March 25, 2013. I had no idea at the time my life would forever be changed on this date. It’s the beginning and I guess I’ll start there. All four of my children were in school and my husband Jeramiah was still at work. I was shopping at our local Target store when my phone rang. Jeramiah was on the other end. He asked if I remembered a contest he had entered. I vaguely recalled seeing something on Facebook about how he had entered a contest to win an entry to the Boston Marathon. I think I may even have given a passing thought to entering myself.
Anyway, my husband was calling to tell me he had won the entry to the Boston Marathon, the one only three weeks from that day. I should probably pause here to say I wanted to run the Boston Marathon. Most runners do. I was even considering finally taking the time to train so I could qualify to go. Now, here Jeramiah was telling me he had an entry to go.
I was envious. He was going to get to run Boston and I would have to sit and watch, or worse yet, stay home with the kids. Secretly, I hoped he would give me his entry. After all, I had been running for years longer than he had, and I was closer to qualifying for Boston than he was. After talking with him, I realized he wasn’t going to give me that entry. We kicked around some ideas for how in the world we could throw a trip to Boston together so quickly, but never settled on anything before our conversation was over.
For those of you who are already siding with me in thinking my husband should give me his entry, here’s what I didn’t know. He tweeted the group which gave him his entry and explained how much I wanted to run the race too. They told him they had an extra entry they would sell me and, tada!, I had an entry, too.
We immediately went to work finding accommodations and flights to Boston. We were too close to the actual race to find anything in town we could afford, so we ended up in Lexington. It was a little frustrating to be so far outside of the city, but Lexington is rich with history and I love history. We caught a red-eye flight to Boston and arrived early Friday morning. We went straight to the expo at the Prudential Center. WOW! There were so many people and so much to see. We were excited about everything, from finding out Dean Karnazes and Team Hoyt were going to be there, to the athlete passports, and everything in between. Jeramiah did his research prior to arriving in Boston. The Boston Marathon jacket put out by Addidas is the sought after thing every year. Apparently, if you’ve run Boston before, you come in your previous jacket and leave in your new one. Jeramiah knew that was the souvenir he wanted and it was the first thing we purchased. I debated for several days before deciding I too wanted the jacket.
We spent the days preceding the marathon being tourists. My sister and her family had lived in Boston for a time, so she told us the things we needed to see and do. We really had a wonderful time and enjoyed how the city welcomed every athlete as one of their own and wished us well. We spent the day before the marathon in Lexington enjoying the Patriot Day festivities and drinking in Lexinton’s rich history of the American Revolution’s beginning.
Monday morning, we got up around 6:00. We had decided to drive to the station and ride the train into the city, rather than try to find parking in Boston. Our starting time was scheduled for just before noon, so we brought breakfast with us, instead of eating before we left. It was so cold when we got off the train and waited for the bus! When we left home, temperatures were in the 70s. That morning it was probably in the high 30s. I remember watching the weather forecast for the marathon and people saying the weather was going to be great for the race. I thought they were crazy and wished it was 20 degrees warmer.
The bus ride to Hopkinton lasted forever. They drive you around so they can keep the course closed to traffic. We got off at the high school and there were so many people. We stood around waiting for our turn to head to the starting line. One last trip to the port-a-johns and we were finally ready. We waved at every camera, smiling and happy to be running one of the most prestigious races in the world.
Initially, we were frustrated. We had been corralled with sponsors and charities so we were pacing faster than most of the people we were running with, but soon settled into a steady pace and just enjoyed the crowds, the athletes and the variety of shirts.
We had so many people at home supporting us, many of them digitally following us. We were having a great run and then we hit mile 15. Jeramiah is a great runner and he is really strong, but, like most runners, once he gets about 15 miles in, the miles start to wear on him. I’m different. My endurance legs kick in and I feel like I can go forever. At mile 15, I was ready to really start running, and Jeramiah started to feel sick. That rarely happens. When he started to drag, for about three seconds I considered leaving him and running my own race. But we came to Boston together and we were going to finish together.
I started to encourage and ask questions to gauge how bad things were. We stopped at a port-a-john and headed out again. We’d run the hills as best as he could and then we’d walk. Again, I’d encourage and ask more questions. At about mile 23, I remember being a little disappointed at the crowds in Boston. The Red Sox game was over and most of the spectators were fans from the game and most of them were a little drunk. We continued and I could tell Jeramiah wasn’t feeling well. I encouraged him to eat anything we could get our hands on, thinking he was probably hungry and needed food. Mile 24. Mile 25. We were so close. 1.2 miles to go.
Maybe two minutes after mile 25 we heard sirens. I called over my shoulder to Jeramiah that I wasn’t dead yet and they couldn’t have me. We ran maybe another 30 to 60 seconds when we hit a wall of people.
