At 2:49 p.m. on April 15, 2013, I was recording video from the Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street, ten yards away from where the first bomb went off. I was trying to get a lot of those first-time marathoners and charity runners coming across. People who aren’t used to running that race let out a lot of emotion on the finish line. You never know what you’re going to see, people doing cartwheels or all sorts of things on the finish line.
In an instant, jubilation turned to terror.
One year later I crossed the same finish line as a runner in the 2014 Boston Marathon, after being one of 467 people selected out of 1,200 applicants for the special invitation for those people the Boston Athletic Association described as being ” personally and profoundly impacted by the events of April 15.”
My Initial Reaction to the BAA’s Invitational Entry (Early December 2013):
I’m honored for the opportunity to run on behalf of all the survivors and families affected by the events of that tragic day, and am going to train hard, and run the race harder. I simply saw the invitation posted and said to myself, “Why not me?”
Last April, I saw the attack, the heroic first responders, and my city in a state of shock, up close, but I continued to do my job, which was to show people what happened on Boylston Street via the images captured in my camera, and tell people what I saw.
I’ve run this marathon before, I’ve been in those bars and restaurants on Marathon Monday, those were all our neighbors on the sidewalk, and they are our friends who are doing so great in rebounding eight months later, from Jeff Bauman to Heather Abbott to Paul and JP Norden, the Richard family, and the rest of the brave survivors. I want to run strong for them and do my part in showing the world “Boston Strong” is not just a theme but a reality that will be demonstrated by runners, volunteers, and spectators alike on April 21st, sure to be one of the most emotional days in Boston history.
It’s been 14 years – and 35 pounds – since I last ran the Boston Marathon as part of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team. I finished in under four hours in back-to-back years (’99 and ’00). I’ll never qualify for Boston, so this invitation is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something special, and make my primary care physician very happy when I weigh in next spring. The challenge now is to drop more weight and properly train to put myself in a position to finish strong on April 21st. A four-hour race is a long shot, but I’m sure I can get in under five.
My Crash Training Course:
With this being a last minute opportunity and decision, my training started from rock bottom. Coming off a full-year of rehab following a torn hamstring, I had packed on the pounds and weighed in at 249 on December 4th, the day I found out I had been accepted for 2014.
I had run the annual “5K Turkey Trot” in Watertown on Thanksgiving Day and come in Number 34 out of 37 Clydesdales, finishing in 34 minutes. Horrendous effort by my standards!
Slowly but surely, I cut down the calories, and picked up the pace and miles to get this marathon training jump-started. Breaking up with Little Debbie was not easy, neither was driving away from Pepperidge Farm for the last time. A fortunate week long business trip to Orlando and Miami allowed me to drop a quick 15 pounds as I pounded the pavement in the hot Florida sun.
Back in Boston, when I stepped off my arriving flight at Logan at 11 p.m., the sharp frigid air shot up through the gap between the plane and the gate connector and sent a shockwave through my system. The realization I’m not going to be running in the South Beach sun on Ocean Drive hit me like a snowball in the face.
Instead, it’s going to be a whole new ballgame running on the snowy hills of Newton, and the icy path around the Charles River. Primarily, my training was going to be a solo effort, without the benefit of a training team to fire me off the couch, when the long runs are due and the temperature drops into the single digits.
So I’m off to do cold-slippery-snowy runs, and make the transition back. As Jack Fultz, winner of the 1976 Boston Marathon and my old running coach for Dana-Farber, says, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”
… So it’s out the door and on the road I go.
Some Thoughts Just Prior to My Running Boston 2014:
We got this.
The runners. The bombing survivors. The families, friends, and all the spectators. The volunteers. The police, fire, and medical personnel.
We’re all winners today. Let’s celebrate.
Last night the Red Sox came roaring back to victory, today it’s comeback day for all of us as Boston takes back its Marathon for the 118th running of our glorious race.
The horrific scenes from April 15, 2013 fade further in the rear view mirror with a new Marathon upon us today. New memories, a renewed spirit, and fresh images of survivors and first responders coming back to Boylston Street will rule the day. We look forward to seeing elite runners chase records, and watching the faces of first-timers, charity runners, neighbors and friends crossing the finish line.
Fourteen years and 15 pounds ago was the last time I ran the Boston Marathon. Today, I will be on the starting line and look to cross the finish line as a runner again. On April 15, 2013, I was on the finish line shooting video for Boston.com when the bombs went off. Running this year represents my effort to honor those who died and the survivors of that tragic day, and to help take back Boylston Street for everyone that loves celebrating the Boston Marathon on Patriots Day.
Michael Kennedy, the brave Boston firefighter who lost his life battling the deadly nine-alarm fire in the Back Bay last month, was also one of those selected to run by the BAA after writing an essay about his experience responding to the terrorist attacks. Kennedy came running from his firehouse on the corner of Hereford and Boylston Street to help a woman who would lose her leg. He’ll be in my thoughts as I run today as well.
I’ll be wearing No. 28223 and starting in Wave Four which goes off at 11:25 a.m. The official starter for Wave Four is Amanda Desroches, mother of 13-year-old Shayne Desroches, who was killed riding his bike near his home on Hayden Rowe Street in Hopkinton earlier this year.
Am I ready to run? We’ll find out in a few hours. Every day I trained at home, I ran the hills on Commonwealth Avenue, both ways. The hope is when I get the fire station at the Comm. Ave. turn, it will feel like home and I can crush the hills. Then I’m counting on a little adrenalin and emotional energy to carry me the rest of the way. I expect the environment to be electric from start to finish.
I’m also thinking about something Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge coach and ’76 winner Jack Fultz said the first time I ran Boston in ’99. He’d ask how long you thought a half-marathon was. If you answered 13.1 miles, you were wrong. The answer is 20 miles. And not until you run the Boston Marathon do you understand why it’s the correct answer.
My only real health concern for the race – outside of wishing I was 20 pounds lighter — is having the four horsemen hold up: right hamstring, left hamstring, right calf, and left calf. They are the biggest threats for me on the course once I get into the high miles. And the long wait in the Marathon Village in Hopkinton before the 11:25 a.m. start is far from ideal.
Let’s do this because victory is ours. I think Boston’s going to send a message. I think it’s gonna be the safest place on earth, forever.
Some Post-race Thoughts from the Beacon Hill Pub:
I accomplished my mission, although it wasn’t always pretty. I ran first six miles with Doug Flutie, and quickly discovered I had done it way too fast. At the end I ran down Boylston Street with the Hoyts. My race was a heat/hamstring horror show from Mile 14 on in. As for race conditions, I say “Fire the weatherman,” who had 60s on his radar. And this just in: Five-and-change is a hell of a lot harder than running 3:50. The whole way along the route: Amazing, amazing crowd support. And I have now officially retired from 26.2 mile races…
[Steve Silva is the former Senior Content Producer for Boston.com, and a two-time Boston Marathon sub-four hour runner. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter, or contact him at email@example.com. The story of Steve’s award winning response to the 2013 attacks can be found here.]