For those of you who don’t know, I am a runner. I run regularly, and participate in several marathons and half-marathons each year. Maybe as a VC, I understand the need to keep running no matter what happens. Just keep running.
This year’s Boston Marathon was surely a tragic and horrifying event. Like all of you, I am devastated by the senseless loss of life, massive injuries and unthinkable damage. But the city and people of Boston are as strong as people come on this planet, and I’m so impressed with how they have handled the events and their subsequent response of unity.
Many people have reached out to me over the past couple of days with concern because I ran the Boston Marathon this week. Once I confirm that I’m ok, people want to know what I saw and experienced. Because this was such a significant event, I thought I would share my story here.
I have run the Boston Marathon four times. I ran it for the first time back in the 90s and then didn’t run the race again until three years ago. This year was the third year in a row I’d ran the race with a group of friends who do the Boston and Big Sur marathons back-to-back. That means we run the Boston Marathon first, and then 13 days later, run the Big Sur Marathon in California.
My friends and I all vary in speed and experience when it comes to running, so after the race began, we quickly became scattered throughout the course. One in our group was ahead of me, and she actually finished the race before the bombings happened. I was second in the group, a couple of miles behind her. Others were five and ten miles behind me.
The Boston Marathon is a 42 kilometer run. At about 41.6 km, the runners turn onto Boylston Street for the final leg of the race. For us runners, this is usually the highlight of the marathon. You’re on the home stretch. You’ve made it. You have half a kilometer to go and the crowd is screaming and cheering you on. It’s an invigorating experience to say the least.
At around the 41.6 km mark, I was just turning onto Boylston Street when I heard a loud bang. When I was fully onto Boylston Street, I saw a rise of smoke and chaos erupting ahead. Imagine that we’d been running for almost 42 km, so we’re tired and not everything assimilates in the mind as quickly as you might think. Beyond that, runners are meticulous. We can recount every step along the path, and we’re driven to keep going even in the most treacherous conditions. So we kept running. I probably got another 20 feet before the volunteers and police moved in to stop the race. They reacted almost immediately, but 20 feet seems significant to a runner who is approaching the finish line.
My first thought was to wait and maybe they would let us finish the race. That’s how a runner thinks. Finish the race. However, it quickly became obvious that we could not run through the smoke and finishing was not an option. The second blast left no doubt that this race was over. It may sound strange in hindsight that we were even thinking we could finish the race, but remember that we were far enough back that we really didn’t understand the extent of what was happening half a kilometer ahead. We knew it was serious, but at this point, we had no idea if anyone was hurt.
Being so close to the finish line, I was able to cross over to Newbury Street and make my way towards the buses that housed the runners’ belongings, which were handed over at the starting line. I was one of the first ones there after the blast, so I could easily collect my things. Later, they would stop runners from collecting belongings out of concern that some of the bags might contain explosives. I have to commend the hotels for also beefing up security immediately. Only registered guests were allowed back into the hotels. I was one of the lucky ones, as it was easy for me to get to my hotel where I could get food, water and a comfortable place to rest and re-group. It was only when I returned to the hotel and could watch TV that I started to learn the details of what had happened and the extent of the damage, injury and sadly, death.
The city of Boston did a good job with 24,000 runners plus a multiple of spectators. However, my friends who were 10 miles behind were in quite a jam. While I could walk to where I needed to go, they were stranded outside the city of Boston with most of the city on lock-down and no way to get back. They didn’t have wallets, cell phones, cash, and the running route was closed. Without many options, the volunteers and police ushered the runners to churches until buses could be organized to bring them back to town. I’ve heard that some of the local residents took runners into their homes, which is just amazing and kind because these participants were tired, confused, cold and without resources to get water, food or shelter.
As I said, runners are trained to keep going, no matter what. The city of Boston will no doubt continue this race and host next year with reverence and celebration. The enduring spirit of this city, its people and the participants of the Boston Marathon will not be stopped. I guarantee you, I will be there next year, and I will run. I will remember every step, and that Boylston leg will have even more meaning and be more invigorating than ever. I will turn that corner and, this time, I will hold in my heart all those that weren’t as fortunate this year. With the same unity we see globally today, next year’s runners, including myself, will carry those who passed away and those who cannot run for themselves anymore across the finish line. We will keep running.