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By now, across the nation and around the world, the words “Boston Marathon” are synonymous with the bomb explosions yesterday that killed three people – to date – and injured more than 140. Synonymous with this:

But I’m sure you know that’s not the whole story. I’d like to tell you about my Boston Marathon, yesterday and through the years.

Here in Massachusetts, the third Monday in April traditionally is a festive day, one of the most wonderful days of the year. It is Patriots’ Day, a day when we remember the ride of Paul Revere and others, and the battles of Lexington and Concord in which the first shots of the American Revolution were fired. It is a state holiday, and state offices and schools are closed.

As you know by now, it’s also the day on which the Boston Marathon is run. I have long loved the Boston Marathon. At one time I aspired to run in it. A few years ago I ran a half marathon to build up to it, but my knees had other ideas. I still could stand by the side of the race course and cheer on the runners. And every year I have. From 2000 until 2010, I attended the Red Sox game on Patriots’ Day. The game starts in the morning, generally at 11 AM, the only Major League Baseball game to start in the morning all season. That is to allow the crowds to stream down to nearby Kenmore Square, at mile 25 of the marathon route, and support the marathoners. It is a carnival atmosphere.

Boston Marathon in Kenmore Square
The fun in Kenmore Square, Mile 25, after the Red Sox game in 2010.
A sign they love to see. Thousands were not allowed to get this far yesterday.
Having fun, with only 26.2 miles to go, at the starting line in Hopkinton, 2011.
2013 Boston Marathon
2013 Boston Marathon
There are always the runners with...unique make us smile
For the past three years, I have been living in Newton, just west of Boston. Newton is legendary in Boston Marathon lore for its hills, the “Newton hills.” After going mostly downhill for nearly 16 miles, runners hit a series of four hills once they enter Newton. The last of these, very near to my home, is the famous “Heartbreak Hill.”

The name comes from Johnny Kelley, who graduated from Arlington High School (the town of Arlington, then called Menotomy, was the scene of the fiercest fighting on the original Patriots’ Day in 1775, though Lexington got all the press). In 1936 Kelley – the defending champion – tapped fellow runner Tarzan Brown on the back in sympathy as he passed him. The gesture motivated Brown, who overcame Kelley on the last of the Newton hills and won the 1936 race. Boston Globe sports editor Jerry Nason interviewed Kelley, who said that last hill was his “Heartbreak Hill.” The name stuck and the hill, coming at the twenty-mile mark when many runners are hitting the wall, has broken the hearts of many more competitors over the years. It’s not steep but is long, more than half a mile.

Lead women's pack, 2013 Boston Marathon
The lead women's pack yesterday; the winner is in here somewhere.
2013 Boston Marathon
The agony of the run, the only agony that should be felt on this day
2013 Boston Marathon
And still they kept coming...
Yesterday I stood, as I have for the past three years, on the side of Commonwealth Avenue near the foot of Heartbreak Hill, willing people to make it past that difficult hurdle. And the event was a joyful one, one marking human perseverance and human kindness. People lined the route to cheer for total strangers. They brought their young children and their dogs, and we saluted the indomitable will of the mobility-impaired contestants, who came by first. The excitement grew as we saw the pace truck and, right after it, the leading women runners. A few minutes later the leading men came by, running more effortlessly on Mile 21 than most of us could on Mile 1.
2011 Boston Marathon on Heartbreak Hill
Making it look easy on Heartbreak Hill after 20 miles, 2011
Boston Marathon, 2011
But I am in awe of the everyday people who push through the pain, even uphill late in the race
2013 Boston Marathon
A little humor keeps people going!
Soon more and more runners reached our spot, and the day became even more joyful. A little boy, about two years old, was fascinated by the cowbell I’d brought, a souvenir I’d bought at the starting line of the marathon in Hopkinton two years ago. I lent it to him to shake to his heart’s content. He laughed, I laughed, my wife and his parents laughed, the people around us laughed. A beautiful chocolate lab a few feet away barked and wagged his tail. Teenagers enjoying their school vacation flirted with each other. Across the street, young girls and boys held out cups of water for the runners. And the runners streamed past, hundreds of them. Thousands. Twenty miles deep in their personal challenge, they were as determined as ever to reach the finish line. It was a perfect day, an inspiring day.
2013 Boston Marathon
Just to help their fellow humans make it up that hill
Heartbreak Hill, Boston Marathon
Pushing on, up Heartbreak Hill
2013 Boston Marathon
True strength
At about 2:30, the crowds near Heartbreak Hill began to thin. Covered with that first sunburn of a long-awaited spring, my wife and I decided to head for home. Just a few minutes later, our beloved marathon was marred by Heartbreak of an entirely different type. Two explosions in rapid succession, not fifty feet from the finish line, sending people running for cover. I don’t know who did this. I don’t know why. I do know that I’m overwhelmed with sadness that anger has not yet begun to penetrate. At this hour three people are dead, including an 8-year-old boy. At least 144 people are reported injured, some very gravely. I am hearing that a close friend of a friend, a kind and wonderful person, lost both legs yesterday.
Scene of Boston Marathon attack before the marathon
The scene of yesterday's explosion the day before the 2010 Marathon. I'd long made a trip to the finish line to watch them set up.
Boston Marathon sign
Long one of my favorite signs, for the symbolism. This is the way it always should be.

