Keep Calm and Marath-On – Andrew Cook (April 15, 2013)

Preparation: Here we are… After a long time coming, the Boston Marathon is finally only a week away. For those of you starting to get worn down by the constant talk of it from us deranged people who find these kinds of things fun, just bear with us: it’s almost all over!

Without a single iota of sarcasm or tongue-in-cheek here, I want to tell you that training these six months has been one of the highlights of my athletic life so far, with the jewel on the crown looking to come right about this time next week as one sweaty, aching, dehydrated, disorientated mess of a 19 year old crosses the finish line on Boylston Street. Bring your camera, I know. Now, I know it’s still very pre-mature to be making my Sally Field acceptance speeches here (“You really really like me!”), but finish or no, at the back of the pack or a with surprise upset of the Kenyans, I want to send out a huge thank you to quite a lot of people.

First, to my mom, sister and dog… You three have patiently watched and mercifully held back on telling me what a lunatic I’ve become as I descended into slow insanity over the past few months and actually started enjoying going the long distances. I know next Monday, you three will be the loudest, most fantastic spectators on the course out of a field of millions. I’ll be looking for you!

Secondly and hugely important: The E-Streeters. Not the ones you’re probably thinking of… Springsteen and his band were across seas touring for most of this training season. These guys are a little less known by all except perhaps the nearby state penitentiaries and police departments (kidding…), but regardless, there is no single other group I’d have rather trained with for this race. Somehow they were able to make waking up at UNGODLY hours every Saturday morning, driving to some remote starting point and running 2+ hours – often in the FREEZING COLD, and on hills that made Mt. Washington look like a slight incline in comparison – an absolute highlight of each and every week. The jokes never stopped coming, and through it all we were able to keep what little already remained of our self-esteem. Two especially – the brothers Scanlon, Barry and Tommy – I want to send a special shout-out to and wish especial luck next Monday. They’re the only two crazy enough to sign up with me to trek the whole 26.2, cracking jokes the entire way that belong in any comedy hall of fame. We joke about it a lot, but I can only hope to be as in-shape as you guys are when I get to that age. First one in buys dinner?

“And last… But certainly not least…Do I have to say his name? Do I have to say his name?? The King of the World! Emperor of the North Pole!” The Big Man himself, my dad Pat Cook. Even though he’s sitting out this year’s race (give the guy a break… he’s already done seven), he showed up for the long runs every Saturday morning with a totally new course for us all to run on. Through his cartography skills, the E-Streeters made their way through an astounding THIRTY-SIX towns and cities in Massachusetts and New Hampshire over the winter. That’s a whole lot of town line races! He’s been my most tireless supporter and coach through all of this, and I can only say I am where I am today because of him – and that’s not exclusive to running, either. I’ve said it in other places but just to re-iterate, this one’s totally for you, dad. See you out there at the Wellesley College girls. Please, take your time getting there though…

As they say, the hay’s in the barn, the die’s been cast; ladies and gentlemen, it’s all over now but for the crying!! I’ll be checking in again next week to tell you how we all ended up… Wish me luck!!!!!

The Race: Hooo boy. My fingers and the (admittedly stiff) body connected to them are certainly counting their blessings tonight that they’re all healthy and able to be typing these words to you. And brother, there’s a LOT to type, so we’ll certainly put their gratitude to the test by the end. This is the story I’ll hopefully be telling my grandkids 50 years from now about what granddad did when he was a crazy youth. So let’s start from the very beginning (a very good place to start).

Anyone who has followed this blog will probably know I’d been training for last Monday’s 117th running of the Boston Marathon for months on end. Weekly long runs, trips to the gym for lifts, dieting, just overall healthiness in general, had all become integral parts of my everyday routine. After the excitement had been building all last week during classes and such, I drove into Boston last Friday with my dad Pat to the Prudential Center, where the first of the weekend’s many goose bumps came when a marathon volunteer handed me my official number bib. After years of watching my dad and his buddies run with theirs, I finally had my own personal registration – number 25168 (I was further on down the line from Jean Valjean in the prison for all you Les Mis people out there). $250 later, I was walking out of the race expo with pretty much every piece of marathon apparel not bolted down to the floor, more excited for Monday than I’d ever been before.

The Warriors Three

The rest of the weekend went by in a rapid succession of relaxation, pasta and water, then repeat. I swear by Sunday night I was hearing sloshing noises whenever I moved, I drank so much. Come Monday morning wake-up, though, bags were packed for before, during and after the run; and after my dad had taken the obligatory album’s-worth of pictures, I was off for Hopkinton with Barry and Tommy Scanlon and Sean Kenny in the backseat of my neighbor’s car. We got dropped off at the start area, and before I knew it, I was in the runners’ corral, and we were off, goose bumps and adrenaline abounding.

It could not have been a more perfect day for ANY kind of run, but for a marathon, it was literally the ideal: gentle winds, temps in the mid 50s, with some steady sun occasionally hidden behind a nice cloud cover now and then. Maybe the only ones more appreciative of Mother Nature were the spectators, a crowd whose size easily numbered up into the millions without breaking a sweat. For 26.2 miles, on both sides of the road for as far as you could see, the sea of onlookers never let up. Seriously, these guys were literally dozens deep from the street in some places. I really can’t put it into words, and that for me is a rare thing. Picture – that kind of reception on either side of you; in front of you and behind you, thousands upon thousands of brightly colored heads bobbing up and down, your fellow runners. For twenty. Six. Point two. Straight. Miles. Yeah. Me, too.

