for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
~ 2 Timothy 1:7
I haven’t posted in quite a while. I guess I really didn’t have much to say up until now. I’ve been watching the coverage today related to the capture of the second suspect of the bombing at the finish line of The Boston Marathon. Now that the first suspect is dead and the second is in custody, I feel like I can now share on this blog some of my experience in Boston during the past week.
[The beginning of this blog post will be upbeat because my trip could not have been more perfect prior to the explosions. I hope the post is taken in the spirit in which it is written and no one takes offense to the tone.]
Before I left for Boston on Saturday, 13 April, my family threw my Dad a surprise party for his 70th birthday. My Mom, brother (Jeff), sister-in-law (Karen) and her mother (Kathy) put a lot of work into the preparation of this party. Although I did help some, they did the lion’s share of the work. The challenge was keeping the secret without someone spilling the beans before the party. My Mom and brother did an incredible job finding people from all through my Dad’s past, all the way back to his childhood through today. The party was an overwhelming success. Although my Dad was a little suspicious due to the activities around the house the night before and morning of the party, he was genuinely surprised when my brother brought him to the party. The format of the party was similar to “This Is Your Life” or a roast. Folks were given the opportunity to tell stories on my Dad. It was a blast. Of course, when I got up to speak, I got much more emotional than I expected. I wrote a blog last year about how much my Dad means to me that you can read here.
Immediately after the party, I went straight to the airport to make my way to Boston. I got to the city late that night and was so eager to get into the marathon activities, I could hardly sleep. I did finally fall to sleep. I woke early on Sunday morning, 14 April, to go for a quick run before starting a very busy day in preparation for the 2013 Boston Marathon. I got to the expo at the Hynes Convention Center about 15 minutes before it opened. As soon as I got my race bib and race shirt, I began walking around the expo. I came across the booth for Team Hoyt where I was able to spend a few minutes speaking with Dick Hoyt. What a nice gentleman! He and Rick have inspired so many people around the world. I left the expo to go to a UCAN Meet Meb event at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. The event was sponsored by Generation UCAN and gave me my first opportunity to see Meb Keflezighi and his brother/manager, Merhawi. I got to have a good conversation with Merhawi and briefly talk to Meb before they had to leave for Meb’s next appearance. I knew we would meet back up later in the day. From there, I met up with my good friends, Jack and Barbara, to head over to Fenway Park to watch the Boston Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays. It was a great game. We saw Clay Buchholz pitch a no-hitter into the eighth inning. From there, we hurried to the Fairmont Copley Plaza for a TEAM MEB get together. You see, I was running the marathon as a member of TEAM MEB to raise money for the Meb Foundation. This was our opportunity to spend some quality time as a team with Meb. Merhawi agreed to allow Jack and Barbara to come along as well. After the meet-and-greet, I was Jack and Barbara’s guest at the John Hancock dinner. Besides having some good food, the dinner was attended by a number of great athletes. In addition to Meb, we also saw Joe Andruzzi (former New England Patriot), Desi Davila (runner-up at 2011 Boston Marathon and runner-up at 2012 Olympic Trials Marathon), Rob Gronkowski (current New England Patriot), Ryan Hall (3rd at 2009 Boston Marathon, 4th at 2010 Boston Marathon, 4th at 2011 Boston Marathon), Greg Meyer (winner of 1983 Boston Marathon), Bill Rodgers (winner of Boston Marathon in 1975, 1978, 1979 and 1980) and Joan Benoit Samuelson (winner of 1979 Boston Marathon and 1984 Olympic Marathon). What an amazing night!
On my way back to my hotel after dinner, I had to stop by the finish line one more time. I just stood there for a few minutes and imagined what it was going to be like the next day when I ran across the finish line and collected my Boston Marathon medal. I just soaked it all in before I continued on to my hotel so that I could get some much-needed rest.
Monday morning, 15 April, began as an exciting day. It was my first Patriot’s Day in New England. I got up, ate something, and then got ready to walk to the bus that was taking me to the start line in Hopkinton. As I was walking to the buses, I took one more trip by the finish line. The sun was just starting to show signs of sunrise. The area around the finish line was so quiet and peaceful. Little did I know that there would be such carnage later in the day. Again, I just tried to imagine what I might be feeling later in the day as I cross that historic finish line. I had to pinch myself because I couldn’t believe that I would running this great race in just a few hours. I could hardly contain my excitement.
