My Timeline of the Devastating 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing
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
6:15 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.
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© 2019 Debra Roberts