It is interesting when something hits you. You don’t see it coming, but there it is. A feeling you’ve been pushing aside, just waiting for a moment of vulnerability to come out. I am sure that many people experienced it this weekend. An awkward moment when you started to cry or felt a pang of sadness. It had to be released. You had to let it out to move forward.
I would have loved to run the 2014 Boston Marathon. After finishing 6th in 2013 and then being witness to the aftermath of all that happened, I knew the 2014 Boston Marathon was going to be the largest symbol of hope and stand on the biggest stage our sport has ever seen. The entire world was going to be watching Patriot’s Day, and we all knew it would be one for the ages. I had never intended on running the Boston Marathon this year. I believed that the emotion left over from last year would inhibit me from performing to my best, and I felt strongly that Boston deserved only my best. But once I showed up at the airport and saw everyone in their Boston Marathon jackets, I felt a pang in my chest that I wasn’t racing.
It’s a strange thing watching from the sidelines when you are used to being on the starting line. You see the event in a whole new light. For me, I got to understand Boston on an even deeper level and leave with an even more meaningful understanding of what The Boston Marathon means to the running community.
I was nervous even about attending Boston. I wondered if I would be frightened. I wondered if I would feel anxiety or the helplessness and devastation that I felt last year. I didn’t know what, if anything, would be hard for me to see.
The emotions hit me at random times. When I arrived at the gate in Denver before even leaving for Boston, tears started to fill my eyes. Patriots Day was here, it was happening, and I was heading back to the place that has left a scar on my heart. A permanent place of guilt. Guilt that my family escaped without physical scars. Guilt that I am grateful for that. Guilt that they had been in danger because they support my passion to run- a passion which seemed silly in the wake of it all. Guilt I carry and doubt will ever go away. Guilt that my son was so traumatized that he needed therapy to deal with what he saw, the panic in my eyes and terror on my face.
Once boarded on the plane an excitement began to replace the anxiety. Marathon weekend in Boston is a magical experience. Maybe it could feel that way again. I wanted to be there, I wanted to feel the healing. I needed to see it with my own eyes.
I had the honor of spending time with many fans and fellow runners and it was good for my soul. Between my need for healing and my injury, my fellow runners filled me up with peace and hope. The energy was contagious. Everyone was feeding off each other and you could feel the power in the air.
On Sunday I went over to the finish line to get a quick run down for the interview I’d be doing during the broadcast. I wondered how I’d feel about passing the Marathon Sports store, seeing the bleachers. But I felt only happiness. People were buzzing and excited in the streets. The sun was shining and glistening around us. This would not be a repeat of 2013. The city of Boston and the runners from all over the world were taking back the streets.
I went over to the Fairmont Copley to wish Shalane Flanagan good luck. The Copley is the hotel where I was with my family when the bombs went off last year. The feelings hit me suddenly and unexpectedly. It was hard for me to speak. I hugged Shalane and told her how proud I was, but it was hard for me to hold it in. I shared a few tidbits I hoped would help her the next day and left her for her interview. And then I couldn’t hold it in anymore. It wasn’t fear or anxiety. Just a sweeping and heavy feeling of sadness. My friends, Sally Bergesen and Shanna Burnette, embraced me. The last time I was at that hotel was the most terrified I have ever been in my life. The day that the purity of running seemed to be destroyed. I felt so overwhelmed and so small.
Monday I watched unbelievable races. I watched Shalane pour her heart out and wear it visibly on her sleeve. She gave it all in the streets of Boston. And although she didn’t win, Boston will remember her performance non the less. Just like when I failed to win in 2009 the city embraced my effort just the same. I saw Meb take home the title, a story book ending that seemed destined to be written. I felt so nervous after he passed me and the Oiselle clan in Wellsley. Could he hold on? Did he know what a victory would mean? And I saw thousands of others. Bearing their souls, vulnerability showing in their exhausted bodies. It was beautiful. It was perfect.
The running community, our family, came out in full force in Boston. We collectively held hands and took a giant step forward. There will never be another Boston 2014. It was one for the ages. And although I am sad that I didn’t get to be a competitor, I feel so lucky that I got to be a participant. I have never been prouder to be a part of the running community. Thank you all for helping to heal a piece of my heart.