 2019:
Some things stay with you for life and I'm sure this will surely do. Thank God you came out unhurt and your spirit is not dampened.
Ashlee on March 14, 2019:
What an amazing and inspiring story. I cannot imagine living through that experience but I'm so happy that you not only finished the race but also did not let it stop you continuing on your amazing path.
Thuy on March 14, 2019:
My boyfriend ran Boston last year after training for about 5 years to qualify. In the back of his mind, he worried about all of his supporters in the crowd, but was reassured by the numerous security officials. Thank goodness you didn’t get hurt
Kari Chairez on March 13, 2019:
Oh my word! That's crazy! I do remember where I was that day. It was a chaotic day for me too (rushing my husband to the hospital...he ended up being okay in the end). I sat in the hospital waiting room watching the news of the Boston bombings as they tried to stabilize him. It's amazing the things that stick with us. Thanks for sharing your experience from that day.
Luna S on March 13, 2019:
I can not imagine going through such a horrifying experience, you are so strong for sharing this with everyone and for getting back out there.
Subhashish Roy on March 13, 2019:
It must have been so tough for both of you. Thank God you came out unhurt.And congrats for successfully completing the marathon.
Mayuri Patel on March 13, 2019:
What a terrifying experience, but am glad you and your hubby are safe. All terrorist attacks are frightening but its amazing how people just get back and it becomes even more important that normal life resumes to deter the terrorists aim - to scare people. Just in January terrorists bombed a hotel in Nairobi and kids went to school the next day and people went to their jobs.
Lauren Forsythe on March 12, 2019:
Wow I remember seeing this on the news - it's sobering to hear your story! I've run several half marathons, but never a full marathon. However, I can appreciate the amount of effort that training and qualifying for Boston would take.
Trish Veltman on March 12, 2019:
Thanks to people like you who won't let fear stop them running again, Boston marathon is still celebrated worldwide for the wonderful event it is.
Tracy C on March 12, 2019:
I remember watching this on the news.
A wonderful event attended by people
from all over the world focused on a common goal (finishing the race) that was interrupted by hatred that day. Going back shows that evil did not win.
Nominal Nomad . Sou Debz on March 12, 2019:
That horrible day is not how I think of Boston. To me, the Boston Marathon is like a Mecca, calling me and others who love distance running to gather and feel the kinship of running and test ourselves on the famed Hills of Newton. It is the oldest and greatest race of them all, a magical event. thanks for sharing your experience.
Despite Pain on March 12, 2019:
I don't think I can even begin to imagine how you felt that day, or in the days following. Yes, you appreciated you were lucky, but there must have been so many 'what ifs'. I am so glad that you did go back. You're right, we can't let fear win.
Scott DeNicola and Vinne Monaco from New York on March 12, 2019:
Wow Deb I can't even imagine going through this all and the fear that must have been going on that day. As if finishing the marathon wasn't enough to then have to endure first hand the events of that day. I'm from NY and lived through 9/11 and saw buildings that I used to work in just years before demolished by terrorists so as a NY'er I was Boston Strong that day. Big Papi from the Sox summed it up best. This is our F'ing city and no one is going to dictate our freedom. Stay Strong!
Liz Westwood from UK on February 12, 2019:
This is a graphic first hand account of a terrible act of violence. It gives a clear message that the terrorists can not be allowed to win.