In the right place at the right time: How a race I had given up on became a reality

Running in the Boston Marathon for me was supposed to be a one and done deal: A bucket list item, a goal I set to celebrate turning 50 last year. Boston for long distance runners is the “Super Bowl” of marathons. You have to have a qualifying time on a certified marathon course to gain entry, or raise a lot of money for a charity. I got my qualifier “BQ” for the 2013 Boston Marathon in May of 2012 at the Ojai to Ocean Marathon with a time of 3:29:38 which was a BQ by only :22. Everyone who wanted to run the 2013 Boston Marathon and had a qualifying time was able to register and get accepted within the first few weeks of registration.

Four weeks before Boston last year I ran the 2013 LA Marathon and I got another BQ I could use for the 2014 Boston Marathon. My time was the exact same – 3:29:38. I hadn’t really considered running Boston a second time, as I was focused on my upcoming trip and my first Boston.

My story from last year is here on

I had such an amazing experience before the race, everything was so well organized, from the race staff to the volunteers to the friendly people, I was then thinking how I wanted to come back again. I enjoyed the race, the amazing crowds cheering us on. It was a perfect weekend when I crossed the finish line and I was just past the end of the finishers chute when the unthinkable happened. So yes, I finished, Yes, I was out of harm’s way. No, I didn’t see anything and no I didn’t hear anything. It didn’t affect me like it did to those who were still at the finish line. I wasn’t injured and I didn’t know anyone who was. But the bombing affected me just the same. The running community is a pretty resilient group and we all came together across the country and across the world to run for Boston. Everyone I met and knew who ran last year wanted to come back and run this year: To run for those who couldn’t and for the victims and the 5,700 runners were unable to cross the finish line when the race came to a sudden halt.

The Boston Athletic Association quickly announced they would be able to come back via Guaranteed Entry. Soon after, the BAA also announced that for 2014 an additional 4th wave of 9,000 runners would be added for a total of 36,000 runners. Of that 9,000, 5,000 who didn’t get to finish were coming back. They also announced Invitational Entries would be given to those affected by last year’s events, the families of those injured and lost, the first responders, sponsors, charities, etc. When all was said and done only about 500 of those additional 9,000 spots were going to qualified runners.

When it came time to register in mid-September 2013, I signed up on Monday of the second week and then waited a week. Everyone knew the demand was going to exceed the available slots and the fastest runners would get in until it filled up. I didn’t make it in. The cut off for my age group was 3:28:22, which meant I was 1:16 too slow to get in. In October, I entered the PowerBar contest. PowerBar was a sponsor that was giving away four bibs to BQ runnerswho didn’t get in. You had to write an essay and get your friends and family to vote for you. The top ten vote getters went on to the finals and the final four were chosen by a panel of judges. I didn’t make it into the finals. A few weeks later, the BAA announced they had limited Invitational Entries for those most profoundly affected and you had to write an essay and they would decide who got those. I entered anyway even though I knew there were many more people much more affected than I was. So as expected I wasn’t chosen. By this time I was coming to terms with the fact I wouldn’t be going back to Boston in 2014. I’d have to watch and root for my friends all around the country, from home.

I turned my focus to other races to try to get a BQ for 2015. I ran Santa Clarita in November and CIM in December, but was sick the week of CIM and didn’t have a great race. Just before CIM I got an offer from a running friend. It was for a bib for the Run Disney Goofy Challenge, which is a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday, at Walt Disney World in Orlando in January 2014. Having run the Disneyland Half Marathon for three years running, it was on my racing bucket list too. The price was too good to pass up so I said OK. It would be “my” Boston for 2014. So here I was doing three marathons in 90 days again like I had earlier in the year when I ran LA in March, Boston in April and Mountains to Beach in May. Sometimes it pays to be at the right place at the right time. It was at the Expo in Orlando in January that I met and became friends with some very special people. It was because of this chance encounter that in late February a couple weeks before the 2014 LA Marathon, I was offered an Invitational Entry into Boston. Something I had given up on just became a reality. I also couldn’t turn down the opportunity presented to me. Just to be very clear, I didn’t ask for or beg for it, it was offered to me. I lost my Mom to cancer in June 2013 and she knew how much I wanted to return. Maybe it was her looking after me as the date of the Boston Marathon was April 21st, which was also her birthday!

