A text message suggests it would be a good idea to go on Facebook and tell everyone I am OK

My journey as a runner began in 2010, when a co-worker shared information on the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program. She was going to be mentoring runners for the 2011 Maratona di Roma. Prior to this, I had never done distance running, but something about this struck me. I went to the information session and before I knew it, I was training for my first marathon. It was such a life-changing experience for me that I continued with the program in 2012; this time venturing out to Spain for Madrid’s first Rock & Roll Marathon.

Later in 2012, I received information on Team BMC, the charity program that benefits the various patient programs at Boston Medical Center (where I happen to be an employee and a patient). They were recruiting runners for the 2013 Boston Marathon. I knew Boston was one of the most prestigious marathons in the world; one people from around the world trained long and hard (and traveled across the globe) to run; the one practically in my backyard. As rewarding as my international marathon experiences were, I had also longed to be able to invite family and friends to share the day with me – to actually watch me cross the finish line. This was my chance. Before I knew it, I was preparing myself for my first Boston Marathon.

Rock n Roll Madrid Marathon

This time around, I did things a bit differently. While Team BMC offered an excellent training program, I felt the logistics didn’t work for me. Getting to the weekly training sessions would involve getting into Boston, getting on the green line, and then getting to the meeting spot from there. To me, that was time and steps better used for the long runs. I decided to train on my own. I used what I learned from my previous marathon experiences, and decided what would be best practice for me. I remembered my motto: “Complete, not compete.” As long as I finished within the time limit, I would be happy; if I could knock some time off of my previous best, that would be a bonus. I’m not going to say training by myself was the easiest, nor will I say it’s for everyone, but it worked for me.

Fast forward to Marathon Monday 2013, a day I will truly never forget.

Everything I had heard about the Boston Marathon was true. This was more than just an experience; this was THE experience. The energy was like no other. The spectators were not just spectators; they were participants as well. Families sat in their front yards to cheer you on; children ran out on the course with jelly beans, lollipops, water, Gatorade… all very WELCOME treats that always seemed to come at just the right time! The Wellesley College students provided an unparalleled stream of support and motivation for runners approaching the half-marathon mark. I could see and feel why the Boston Marathon is one of the most sought-out marathons for runners globally.

As for my performance, I was doing just fine. I remembered what so many people I had talked to about the marathon course told me, which was not to give in to the temptation to go out too strong, as my energy would be needed at the end. I paced myself just as I had in my training; I was completing between 11- and 12- minute miles. I was pleased. I had taken my iPhone with me, to play music and take photos along the way. Every so often, I’d send an update to my Facebook account as to how I was doing: a photo of the 2-mile mark with the caption “YASSSSSSSS, a post indicating I had completed the half-marathon…

As I was nearing the mile 20 mark, I was still feeling quite well and I was confident I would finish in time (which was my main goal). Things started turning around when I received a text message from a friend, telling me it would be a good idea if I went on Facebook and told everyone I was OK. At first I thought nothing of it – I actually was amused that people had noticed I hadn’t updated in a while, and was pleased they were curious. I went on and posted a very quick, to-the-point status update: “Coming up on mile 20, feeling great!!!” Then the texts continued. I was confused. What was everyone talking about?

Then, someone forwarded me a “breaking news” update from 7-News announcing there were explosions at the finish line. My heart sank. I had a friend volunteering at the finish line, and I had a couple of other friends on their way to the finish line area to see me cross. I called my friend and asked him to put on the TV and tell me what was going on. I called my father to tell him I was OK.

For the next few minutes, I walked. I looked around me. I could tell the other runners with phones, who were slowed down, walking around just as puzzled as I was. I could tell the runners who had no phones and were completely oblivious to what was going on; probably wondering why the rest of us were at a snail’s pace. In the absence of knowing what to do, I did what I was there to do: I continued on, not running, but walking. I passed the mile 20 mark at a speed considerably less than that with which I had passed the others.

Mile 20 was the last mile marker I would see on my first Boston Marathon.

Confusion turned into anxiety, as along with other runners, I was pulled off the course and brought to the nearest medical tent. The volunteers and medical officials knew barely anything more than we did at first. For the past four hours, I had one question on my mind: “Will I cross in time?” That question turned into several more: “Are there more bombs?” “How many people are hurt? “ “How will we get home?” “How will I get my wallet and house keys from the finish line?” “What is going to happen?”

The outpour of support from the neighboring homes helped turn that anxiety into comfort. Three people from a home near the tent came out with snacks and water. They offered phones for people who needed to contact loved ones. They said they had cars and would be able to give rides if anyone needed them. They offered to go back and cook hot dogs for everyone. Such small acts of kindness meant so much at that time. Although what happened at the finish line was so horrible, what I witnessed and experienced throughout the next couple of days was nothing short of wonderful. I will forever remember the warmth and comfort of those selfless souls who I may never cross paths with again, but who truly made an impact in my day and in my life.

Fast forward to October 2013.

My official Boston Marathon 2013 finisher’s certificate arrived in the mail. Projected finish time – 5:48:15. Five minutes off of my previous finish time in Madrid. Mission accomplished. See you in 2014!

Jonathan Hanson
Chelsea, Massachusetts
April 15, 2013
Age – 30
Bib # 24838
30k – 4:07:36