I’m sad to say I have been through this before. In 1995, when I was living in Paris, a series of terrorist attacks placed the population near my school on high alert. On September 11, 2001 I stood on the corner of Sixth Avenue and Carmine Street in New York City at 8:46 AM and watched as an airplane flew into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Some two hours later, from about a mile away, I saw that tower fall and I headed for St. Vincent’s Hospital to give blood. And I feel right now the same way I felt on those days. Numb, watching television footage of blocks with which I am intimately familiar, turned into zones of carnage and death. Hearing sirens outside my own window for hours on end.

We always shall remember the 2013 Boston Marathon as the one someone marred with murder. But I intend to remember my personal 2013 Marathon, the good one, as well. The young families cheering and clapping. The beautiful little boy who so enjoyed my bell. The girls handing out water and joking with runners to cheer them up. The awesome strength of mobility-impaired competitors. The concentration on the faces of the soldiers who travel the route with heavy packs on their backs. The thousands of runners living out the day they’d trained for so long. Our friend who ran past us while five months pregnant.

I remember also those who persevered not only across the miles, but across the years. I remember the man who ran by me this morning in a shirt saying this was his not-25th, not-26th, not-27th, but his 28th Boston Marathon. I think of Johnny Kelley, who lost the 1936 Boston Marathon due to his own misstep, but kept going: he won again in 1945 and, in all, he ran 61 Boston Marathons. He was still running the marathon in his 80s. When he couldn't run it anymore, he drove two hours from his Cape Cod home to fire the starting pistol. He is honored by a statue near my City Hall in Newton that shows him as a young man, and as a much older one, clasping hands as they cross the finish line, arms aloft in triumph.

Johnny Kelley, the man who didn't stop
I remember Team Hoyt from Holland, Massachusetts. Rick Hoyt was born in 1962 with his umbilical cord around his neck, the loss of oxygen causing cerebral palsy. His parents never gave up. They fought for their son to be fitted with a computer that allowed him to communicate, to finish school, and to graduate from Boston University. Rick’s father, Dick Hoyt, started to run, pushing Rick ahead of him. Rick told him, “Dad, when we’re running it doesn’t feel like I’m disabled.”

Those words were music to Dick Hoyt’s ears and he never looked back. He began to participate in triathalons, pushing and carrying Rick with him. In 1981 he asked to run the Boston Marathon, pushing Rick in a wheelchair. The organizers said they’d have to meet the very tough qualifying time for Rick’s age group; Dick was 40 then but Rick only 19. Dick Hoyt trained his heart out and they completed the Boston Marathon that year in 2 hours and 45 minutes. Over the years they have run seventy marathons and participated in over 1,000 endurance events in total. Now they have their own bronze statue; it was unveiled just a week ago, near the starting line in Hopkinton, as a testament to the human spirit. Dick is 72 and Rick 51 now, but yesterday they were a mile from completing their 31st Boston Marathon as a team when the unthinkable happened.

I remember the runners who, after the unthinkable happened, added another mile and a half to their day’s work, running all the way to Mass. General Hospital to donate blood. And the Bostonians who opened their hearts – and their homes – to runners wandering cold and confused near the finish line, their day of achievement turned into something entirely different.

Where do we go from here? I am reminded of a man I met several years ago in New York, when I still hoped to run the Boston Marathon myself. He had just completed the annual 3,100 Mile Self-Transcendence Race, a little-known but truly incredible event. Its participants run 3,100 miles – the distance from here to Los Angeles – around a single large city block in the center of Queens. The winner generally runs the equivalent of three marathons a day for forty-plus straight days. Completing the event truly does require self-transcendence. I asked the man how he had managed to complete such an event. He said that, as he ran, a lot of words came into his head. Words like “stop,” “quit,” “pain.” And he pushed through all those words by remembering the only word that mattered: “forward.”

Tomorrow, and in the days that follow, all of us – Bostonians and all Americans and peace-loving people of the world with us – will show the same inner strength that man showed, that Johnny Kelley and Team Hoyt showed, and that all of our wonderful Boston Marathon runners over the years have showed. And we shall go “forward.” The people who did this horrific thing will not steal our race from us. Unless I am hit by a bus in the interim, I plan to be there for the 2014 Boston Marathon, on Heartbreak Hill, remembering those killed and injured yesterday and cheering for those who embody the strength of character and perseverance the day is all about.

Originally posted to fenway49 on Tue Apr 16, 2013 at 07:06 AM PDT.

Also republished by Boston Kossacks and Community Spotlight.

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