First up was the LA Marathon on March 9th and on March 12th it became official, my entry into the Boston Marathon was confirmed. I quickly then made all the travel arrangements. Some things I wanted do to the same and other things different. I gave myself an extra day as I wanted to do the Marathon Bus tour on Sunday this time and see the starting line area in Hopkinton. You don’t really get a chance to do that on Marathon Monday because it’s so crowded. I wanted to go to the Red Sox game again, but had to go on Saturday because the Sunday game was at night and it would end too late to prepare and get a good night’s sleep (yeh, right) the night before the marathon. The Hostel I stayed at last year was already sold out so I found another one and booked it. So I was all set to arrive on Friday and leave on Tuesday afternoon.

3.5 weeks before Boston and I’m in the boot!

On March 23rd during a Sunday training run, I was running in pain in my left foot and instead of stopping I kept running. The pain got so bad that when I stopped, I found I couldn’t put any weight on my foot. I went to the doctor and the x-rays were negative, but the MRI showed I had a stress fracture in the heal bone on my left foot. The doctor was very clear if it was a stress fracture, it would take 6-8 weeks to heal and there are no shortcuts, so into a boot I’d go. But I didn’t have 6-8 weeks, I only had four weeks till Boston. So I stayed off of it. The Wednesday afternoon before I left and after 3.5 weeks in the boot I wanted to run down my street and back in my running shoes to see how it would feel because I was leaving in two days. I started out OK, but it didn’t feel right on the way back. I started to get concerned. My goal at this time was to make it to the starting line and to cross the finish line. So on Thursday afternoon I went to Runners Lane, my local running store, and tried on Hoka’s. Hoka’s have a thicker sole and cushioning to help the impact on the foot. I tried them by running up and down the sidewalk in front of the store and could tell immediately they made a huge difference. The problem was I was going to have to wear them all the time between Friday and race day on Monday to try and break them in a little bit.

Andrew and Deena Kastor 

Gio my friend from Runner’s Lane was going to Boston to run the 5K, work at the expo and watch the marathon; and he asked what flight I was on. We were on different AA flights but mine was direct and would allow him to get there hours earlier so he switched to mine. I had an empty seat next to me so we got him that seat. It was nice to have someone to travel with. When we got to the gate to sit and wait for our flight, sitting across from us was Elite Runner Deena Kaster and her husband and coach Andrew Kaster. I met them at the Pasadena RnR half marathon last year, so we went and said hello.

Once we arrived on Friday afternoon and got our bags we parted ways as we were staying in different parts of town.  I headed to North Station which was next to the TD Garden, where the Celtics and Bruins play. I walked a couple blocks to the Hostel on Friend Street.

Gio and I arrive in Boston.

I checked in and wanted to test out my foot, so I jogged slowly heading to the expo before it closed to get my bib number and some marathon gear. My foot felt good. Along the way I soaked it all in. First I headed to the State House Government building and entered Boston Common across the street, where they were setting up and preparing for Saturday’s 5K. Normally it’s on Sunday the day before the marathon, but this year Sunday was Easter so they moved the 5K to Saturday. From there I headed past the Public Garden to the corner of Arlington Street and Boylston Street. It was here last year the day after the marathon that I took my last pictures on Boylston looking towards Copley Square and the finish line, where a memorial was being started with flowers at the barrier blocking the street. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little bit emotional being there again, but it was good to see Boylston St. full of life again!

Seeing Boylston St. for the 1st time since last year.