As we rode in the bus for 26 miles out to Hopkinton, I went over my race plan in my mind. I had talked with a number of folks to get their advice about how to attack this marathon. My goal was to run the race in 4 hours. Since my wave started at 10:40am, I had plenty of time to think about the race and the finish. Finally, the announcement came that Wave 3 should make our way to the start corrals. The anticipation became intense. I was so ready to run this race and knew that today could well be my day as the weather was going to create ideal running conditions.
When the race started, I looked at my watch as I crossed the start line. It was 10:49am. I told myself that I needed to be crossing the finish line by 2:49pm to reach my goal. As we ran, I was very attentive to my pace. I knew I needed to resist the urge to run too fast over the first few miles or I would pay for that mistake later in the race. I wanted my pace to be somewhere between 9:15 and 9:20 through the first 4 to 5 miles. At that point, I would pick up the pace a little bit until we hit the hills of Newton around mile 16. I planned to slow the pace again through the hills until I reached the top of Heartbreak Hill at mile 21. From there, the remainder of the course was a net downhill and I felt like I could make any time I gave back on the hills. As I topped a hill, I noticed a sign that said “You Are At The Top Of Heartbreak Hill” and I knew the hardest part was behind me. I had run my plan exactly as I intended and my splits reflected that. Every time I looked at my watch, I reminded myself that 2:49pm was my goal.
|Split||time of day||time||diff||min/mile||miles/h|
As I picked up the pace on some of the downhills, I began to feel an unusual sensation in the bottom of my left quad muscle somewhere around mile 22 or 23. It was frustrating because I have never had any issues with my quads while running. I decided that I could run through it and tried to do just that. However, the pain worsened until the quads just started to cramp. I thought if I slowed the pace, I could continue to run. Unfortunately, the cramping got more severe until I was forced to walk. I couldn’t believe it. I had been right where I wanted to be before the leg problem. Why was this happening? I was get furious with myself. I pushed on and soon passed the 40K mark. Then I passed the sign that informed runners that there was only 1 mile left. I could taste the finish. By this point, I realized I was not going to hit my time goal nor get the PR (personal record) I had hoped to hit. Short of having to stop, though, I knew this was going to be my second fastest marathon. I was getting so excited to reach Boylston Street, make that left turn and run through that finish line. Nothing could stop me from finishing the premier marathon in the world!
Or could it? I crested a small hill with about a half mile left in the race and there were people standing in the road. Standing in the road! Are you kidding me? I was about to yell for them to get out of my way when some of them turned around and raised their hands in an attempt to have me stop. I noticed they were wearing race bibs. Why were they telling me to stop? As I came to a stop, I asked them why we were stopping. All they knew was that something had happened at the finish line. That is when I noticed the police officers that were blocking the road. I looked at my watch and it read 4:05. I didn’t stop my watch because I knew the race clock was still running. I did want to make a mental note of how long this delay lasted so I could adjust my race time for my own purposes. Expecting to start moving again any minute, I tried not to just stand in one place. However, more and more runners were converging on this location were all squeezing near the front of the crowd. I was starting to feel like a sardine. I was also beginning to think some more serious was wrong. We had stopped too long. Plus, my legs were starting to stiffen up and I was beginning to get cold. Although the temperature was in the 50s, there was a breeze. Since I was sweating, I started shivering and couldn’t stop. I began to realize that I may not be able to loosen up enough to start running again. I was afraid I would have to walk to Boylston Street before I could run again. Regardless how much I had to walk to loosen up, I was going to run down Boylston Street.
