My legs were screaming to stop, but my brain wouldn’t listen

I am a practicing physician in southwest Tennessee’s Hardin County, and live in a small community just north of Corinth, Mississippi. I started running seriously later in life, and over an eight year period worked my way up from 5k’s to marathons. I first ran Boston in 2011, after qualifying in 2010. I thought I was in heaven! There is nothing to compare with the Boston Marathon (at least for me)!

I have qualified four times for Boston since 2010, but did not run in 2012 due to a severe knee injury just one month before the race. I had knee surgery the week after Boston 2012, and spent the next four months not running and doing a lot of therapy. This included eight weeks on crutches. I had already qualified for 2013 Boston in February 2012. So, my recovery, including being able to run again at Boston, was a big challenge and goal for me. Boston 2013 was special.

Slowed but not stopped by eight weeks on crutches

Like many others, my wife Kelly and I travelled to Boston on Friday before the Monday race. We were excited to join Kenneth Williams, veteran runner and founder of this site, on our flight out of Memphis. While in Boston, I attended a two day Sports Medicine conference. The conference was excellent, and we were lucky enough to meet both Bill Rodgers and Amby Burfoot. Kelly did some shopping and sightseeing with new friends from Mississippi and Tennessee. Saturday night we ate at Legal Seafood with Kenneth Williams and others from down home.

Monday morning, race day, started early. With our southern friends (and many others), we took cabs to the Boston Common to catch bus rides to Hopkinton. There was the usual bus wait, but this was forgotten quickly when our buses headed out to the start. The morning was cool early, with temps in the 30’s, but gradually warming. The day was perfect.

Then there was the wait at the Athletes’ Village on the Hopkinton High School campus. I was focused on taking in the last few calories, making the last two restroom breaks, getting hydrated, etc. As usual, I got separated from those I knew, but this wasn’t a problem, since several thousand other runners were there to talk to! I remember chatting with a man from France while in the final corral before the start. We laughed to find out we were the same age and our birthdays were close together. We wished each other good luck as we moved to the starting point.

As the race started, spirits were high. We started down the first long hill. After a mile or so, I was able to settle into my pace and the miles and towns started to go by. My plan was to take a little Gatorade every four miles, and start using gels and the food in my pouch at regular intervals. As others have stated, the crowds are great for miles along the course and very encouraging. Everyone has memories of certain people or towns they saw along the way.

Boston is tough for me because the race course is hard and there are so many runners packed on a two lane highway. But what makes Boston tough also makes it fun. There is a mixture of pain and pleasure you can’t describe! After mile 16 or so, the race course got hilly and tougher, and my post surgical knee wanted to walk, but I didn’t. I kept pushing, although a little slower than planned. The crowds were a big help. I remember slapping hands with dozens of kids and adults along the way, and yes, the Wellesley College girls do want kisses!

As the race approached Boston, my legs were screaming to stop, but my brain wouldn’t listen. Going over Heartbreak Hill and by Boston College, those who had reserve picked up the pace. I thought I would die.

Finally, the Citgo sign came into view and I knew I would make it. Then right on Hereford and left on Boylston! My feeble legs continued to move. I was so tired I couldn’t hear Kelly yelling at me. As it turned out, she was standing between the two bomb sites on Boylston Street.

I crossed the finish line and looked at my watch. I had re-qualified, but with only a couple of minutes to spare! Euphoria was short lived as the street full of runners kept me moving to the heat wraps, drinks, snacks, and yes, the medal on my neck! It seemed like a ten mile walk down the street three blocks to the bus with my bag, cell phone and warm clothes. A nice volunteer lady helped me get my legs in my pants, because I was still wobbly.

While sitting on the street, I heard a loud boom back towards the finish line. The sound reminded me of cannon fire during a Shiloh Battlefield reenactment. A few seconds later there was a second boom, not as loud as the first.

I was talking to Kelly on my cell when the first boom sounded. I immediately got to my feet and headed back up Boylston in the confusion. I had to find Kelly, because she was beside the medical tent, very close to the trouble. She told me she couldn’t get through to the family meeting area, so I asked her where she was and told her to stay there. This was a time of fear and panic. Hundreds of people were running, using cell phones or just crying.

I found Kelly in a crowd one block from the medical tent and came up behind her and embraced her. Since having a stroke in 2005, Kelly isn’t equipped for rapid movement or panic. She was in tears. We asked the closest policeman if I could help, being a doctor, and in his strong Boston accent he said “they are going to need all the doctors they can get.” So, we approached the medical tent from the side opposite Boylston and asked the officer there if we could help. He said the area was now sealed off and we should return to our room, which was down Huntingdon.

We walked to our hotel. Everyone appeared to be in shock. There was a SWAT team at the front door, and we had to show ID proof to get on the elevator. After arriving at our room, we watched the confusion and drama on local TV. Soon our phones started ringing with calls and texts. Everyone back home was checking on us. Over the next few hours, I gave several interviews to TV stations and newspapers back in west Tennessee. The trauma didn’t fully hit me then, but days later. I think Kelly was more affected than me.

We stayed in the room Monday night and Tuesday, except for eating. I did take a couple of slow jogs and got photos of the military and national news reporters. Tuesday was meant to be a fun day, but we weren’t in the mood. We were nervous about our flight on Wednesday, but everything at the airport went smoothly. We were both glad to see the green trees of Memphis as we landed. I talked to a few other runners at the airport and the marathoner spirit was still there. “We will go back to Boston,” they all said.

People continue to ask me what happened in Boston and what did I do. I still look blank when asked about it. It was emotional. I think at this point I know better what is important in life: family, friends and those good things we take for granted. Life is short, and the Boston bombing brought this into focus for me. Yes, I’m still running, and I will be back in Hopkinton on April 21, 2014, if it’s God’s will.

Joseph Peters
Michie, Tennessee
April 15, 2013
Age – 60
Bib # 16885