I stopped at Marathon Sports and Forum Restaurant where there were memorials marking the sites of the two explosions, I paused for some reflection of a year ago. This was an emotional moment for me.

Site of the 1st explosion.
Site of the 2nd explosion.

Then it was on to the Health and Fitness Expo to get my bib and some 2014 gear.

Meeting Dick Hoyt.

I got my foot taped up at the KT Tape booth and then saw and got a picture with Dick Hoyt who was running his last Boston Marathon with his son Rick. If you don’t know Dick and Rick’s story you should read up on them. Such an inspirational story! More about them later. I also saw Team MR8 walking together at the expo. In the group was Bill Richard, father of Martin Richard, the eight year old boy who was killed in the second explosion in front of Forum Restaurant. The Richard family was impacted the most. Bill had shrapnel in his leg and had blown ear drums. His wife Denise is blind in one eye from shrapnel and Martin’s sister Jane lost a leg. His brother Henry escaped injury, at least physically.

From there it was time to meet up with some running friends at McGreevy’s Sports Bar before we headed over to 5 Napkin Burger for dinner, where I took off my Boston 2013 hat and jacket and put on my new 2014 hat and sweatshirt. It was kinda like a moving on moment, I guess.

Meeting up with the gang at McGreevy’s.
Tim and I with our new gear on.
(This dude is “Cheetah Fast”!)

Saturday was a fun packed day. I walked to the BAA 5K at Boston Common to see some of my friends run in it. I got a great spot next to the starting line and then was able to move across the street to the finish line and saw my friends finish.

Gio after he finished the 5K

After the 5K, I got to meet Heather for the first time. I met her last year via facebook and have chatted occasionally about running and Boston. It was cool to finally meet her! We were both headed to the expo so we walked together and stopped at the Old South Church near the Boston Marathon Finish Line, as they were handing out scarves to the runners. It was called the Marathon Scarf Project 2014. 7,000 scarves were knitted by people all over the world in Boston Marathon colors. They each have a note attached to them. Mine says “This scarf is interwoven with love and courage.” and is signed by the person who made it, with he hometown listed. They were being handed out by volunteers who took time to learn about each runner receiving the scarf and telling us each the scarf was made with love for us and to wear it with pride and to carrying that love with us. After we got our scarfs. She offered to swap with me as blue is my favorite color and I liked the ribbon on it.

Next we stopped at Marathon Sports and checked out and bought some more gear. There I met Shane the store manager who was one of the first responders last year.

I had some time to kill before the Red Sox game, so we walked to the expo and waited in line to see Elite runners Kara Goucher and Lauren Fleshman and I got a selfie with them…probably one of my favorite pictures of the weekend. They were both so cool!

With Lauren Fleshman and Kara Goucher.
Next to the Green Monster!

I said goodbye to Heather and headed over to Fenway Park for the Red Sox game. Tim and Joe and I were going to walk to Fenway but they wanted to wait in line to meet Ryan Hall. I met Ryan last year and it was camera day on the field and I didn’t want to miss out. It was pretty cool to be on the field at Fenway and walk around the warning track.

I got some great pictures before heading back to my seat. The cool breeze was blocked inside Fenway and it got pretty warm out there in the bleachers. Just as the game was about to start, I looked behind me and there were Tim and Joe. It was a great game and the crowd was fun. I got to see David Ortiz, Big Papi, hit a home run and the Red Sox beat the Orioles 4-2.

Selfie with Red Sox Manager John Farrell. 

Tim, Joe and I walked back to their hotel for a few and then back to Boylston Street and the finish line area, where it was closed to traffic and opened up to visitors on foot. Here we got our first pictures at the finish line.

Then it was off to dinner at Whiskey’s Steakhouse to meet up with some other running friends. Julie Weiss the “Marathon Goddess” joined us. Julie was a featured runner in the movie Spirit of the Marathon II and completed 52 marathons in 52 weeks in 2013.