High Five!
The kisses at Wellesley were, not surprisingly,
rather a good part of the day. *Cough*

Wearing a spandex Iron Man shirt for the first half of the run, I lost count of how many high-fives I gave out to the 15 and under crowd who were yelling out “Iron Man!” as I ran past. Just as good (if not better), I made a quick change at mile 14 into a generously supplied Holy Cross pinny, and there was MUCH love for ‘Sader Nation out there on the course. For twelve miles, wherever I ran past, there were shouts of, “Hey, Crusaders!” “SADERS!!!” Go Holy Cross!!” The stuff of dreams, I’m telling you.

Various aches and pains started popping up right as I was making my way past Boston College, about five miles out from the finish. These turned into flat-out injuries as the miles ticked on, coming to a head as I felt the ligaments of my left knee pop as I crossed over the Mass. Pike at mile 25. Hobbling through Kenmore Square, up Hereford St. and down Boylston St. towards the finish on a popped knee and an injured right foot (tendinitis, I later found out), the only thing keeping me going was my will to get to that finish line. Looking at some of the pictures taken during that stretch, I barely even recognized (and certainly didn’t want to, when I did) the grimacing, scowling, sweaty mess of a runner pictured, spit flying from his mouth as he shambled along without stopping. My dad thankfully was able to drive down to the finish line and meet me a quarter of a mile out, egging me on the whole last stretch while serving as my own personal paparazzi. As soon as I threw my hands up in the most elated sense of accomplishment I’ve ever known after crossing that finish line, I collapsed onto his shoulder, literally unable to support myself on my own two feet. My body’s never known that amount of pain or stress before, and while I’m not looking to get back to it any time soon, it’s still pretty impressive knowing the human body can endure through that kind of trauma.

There’s quite a lot of pain happening during this picture

Then, it all went south.

My dad actually had the sense
to snap a picture of the immediate
aftermath. It’s tough even looking at it.

I had been across the finish for about two or three minutes, and had only been able to stumble forward about 20 to 30 yards down the chute towards the medals and those silver cape wraps, when a deafening BOOM shattered the atmosphere. In my altered state, I actually thought cannon blasts were being fired to commemorate my finish, and was about to say “Aww shucks dad, you shouldn’t have,” before I turned around just in time to catch the second blast further on down the street. The general reaction, and it’s the absolute truth, was: One’s an accident, two’s something bad. Completely and utterly exhausted as I was, I of course was registering the events occurring around me, but failed to fully comprehend them. The feeling I can remember now was something along the lines of, “K. That just happened. That seems like something bad. I should probably be moving out of this area. If my legs can do it…” My dad, thank God, still had his full bearings about him, and draping my arm around his shoulder, practically dragged his son down the chute.

From there, we escaped to the family car as fast as my numbed legs would carry me; and as soon as we had my mom and sister safely in hand, we drove out of the city as quickly as we could. Sirens could be heard down all the streets headed towards the direction of the finish area. We were actually only just able to make it out in time, before the city was totally closed off to all traffic. I didn’t begin to recuperate until we finally reached home, and I was sitting under the hot water in the shower. THAT’S when what had happened finally started to sink in. THAT was when the “Wow… That actually just happened” moment took place. It’s a scary, scary feeling, let me tell you. The close-call stories started coming in then from friends and family around the finish, who, by nothing else than the will of God, had been lucky enough to escape all injury. There were some guardian angels working overtime that day, no question.

More importantly, there were angels on the ground as well. Mere seconds after the blast, as shown in the endless newsreels shown in the aftermath, marathon volunteers, Boston police, first responders, and good Samaritan runners and spectators made a bee-line to the blast site, totally heedless of their own personal well-being, to give much-needed aid to the victims. A friend of mine, fellow E-Streeter and Lowell cop Nick Laganas, had actually just crossed the finish line, and after running the 26.2 mile distance, turned around and ran another 200 yards in the opposite direction to help out the wounded. Nick, you’re a hero in every possible sense of the word, my friend. Reports came in later of runners who ran right on through the finish area for another two miles straight to Mass. General to give blood to the victims. Dozens of websites, created by Bostonians and residents of the surrounding suburbs, went up within hours offering up free housing, food and showers to all stranded runners. These are the kinds of stories that keep my faith in the human race, even after all the tragedies. The single act of one coward is what’s been making the headlines, but it’s the countless acts of an entire city that made the day.

“I’M COMING FOR YOU!”

Will I be doing Boston next year? Give my battered and bruised legs a few days to compose themselves before asking me that question. Will I be doing Boston again in the future? I’ve never been more sure of anything. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I can not recommend it enough to anyone sitting on the fence. Each and every single person involved in the running of this will go down in the history books as a champion. Nick, Barry, Tommy, Joe Patuto – we were part of history, guys. Regardless of how or when we finished, this is with us now for the rest of our lives, something we can keep our heads up and talk about for years to come. More importantly, we’ll all be out there again. The B.A.A. has already announced next year’s 118th running will take place, and record registrations have already been charted. The coward responsible for this heinous act underestimated the human spirit, but what’s worse for him/her, he/she underestimated the city of Boston and its people. We’re known to be tough for a reason, and Monday afternoon and the days following have only confirmed that reputation. We’ll be back to run it again, because we are not afraid. We run marathons – put our bodies through the exertion involved in running that distance – for leisure. We’re from Boston. Brother, you don’t stand a chance.

“Boston, you’re my home.”

Andrew Cook
Lowell, Massachusetts

Andrew Cook (Class of ’15) posted these entries on his Student Blog on the College of the Holy Cross website on April 8th and 18th, 2013. Our thanks for his sharing his account with BOSTONlog.com.

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