What if?

APRIL 30, 2013

Photo Credit: Emily Long

Frank had sent all of us an Evite save-the-date over a year ago to mark our calendars for when he’d be running the Boston Marathon.  There was no question in my mind as to whether or not I’d be there to cheer him on from the sidelines.  After all, the Chicago Marathon we’d done “together” (I say that loosely since he finished nearly 3 hours ahead of me) had been his qualifying race.

Since the Boston Marathon is a straight shot from west to east and the T (Boston’s metro system) that day was painfully slow, we’d only be able to catch Frank once during the race.  Knowing that mile 21(aka the “Golden Mile,” “Heartbreak hill” and where you can witness Boston College kids stumbling around before 11am) might be when he hit the proverbial marathon wall, he asked us to hang out there to hand off a fresh water bottle and exchange some high-fives.  Then we’d try to beat him to the finish line to welcome him home.

The marathon overall is an incredible celebration.  Since we claimed our spots on the early side we were able to catch the inspirational wheelchair racers flying by and the elite women who jetted by just a few minutes before the elite men came chasing after them.  Then came the hordes of Boston Marathoners – the best of the best being that the 18-34 year-old qualifying time is 3 hours 5 minutes for men and 3 hours 35 minutes for women.  It was crazy to think that these folks running 7:20-minute miles were just kind of your average runner.

Photo Credit: Emily Long

After Frank passed us, stopping only to give his girlfriend a kiss and his buddy a high-five, he went on to finish the race before we even made it back downtown – finishing at 3 hours 35 minutes.  Seriously, he beat the T back.   Since we didn’t have to meet him at the finish line, we skipped the Copley stop (on Boylston street) to get off at the next stop, Arlington.  Coming out of the metro to see all the finishers wrapped in their foil and with their medals hanging loosely around their necks while painfully walking down the steps was inspiring to the runner side of me.  A feeling of pride washed over me knowing that our own runner was waiting for us to congratulate him.  We made a bee-line for the Revere hotel where Frank was already waiting in the lobby.  We ushered him up to the hotel room and popped open bottles of champagne.

I don’t know exactly what we were doing the moments of the explosions, but we were fortunate to have the safety of several blocks buffering us from the attack.   We were far enough away that we somehow did not hear the sounds and dismissed the responding sirens as typical city noise.

It was a friend’s “Are you okay?” text that signaled us to what was happening behind the tall buildings separating us from the scene.  Confused looks between those of us in the hotel room quickly turned to horror after we flipped to the local news and Twitter to find out what he meant.  My face turned pale as I rushed to text my friend, Michelle, who had been watching the race at a hotel near the finish line to ask her if she was still there – already calls were not going through.  It was hard for me to imagine how grim the circumstances could be, but I understood more when her response was “No, we ran.”

The next few hours were eerie.   Our group of 13 eventually trickled away from the hotel’s TV to find a late lunch.  After all Frank had just raced 26.2 miles and needed more than granola to keep him up straight.  The original plan had been to eat near the finish line and then make our way to the after party, but uncertainty about what might happen next led us to a quieter, non-touristy neighborhood in the opposite direction.

Conversation at lunch was light as we tried to ease each other’s worries.  Yet, mainly we were keeping wary eyes on our cell phones to calm the concerns of friends and family who had heard the news.   We were happy to let them know we were safe.

My boyfriend had to keep an arm tight around me as I could barely keep my body from shaking between the thoughts of how we could have been down there, what I could have done to make sure my friends hadn’t been and wondering if another attack was imminent.   But, once I had confirmation that Michelle and her husband had escaped unharmed and after a few beers (yes, necessary), my brain let up a bit.

Yes, we were okay and thankful for that fact.  Yet, when I started talking to people about the attacks when I returned to NYC, I could feel the stress of the events pour out of me as my body began shaking again.  No matter where you were that day, it was frightening.  When reading the coverage over the next two weeks it became hard not to place myself in the shoes of those who were at the scene.   They conjured many “what-ifs” in my mind.  “What if we had gone straight to the finish instead of meeting Frank?” “What if I had gone down earlier to meet Michelle and Kyle?” “What if Frank had been slower that day?” The what-ifs can drive you mad.

In an attempt to put those what-ifs behind me, I’ve been working to change my thoughts to the positive, and we at Quarterlette are looking to find ways to help those whose lives will never be the same.  If I’ve learned anything through talking to people about it over the last few weeks, it’s that all of us are somehow tied to Boston.  Despite the events being confined to one city, it’s a global event.  We all had a friend or family member running or watching; we all know someone who lives there or is going to school there.  So, we’re in this together and will work to recover together.

Oh, and Frank is planning to run Boston again next year (no big deal; he qualified when he ran the Chicago Marathon a second time – crazy).  You can be sure if he does we’ll all be there to cheer him and the rest of the city on.

Looking for a way to support the victims of the Boston Marathon?  Here are a few fund-raising pages we have found:

Have another one?  Please share in the comments!


  • Danielle Gagne 5 years ago

    Great post. There is also the onefundboston.org that was set up by the Mayor and the Governor. Also, many running clubs in cities all over the country have been fundraising, check out your local running club for more details.