I remember thinking there was no way the finish line could be backed up this far. This was Boston. Surely they would be better organized than to have that happen. We stopped and I pulled my phone out to call my brother. I was sure he’d know what was going on. I couldn’t get through. Jeramiah pulled his phone out and searched the internet. We were standing close and talking quietly, but everyone was so close because there were so many people. Jeramiah told me there were bombs at the finish line. Surely I hadn’t heard him correctly. Bombs? Everyone around us heard that and people started crying. I tried my phone again. I still couldn’t make a call. More emergency vehicles passed us. Jeramiah pulled his phone out again and read that some reporter had tweeted that body parts were visible at the finish line. I was shocked. How could this happen? Why would this happen?
Somehow we were able to contact our family at home and let them know we were okay. Our children had gotten out of school early that day and my sister-in-law said she’d let them watch the marathon. For a few minutes I was afraid they had been watching and didn’t know we were okay. Fortunately, we told them about the bombing, so they learned we were okay at the same time they learned about the bombing. We wouldn’t have service and then we’d get a whole bunch of texts and voice mails. At one point I told Jeramiah to post on Facebook that we were okay so we wouldn’t hold up the line for people who were still looking for their loved ones.
We stood there for so long. The race had started cold but in the middle it had warmed up considerably. The breeze coming off the ocean was cool though, as we got into Boston city, and now that we were just standing around, people were starting to get cold. I remember thinking if they didn’t move us soon, we would have emergencies there. The people who lived in the housing around the course were amazing. They came out with pitchers of water and paper cups and offered drinks to the athletes. Others came out and offered clothes. They offered what they had and I was touched by the humanity in such a dark time.
Finally, someone came and told us we had to walk somewhere. I don’t remember where. Someone asked about whether we’d be able to get out drop bags. We were told some would, others not. It depended on which bus they were on. We walked for probably a mile or so. Someone was handing out mylar blankets. I was so grateful. Someone else was handing out the finish line goodie bags. We were so hungry and those bags had food.
Jeramiah and I were able to pick up our drop bags. We asked someone if the trains were still running and we were told yes, so we headed back to Boston Common to get on a train. When we got there, a transit cop told us that station was closed and we’d have to go to Boston General to get on the train. We didn’t know Boston well and were so tired, it must have shown. I could tell he felt badly to tell us we couldn’t get on there. We walked for what seemed like forever and finally found an open station. I was fumbling in my bag for my train ticket and a gentleman behind me told me he’d get it for me. The trains were so full of people we had to stand but I was grateful to be headed out of the city.
Somewhere between where we got on and where we were supposed to get off, in between stations, the train stopped. I just about lost it. We were only stopped for a few minutes, but I had already had all I could take for one day. When we finally got to our car and were on the road to Lexington, I finally started to breathe.
We got back to our hotel and opted for dinner in the hotel bar. We ate about 8:00 that night. We turned the television on and it was everywhere, the same footage over and over again. After a while, with tears streaming down my face, I told Jeramiah to turn it off and we went to sleep. Our flight out of Boston was early and we could not have been happier about that. We got to the airport and were shocked by all the extra security. They were stopping and asking everyone about pictures and video they might have taken. They didn’t stop us. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because we had our Boston jackets on. We boarded the plane and both people sitting on either side of me were involved in the marathon. We chatted a little. After a while we settled into our own things.
The lady next to me was reading the Boston Globe. I stole a glance and read the headline. I remember wishing we had taken the time to buy a newspaper. We landed a while later and caught our connecting flight. We slept. Our last connection was only a short 45 minute flight back into St. George and we had to run to catch it. Somehow the flight attendant knew who we were and welcomed us and said she was glad we were okay. My dad and sister-in-law picked us up at the airport. My dad told me my mom said I was grounded. It is probably the only time in my life I was happy to be grounded.
When our kids got home from school, we were greeted with grateful hugs. I missed them so much. As the day wore on and more and more time was put between us and the marathon, I started to feel heavy. Our son had a scout pack meeting the night we got home. Our neighbors greeted us and asked us about our trip and the marathon. It was starting to get hard to talk about. I just wanted to be home. The next morning I got up as usual, and went to the gym. I was in a fitness class and had my Boston jacket on. A lady asked me if I had been there, and I told her yes. She wanted to talk about it. I didn’t. I didn’t want to be rude but I was beginning to realize, although I had already said I was so many times, I was not okay. Acknowledging I wasn’t okay was a turning point for me, and I really did start to get better from there.
Occasionally something would happen and a new wave of emotion would hit me. Things like the day Jeramiah was on Facebook looking at posts from the marathon. His aunt had been tracking us and posted our projected finish time from our halfway time. It was projected for when the bombs went off. Gratitude. That was the emotion that just overwhelmed me. Gratitude Jeramiah wasn’t feeling well and we had to slow down and walk. Gratitude we even had to stop a few times.
About two weeks after the marathon, Jeramiah and I were out on a weekend run. It was the morning of the St. George Ironman. We ran passed the bleachers set up at the finish line, and I had a deja vu moment. The scene was too familiar and reminded me of Boston and I panicked. Even though we never got to the finish line on race day, it still had an effect on me.
