It’s hard to believe how close we were. Already exhausted from cheering for the racers all morning and afternoon, we got on the subway and had just transferred to the train that would take us back to the car on the outskirts of town, where we would begin our long drive home. It was so packed that nobody could even get on at the next stop, even though there were crowds on the platform trying their best to squeze on. When the conductor spoke over the intercom and asked everyone to leave the platform because of an emergency, at first we thought he was just speaking to those who weren’t on the train. He had to repeat the message several times before we understood that the whole station was being evacuated. We didn’t get much more of an explanation when we emerged onto the street, right into the thick of things, although we did overhear some policemen confirming that there had been some kind of emergency.
We decided to walk for a while, hoping perhaps to board a subway or commuter train further out from the center. The crowd along the marathon route was still thick; there were still racers on the course, and the Red Sox game had finished not long before. News of the events was slowly spreading through the crowd–we knew that something had happened, but we didn’t know what, and then all of a sudden, a plain clothes police officer in a Red Sox jersey flashed us his badge and told us to get away from some unattended bags or boxes on the sidewalk; at first we thought he was telling us to turn around but then he said we could go any way we wanted, just to move away from that spot. Around that time we started to figure out that there had been explosions along the course; I think that I managed to get a cell signal for long enough to get part of a news site to load.
Since we still didn’t know what was happening or how long it would be before the subway opened, we decided to move away from the crowds a little bit. I decided to ride my new folding bike ten miles out to the car, which I would then drive back into town and pick everyone else up. In retrospect, things might have gone faster if we had just all waited for the subway to start back up, but our plan worked well enough. The worst part was being a part of rush hour traffic on the way out of Boston. Jenny, Gran Ann, and I all took turns driving through the night and we made it back home a few hours later than we had planned, but safe and sound.
But how did we end up in Boston in the first place? We started to make plans last fall when we found out that Matt had qualified to race, and confirmed those plans once we knew that we would be heading back to the UK a month after the race. We invited Gran Ann, and she was happy to go with us, all the more so because her brother Robert was also going to be in the marathon. We drove up on the Saturday before the race–Elena and Roman were happy to have a back seat companion, especially one so friendly as Grandma, who was always ready to play games and share her iPad with them. We got to our hotel in the early evening, just in time to meet up with Matt and Carrie for dinner at our hotel. Gran Ann had taken care of the meal–she prepared it in the morning and put it in a thermal cooker, where it stewed all day and was ready for us to eat at dinner time.
We scratched our sightseeing itch the next day, following a route mostly determined by Carrie. In the morning we walked around Harvard and the vicinity, stopping at the whispering arch at Sever Hall, Memorial Hall, where a Buckminster Fuller, grandfather of the famous inventor, is remembered among those Harvard alumni who gave their lives during the civil war, and striking out at an art musuem that is undergoing renovations. We also wandered past the Harvard Lampoon building on our way to the Longfellow House and Longfellow Park, where Gran Ann was happy to see that the chapel where she attended church many years ago had been rebuilt after it burned down a few years ago. We ate lunch at a cute little diner, before taking the subway across the river.
Our afternoon plans included walking the iconic Freedom Trail, but before embarking, we let Elena and Roman play in the playground next to the Boston Common frog pond. While we walked, Elena was vigilant in making sure that we followed the red line on the sidewalk. She couldn’t keep her eyes on the ground the whole time, because she also wanted to spot the American flags flying from many of the buildings. For her efforts she was rewarded with a big ice cream when we reached Faneuil Hall. We continued along the trail a little further, ending at Paul Revere’s house, where Elena and Roman chased pigeons in a park across the street while Jenny toured the house. We capped the day off at Regina Pizzeria, where the pizza was totally worth the wait.
I don’t think Matt slept very much that night; he was certainly excited when I drove him to the subway early on marathon morning, to begin his long trek to the starting line. We had a more leisurely morning before we started towards the watching location we had chosen, at about the 17 mile mark, right next to the western terminus of the green line on the T. We didn’t arrive until most of the wheelchair athletes had passed, but we still had plenty of time to find a good spot before the runners came through–first the small bunch of elite women, then the elite men, then the fastest of the regular runners, then more and more until there was a veritable flood of athletes making their way en masse on their way to the finish line. Carrie did an especially good job of cheering for all the people who had pinned their names to their uniforms. To me, the most amazing thing was seeing all the runners who looked like they had no business on the course, then realizing that they had already run seventeen miles at a seven minute per mile pace, and would for the most part finish the race in about three hours.
We were tracking Matt, Robert, and Steve–another friend–online as best we could, but there were so many people we weren’t sure that we would see them when they passed. But then they all passed by in the span of just three or four minutes. Matt was looking for us and stopped to give Carrie a hug, the other two were just a little bit surprised to hear us yell for them, as they weren’t advertising their names and didn’t know to expect us. After we saw them, it was off to the races. Everyone else hopped on the subway, hoping to make it close to the finish line so they could see our favorites one more time.
My plan was to bike along the course, stopping periodically to cheer for Matt. I had not thought this plan all the way through. There were so many fans along the sidewalks and runners in the street that I had to find parallel streets to ride along. Every time I cut back to the course I would pull out my phone to check the split times of the runners going by and compare them to Matt’s most recent split, and I could never quite catch up. No matter how fast I pedaled, my route was always too circuitous and I was always a couple of minutes behind. As the crowds thickened near the finish line, I abandoned my goal of getting ahead of him to cheer and turned towards finding Jenny and company. They weren’t too hard to find, thanks to the magic of Find my Friends, and I was happy to hear that they made it into town and Carrie was able to push her way through the crowds to see Matt and cheer him on in the final mile.
We found our way to the congratulations area around the way from the finish line, where we found Matt and Robert among the giddy and triumphant runners. Matt was clearly on a major runner’s high as he described his race–in the moment it was even more exuberant than his blog post on the topic. We eventually said our goodbyes and boarded the subway, thinking that we would have a straight shot home. Although we were wrong about that, it was a wonderful trip. Congratulations to Matt, Robert, and Steve, and thanks to Gran Ann for all her help!