Tim, Julie Weiss and I at Whiskey’s Steakhouse

Sunday morning I met Tim and Joe in front of Cheer’s for a three mile run along the Charles River, then we ran the “right on Hereford left on Boylston” and saw Bart Yasso of Runner’s World Magazine running with his group, then we finished at the finish line for more pictures.

I left Tim and Joe, and ran back to the Hostel to shower and change before heading back to meet up for the Marathon Route Bus tour. This was something I wanted to do last year, but there was no time in my schedule, so I added a day to my trip for this. On the way back to meet them, I noticed how quiet Boston was except for runners in the streets and the Boston Common. I looked up and saw Deena Kaster running by on the Boston Common and she said “hi” as she ran by. As I entered the Public Garden, I remembered it was Easter Sunday and saw the bronze ducks with their Easter Bonnets and Marathon bibs on.

I headed over to the Sheraton to meet up with Joe and Tim for the Marathon Route Bus tour but they were on a bus that left early so I missed them, but I found Heather and her husband and son and sat with them. On the way to Hopkinton and a stop at the Starting Line there was a Boston Marathon Trivia contest and I won a cool Boston Marathon Backpack. We got out at Hopkinton for some great pictures! Then we drove the route to get a preview of the course while the tour guide gave us information and history of the course. It was a pretty drive through Hopkinton, Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline and Boston.

With Jeff Bauman

Once the tour was over, I said goodbye to Heather and her family and met up with Joe so we could walk back to Fenway and the Red Sox team store to meet Jeff Bauman at his book signing.

I had just finished Jeff’s book the week before I left. Jeff lost both of his legs at the first explosion in front of Marathon Sports while waiting for his girlfriend Erin to finish the marathon. Jeff arrived to the area at 2:00 pm last year and I crossed the finish line at 2:01, so it was reading his journey from the moment I crossed the finish line. Jeff was helped by the guy in the cowboy hat, Carlos Arredondo in the famous picture shown all over the world. Joe bought his book and got it signed and we both got pictures and chatted with Jeff.

We left Fenway and walked back towards the Expo as I wanted to walk through it one more time and Joe went back to the hotel. We would meet up in an hour to walk to the Pasta Dinner at City Hall. I met up with Julie at the expo so she could sign my Spirit of the Marathon II DVD. I saw Dick Hoyt again this time with his son Rick. I also said hi to Jeff Galloway.

Rick and Dick Hoyt.
 Selfie with Jeff Galloway.

Joe and I got to City Hall and waited in the long line that wrapped around the building outside. The line went fast and the food and atmosphere was great as there was excitement in the air and the volunteers were having fun and making sure we were too!

City Hall all decorated for the pasta dinner.

Some of my friends from my running club back home, the Santa Clarita Runners Club, were having their pre-race dinner at Pagliuca’s Ristorante Italiano nearby in the North End. So after I finished up at City Hall, I walked over to say hi as they were just finishing up. Outside we took a few pictures, and a few of us took a selfie! From there it was time to go back to the Hostel a few blocks away to get ready for Marathon Monday!

Marathon Monday!

I got up early and walked over to Boston Common for gear check and waited for my wave’s time to board the bus to Hopkington. I met up with Heather and we got on the bus and we were on our way. It was nice to have someone to chat with to make the nervousness go away and time pass quicker. It was a nice clear day and cool but warm on the bus. Since we had to check bags back in Boston, anything you brought to wear to keep warm could be discarded for charity. During the time at the Athletes’ Village the weather started to warm up a little and would be nice for the start. I wandered around and saw a few people I knew and said hi.

Heather had gone to meet up with some friends on their heated bus, but we met up again to walk to the start since our starting times were about the same as she was in Corral 7 and I was in Corral 8 of the second wave. When they finally let us go, we got excited as we took the long walk to the corrals. Heather had one of those small external batteries to charge her iPhone and cable. She was going to discard both, but I offered to put her cable in my spibelt so she wouldn’t have to lose her expensive cable. We said goodbye as we got to the corrals.

