25.8: The Almost Marathon.

I have struggled to find the perfect words to encapsulate what has occurred in the last 26 hours. When I woke up yesterday, I anticipated crying at the finish line. I anticipated being overcome with emotion. I never anticipated this.

After running 25.8 miles, I hit a wall literally. Upon running into Kenmore Square, I was greeted at the corner of Massachusetts Ave and Commonwealth Avenue by a barrier of people and chaos. Myself and few other Dana Farber teammates had huddled together and were confused. A woman walked up to us to tell us the grave news, “The race is over. There was a bomb at the finish line. People are dead. You can’t go any further.”

My thoughts started racing: A bomb? In Boston? On the world’s most elite marathon route? Is this a joke?

No, it wasn’t. It was all too real. I found myself somewhere between tears and total numbness. I had already been crying for the entirety of Beacon Street (the last 2 or so miles leading up to Kenmore). My barefoot running shoes, much criticized by all of my running friends, had finally betrayed me and given me a series of nasty metatarsal sprains. My phone had betrayed me and died somewhere along Mile 21. I was suddenly in a crowd of people without any way of contacting my loved ones who were waiting for me. It was horrifying.

My teammates and I decided that the only safe place would be to walk back to Mile 25 where the Dana Farber team always camps out and waits. On our way, we found a teammate’s best friend who had a working phone. She graciously offered up the ability to use it to anyone who could remember numbers. We learned from a police officer that calling would be impossible but to try texting. Many chaotic and gut wrenching moments later, I found myself realizing my boyfriend’s number (which I couldn’t remember to save my life) was written on the back of my race bib in case of emergency. We exchanged a series of texts before I learned he was safe and able to come to my side of Kenmore. My parents, however, we trapped and couldn’t leave Copley easily.

Reuniting with Philip was the most profound moment of my life. I have never been so happy to see someone I loved so dearly. I was so blessed he was safe. I was so lucky to have a teammate that helped me find him.

When we first learned the news, my teammates and I were angry. This was our first marathon. We had trained in the worst winter in recent memory. We endured long runs in freezing temperatures. We had black toenails and blisters. We paid our dues. We ran 25.8 miles… we were only 0.4 from the finish. How could we be robbed of this opportunity?

After many hours of digesting what has happened, I can honestly say that this race is a perfect example of how people who live with cancer either in their own body or in a loved one’s body learn the ultimate battle of adjusting to a new normal. Everything is surreal. All of your hopes and dreams are shattered. Your ability to think clearly is muddled. Your heart is heavy. Your eyes are bloodshot. You can’t sleep at night without thinking about “What if?” and spinning yourself in circles.

I ran 25.8 miles for the strongest person I know, my father. I struggled throughout the course just praying for the strength to keep going. I hugged my friends that cheered me on. I received words of encouragement from hundreds of spectators. Fellow runners gave me boosts of confidence. It’s these moments that I hold most sacred. The running community is a strong community. We overcome all sorts of personal barriers to get to race day. It’s unfathomable that someone would harm our loyal supporters and ruin the sanctity of the world’s most elite marathon.

I don’t know yet if I can handle another attempt at 26.2. But I know now that my attempt at the almost marathon is still valiant. I know that I am blessed to have fallen off pace so significantly that I personally avoided danger by mere moments. I know that I am one of the lucky ones who could find my loved ones in the chaos and kiss them in tears.

I pray for all of those who were unable to find their loved ones. I pray for those who are maimed and injured. I pray they know that the runners of Boston are now their biggest fans. I pray that the families of the deceased find comfort in this time of immeasurable grief. This is incomprehensible and unjustifiable. I vow to never let go of the moments of sheer joy I found on the marathon route. I promise to continue to spread the goodwill of those incredible spectators who paid the ultimate sacrifice to the world. Their legacy is the ultimate race medal. And to them, I am undoubtedly grateful.

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