After we had been stopped for about 10 minutes or so, it hit me that those tracking me would probably wonder what had happened. After all, I had passed the 40K split and only had a finish time left to show up for those tracking me. I pulled out my phone and sent a text to my wife telling her we had been stopped with only about a half-mile left. I didn’t want her to start worrying about me. I called her and she told me the news was saying there was an explosion at the finish line. I assumed it was just a terrible accident and was still hopeful we would start moving again soon. I was stunned when the next text I received from Caroline read,
It looks like it might be a terrorist attack
I couldn’t believe it. I knew Jack was somewhere behind me and should be okay. But I also knew that his wife, Barbara, was at the finish line in the grandstands. I begin to get worried when I couldn’t reach Jack and I didn’t know how to reach Barbara. My phone was having issues that I assumed was caused by the number of people trying to use their cell phones all at that time. I tried to post an update on Facebook but couldn’t tell if it was going through. I sent Caroline a text asking her to post on Facebook that I was okay. I also told her I was very concerned for Barbara’s safety. When Caroline sent me the following text, I felt some relief as it relates to Barbara but also understood that this was a very serious situation,
I have….and Jack and Barbara are ok. People are dead.
For the first time that day, my focus was no longer on finishing the race. I was still thinking about the finish line, however. Now I was just hoping that the number of injuries would be minimal. I said a prayer for the injured. The thought briefly crossed my mind that there was a chance I could have been on Boylston Street at the time of the explosions. The thought came and went as I began wondering if I would be able to get to my gear check bag. I was really starting to get cold and really wanted to get my jacket. Eventually, some race officials came to where we were to lead us around the damaged area to the gear check buses. Once I got my bag, I just wanted to get to my hotel so I could get out of my sweaty clothes. Also, my cell phone battery was almost dead and I wanted to plug in the charger so I could begin returning calls, texts and emails.
I finally made it back to my hotel. I plugged in my phone and suddenly felt overwhelmed at the number of missed calls, voice mails, emails and texts. I started returning the various messages. I decided to try to contact every person that reached out to me. Most of the contacts were from family and friends, while some were from various media outlets in Birmingham. I spent over 3 hours trying to get back to everyone. When I finally got caught up, I took a much-needed shower and it felt so good. Of course, I had more missed calls when I got out of the shower and returned those calls. Suddenly, I felt very hungry and realized that I had not eaten since before the race. I went next door to a sports bar only to be told that their kitchen had just closed. I walked out their front door and looked up and down the street. It seemed that my only option at this time, now about 9pm, was the Domino’s Pizza across the street. That’s where I went. Before I could order, I was told it would be at least 45 minutes. I was so hungry and tired, I decided to place my order and wait. I took the pizza back to my room and ate it while watching the television coverage. As I was watching, a message that showed up on the ticker at the bottom of the screen sent a chill through my spine. The message said the explosions occurred at 2:50pm. That is when I remembered that my goal finish time was just one minute before. For the first time in my brief running career, I was thankful for a cramp.
I realize some people will discount what I am going to say next and everyone can choose to believe what they will. I am convinced that the cramps in my quads were God’s way of slowing me down to keep me away from the devastation. Some have asked me why God would choose to spare me but “allow” an 8-year-old boy be at the finish. I don’t have an explanation for that. I’m simply not intelligent enough to understand fully every facet of God’s plan. What I do know is that God does have a plan. If He chose to spare me from this situation, He did so for a reason. It is now up to me to follow His leading.
This post is already much longer than I intended. I doubt very many readers have even made it this far. If you are still reading, I’m about to wrap up… As I think about God’s plan for my life, I realize that many times I miss what He is trying to show me because I am too focused on myself. When I do take the time to contemplate the fact that the God of the universe cares about each one of us individually, I am reminded of some truths that we would all do well to take to heart:
- God is the Holy, Just and Gracious Creator of all things. — He is holy (Isaiah 43:15). He is just (Proverbs 17:15). He is gracious (Titus 2:11).
- We are each created by God, but we are all corrupted by sin. — We have rebelled against God (Romans 3:12). We are separated from God (Romans 3:23). We are dead without God (Romans 6:23).
- Jesus alone is able to remove our sin and restore us to God. — He lived the life we could not live (1 John 3:5). He died the death we deserve to die (1 Peter 2:24). He conquered the enemy we cannot conquer (Revelation 1:18).
- We can be restored to God only through faith in Jesus. — We turn from our sin and ourselves (Mark 1:15). We trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9).
- Our eternal destiny hinges on our response to Jesus. — Hell is a dreadful reality for those who turn from Jesus (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). Heaven is a glorious reality for those who trust in Jesus (Philippians 3:20). Will you turn from Jesus or will you trust in Jesus (John 3:16)?