The long walk from the Athlete’s Village to the corrals
Looking towards the starting line as I enter the corral.

Last year the corrals were tight and we all were squeezed pretty tight. The road in Hopkinton is just a two lane road so it’s not very wide. This year it felt so different as once in the corral there was no waiting and we continued walking to the starting line. It seemed so light of people. I started to jog but just before the starting line, I remembered I needed to get my GPS ready so I stopped to the right side. What was weird and so different from last year was I felt like I was almost by myself at the line. It wasn’t elbow to elbow being careful not to step on any other runners. I actually got to see and enjoy the excitement of the spectators all lined up at the starting line. Once my watch was ready I took off across the line. I couldn’t get over the feeling of all the elbow room, it seriously felt so different than last year!

Runners taking off at the start in Hopkinton. [Not a Selfie]

As I took off, my foot felt pretty good and I was at a pretty good pace…until mile 3 where it started to get to the point I could feel it. It wasn’t sore or painful, but it was there to remind me to take it easy. I started out fast for the initial downhill. My first three miles were 7:08, 8:33, 8:27 before I started to slow down a little bit.

My 1st half was still a respectable 2:10:47 but I had slowed down considerably to a 9:58 average pace. The crowds were unbelievable and several rows deep in most of the town centers. When I got to Natik Town Common at mile 10, I felt like I was still alone out there. There was a guy on stage singing Sweet Caroline. As I got closer to the crowd I waved both arms up in the air to encourage the crowd and they started cheering loud and I started singing along with the guy and pumping my fists in the air to “BUM, BUM, BUM…SO GOOD SO GOOD”.

Sweet Caroline in Natick

I was starting to slow down a bit. I think four weeks off had hurt my endurance a bit, but I was starting to feel a bit sore. As we approached mile 12 we hit the scream tunnel of the Wellesley Girls at Wellesley College. This is where the all girls college students scream and hold up “kiss me” signs. Last year I just gave a few high fives as I ran by as I was running for time. This year I enjoyed the moment and stopped for a few kisses and gave high fives. Once I passed the half way point in Wellesley I needed to stop running and walk a little bit. I moved over to the right side of the street and alternated running and walking. I’d get going again till the next water station and walk through the water station taking in water and Gatorade. It started to feel hot and every once in a while I’d pour a cup of water over my head to cool off. I’d run until I felt sore and then walking felt better, then when that felt sore I’d run again because that felt better. I did this throughout the Newton Hills. During a period of walking I noticed in the peripheral vision of my left eye a bike tire and a looked over and there was Rick Hoyt being pushed by his father Dick Hoyt. I walked along with them for a few minutes and gave Dick a pat on the shoulder and they slowed down as I kept going. That was a pretty cool moment as this was their last Boston Marathon together. Along the way the crowds were getting larger and louder. I just soaked it all in and gave as many high fives to kids, adults and even the cops along the route…all the way into Boston! I saw someone holding a sign that said Meb won the marathon! How awesome and perfect that Meb was the first American to win the Boston Marathon since 1983, 31 years! Meb wins the Boston Marathon!!!

The Finish Line before I got there…

As I was climbing the hills the waves behind me began to catch up, first the blue bibs of wave 3, then the yellow bibs of wave 4. My pace had dropped to a low of 15:02 for mile 15.

I picked it up a bit and continued on through Heartbreak Hill past mile 20. As we headed past Brookline and the long stretch into Boston I tried to walk less and run more. Once I got to the Citgo sign on the left and Fenway Park on the right I was at mile 25.2…one mile to go.

No more walking, this was the home stretch. I pushed it as hard as I could along Commonwealth Avenue and under the bridge at Massachusetts Avenue with the 1K to go banner, I knew the final two turns were just ahead. After checking my watch I calculated in my head that if I pushed it a little harder, maybe I could beat 5:00:00. 1K to go on Commonwealth Avenue under the Massachusetts Ave bridge.