Runner’s World released its July issue and the whole thing was devoted to the Boston Marathon. I read every word of that issue and realized I was still recovering. It had been weeks since Boston and I really hadn’t thought too much about it, yet here I was reading people’s stories. Stories like mine. Feelings like mine. It was too close for comfort.
I heard the song “Carry On” by Fun no more than two weeks before the marathon. It was new enough that I didn’t know the words yet, just the premise and the “Carry On” part. While we were running the marathon, every time we’d hit a hill, I’d sing that part in my head. Even though they are mostly just rolling hills, I sang that song a lot. “Carry On” became my mantra. I’m a fitness instructor and I teach Spinning and that became my go-to hill song. Running hills outside it was still my hill song. I learned it. I breathed it. I lived it.
Sometime during the summer of 2013, the Boston Athletic Association decided if you were beyond a certain point in the marathon by the time the bombs went off, you would have an automatic entry into the 2014 marathon. We signed up in August and started making plans.
Our local university does a film festival every fall. Someone put together a documentary of the Boston marathon and entered it. They talked with local runners about the marathon and with people who were going back to run in 2014. They interviewed people along the Wasatch Front that had been there in 2013. To my knowledge, no one who was actually there in 2013 from St. George was actually interviewed about their experience in Boston. I had several people ask me if we were in it though. Interestingly, Jeramiah worked for a local radio station for a while years ago. When they found out he was in Boston, they asked to interview him. He was quoted on the front page of our local newspaper. We wouldn’t have been hard to find. But no one ever asked.
In mid-October I realized I had tendonitis in my foot. I decided to take a break from running. I didn’t heal. In December I had my foot x-rayed to rule out a stress fracture and by late December I opted for a cortisone shot so that I could run again. I didn’t work and even with continued time off my feet, I still didn’t heal. I started physical therapy and it worked a little. I was cleared to run a little, no more than six miles, but spend most of my time on the elliptical training for Boston. The marathon was staring me in the face and I was scared I wouldn’t be ready. Spending hours on an elliptical and then running six miles is less than optimal training.
As the race approached, it became obvious my training wasn’t my biggest problem.
I had literally spent months thinking I was okay. I knew it was going to be hard to go back to Boston, but I had no idea how difficult it would be until it was nearly time to leave. I was broken. I was a wreck. I would be at home doing nothing and break into tears. Booking our flights left me with anxiety. I was not okay. Then a few days before we were scheduled to leave, police found an unattended bag on a street near the finish line in Boston and I nearly decided not to go. I knew the only way to heal was to go back to Boston and finish, but I wasn’t sure I could do it without breaking down and being hysterical. I sought some help and drew strength from my faith.
I did board the plane, willingly and without medication. We did go back and it was hard. I’m so very grateful for the memorial in the Boston library and the healing I felt there. I’m grateful for the time and love that went into the scarves people all over the world made to give to the athletes running Boston in 2014. I drew much strength from that love and support. I’m grateful for my family and friends, my children and my rock, Jeramiah.
A few days before the marathon, Jeramiah and I walked back along the course. We stopped where we got stopped. In my mind I knew we were almost at the finish line, but to actually see how close we were was hard. I’m so glad I didn’t have that to deal with for a year. We stood there, one year later, arm in arm, and cried and then we finished for 2013. We lost something that day and we’ll never get it back. Thankfully, we got something new one year later.
Race day was amazing. There were police officers from so many town and cities, highway patrolman, national guardsman, and many, many others. We thanked as many of them as we could. The crowds were amazing too, so many more than the previous year. Once we got into Boston city, there were officers on both sides of the street every ten to fifteen feet. Once we got to where we’d been stopped the year before, we cried again. This time we got to run under Mass Ave. We got to turn onto Boylston Street. We got to cross the finish line, hand in hand, together. The finish line was amazing. I cried again when I got my medal. That medal didn’t just mark the finish of the race. It brought closure to a horrific chapter in my life and I was grateful to be turning that page.
Why am I telling my story? First, I want to make it clear I don’t want to take anything away from the people who were killed or physically injured in Boston on April 15, 2013. I’ve read their stories and been inspired by their strength. I’ve cried and asked “Why?” I’m telling my story because it is one that hasn’t been told. There are thousands of people just like me who were there that day who walked away with scars, scars that you can’t see; scars that people don’t know about. There are people out there still dealing with the demons thrown at them that horrible day. Their stories need to be told. Their hearts and minds need to be healed. I didn’t use to talk about my experience because it was too hard. But I had a story to tell and every time I tell it, I get a little stronger.
I am grateful and proud to have been able to stand shoulder to shoulder with thousands of runners on April 21, 2014. We stood proud and strong because we’re runners and that’s what we do. The heart and mind of a runner is strong. It has to be. No one lines the streets as we run our training runs. No one heralds our blistered feet or chapped lips. Most people just shake their heads in bewilderment when they hear our stories. But we are strong. And we will carry on.
Brittney P. Farmer