I gave it all I had, using the screaming crowd for the last burst of energy. It was loud and amazing and it all went by too fast as I made the right on Hereford and the left onto Boylston and the finish line in sight!

Right on Hereford!
Left on Boylston….a sprint to the finish!

I just sprinted on in trying to beat 5:00:00, soaking in all the excitement at the finish line. I finished in 5:00:12.

Crossing the finish line!

I made it through the finishers chute and collected my medal and mylar blanket and food and drinks. My foot was starting to bother me and medical volunteers asked a couple times if I was OK before I went ahead and asked for a wheel chair so I could be brought over to the medical tent to ice my foot and get it wrapped.

After I left the Medical Tent, I slowly made my way back to Boston Common to pick up my checked bag. I put on my sweats and met up with Heather and her family as they were eating at a restaurant nearby. I wanted to get her cable back to her. I was going to go back and shower and change but they asked me to sit down and eat with them, so I did.

With Heather after we ate. Both exhausted!

I made it back to the Hostel to shower and change and rest for a few before heading back to Fenway and the House of Blues for the after party. I was too late for the Fenway Open House and was at the House of Blues around 9:00 pm and there wasn’t a whole lot going on and didn’t see anybody I knew, so I took the shuttle bus back near the finish line area and met up with Julie Weiss who joined me to watch Boston Marathon Race Director Dave McGillivray finish his race. He was running his 42nd consecutive Boston Marathon. Since becoming Race Director he has started after everyone else has finished. Last year as he was in Hopkinton ready to start his race, he got word about the explosions and rushed back to Boston. He ran his race eleven days later. This year he was running for Team R8 in honor of Martin Richard and began around 7:00 pm and was expected to finish just after 11:00 pm. So we got to see him finish and I got a couple pictures for him and got a picture with him. We chatted for a few minutes and then I headed back to the hostel.

Julie and I at the finish line with our medals.
Dave McGillivray finishes his race! #42 Boston Marathon!
Dave and I at the finish line.

My flight out on Tuesday wasn’t until late afternoon so I wanted to do a few more things. First up was a visit to the Boston Marathon Marker in Copley Square. It’s a stone marker in the sidewalk that has a profile of the course and the names of the winners of the Boston Marathon.

Then across the street to the Boston Public Library to see the Boston Marathon Memorial Exhibit. The exhibit had items left at the makeshift memorial from last year. It was a little bit emotional for me as I walked through it. I met up with Gio and walked through it with him as well.

Gio left to Quincy Market to eat lunch and go to Mike’s Pastry and I told him I’d catch up with him as I walked across the street to Marathon Sports where outside they were engraving runners’ finisher medals for free.

I headed over to Quincy Market and had lunch while waiting for Gio to meet me. We walked around a little bit and walked into Cheer’s where I saw my facebook friend Jill for the first time. We ran in the same corral and finished seconds apart last year but I never saw her except for the race photos. She recognized me and said hello and we got a picture.

Gio and I still had some time to kill before heading to the airport so we wandered around a little bit more and saw the site of the Boston Massacre and the Paul Revere House. Then I got my bag from the hostel and we took the train back to the airport for my flight home.

It was such an amazing trip and amazing weekend spent with some amazing friends! I thought it would be more emotional for me than it was. I think that was because I was always enjoying myself not alone but with fellow runners and friends. I did have some emotional moments when I was alone seeing things that reminded me of the sadness of last year, but those moments were few and the weekend was full of new happy memories of 2014.

I got the closure I was hoping for and I won’t be back next year, but hope to return to enjoy another Boston Marathon weekend sometime in the future, although it may have to wait until I jump into another age group.

Thank you BOSTON! #BostonStrong #WeRunTogether Thank you Boston!

Dennis Lebman
Saugus, California
April 21, 2014
Age – 51
Bib # 16111