Tuesday, April 16, 2013

New PR at the Tragic 2013 Boston Marathon

If we're lucky, we get a few days in life when we truly feel alive. A day when your emotional boundaries are stretched to their limits, exhausting the body and mind, exhilarating the soul, and filling you with gratitude for years to come. It's the reason many of us toe the line at marathons, triathlons, and extreme races, secretly hoping the day turns out to be anything but normal. The 2013 Boston Marathon turned out to be one of those days for me in a "be careful what you wish for" way. I'm happy to have PR'd, but after the tragic bombing that occurred several blocks away from me at the finish line, I am far more happy just to be alive.

[The first part of this race report is going to sound unusually positive given what you already know about the bombings, but I feel it's important to capture the emotions at the time they happened. My apologies if you consider it inappropriate.]

THE RACE

The beginning of the 117th running of the Boston Marathon was its usual cauldron of optimism as ~23,000 runners piled into buses to head to the start. The weather was ideal - overcast and expected to be in the low 50's for most of the race - which was a relief after the 90+ degree heat monster from last year. I had decided to go fast on my 9th running of Boston, thanks to being in good shape, healthy, and realizing this was a pretty good place to go for a PR given my familiarity with the course and the good company of many faster runners. My tapered legs (over-tapered?) were screaming "GET ON WITH IT!", and corral #1 buzzed like a beehive as we counted down the last few minutes. My stretch goal was 2:40, a solid five and half minutes off my PR, but possible given how my training was going. We all counted down together...3, 2, 1...and we were off!

(Corral #1 gets fidgety)
(Excited and ready to go!)
(And we're off!)
Mile 1 was slow (6:21 min/mile, when I need to average a 6:08 pace) thanks to runner congestion, but probably did us all a favor by holding us back from bombing the downhill. By mile 2, I was back on a 5:55-6:08 min/mile pace, looking for any runner with a bib number between 390-440 that would indicate a 2:40'ish qualifying time. I ran along with Loren Wohletz (#415!) from Albequerque, NM, whose long brown Wardian-like hair was easy to spot in the crowds, and he said he was looking to sneak under 2:40 today. A perfect teammate!

(The weather was ideal!)
(Running legend Joan Benoit Samuelson on her way to a age group record 2:50 finish)
(Crowds were outstanding, per usual)
For the next eight miles, I just tucked in with Loren and a few others, smirking at how different it was to race without constantly looking for photo opportunities. The miles ticked off consistently around 6:00-6:08 min/mile, with the disturbingly quiet strides of the talented runners around me. I did bring a camera (of course!), but would be frugal with my usage; my new 3 oz GoPro Hero3 was in my pocket specifically to capture the famous Wellesley scream tunnel at mile 12. And it did not disappoint! (sorry for the shaky video..I did need to stay on pace!)



I hit the halfway in 1:20:20 perfectly, and was still feeling good enough for a negative split. The first half of Boston is easier than the second, so some reserves would be needed to keep the pace. Loren started clicking off 5:55 min/miles, so I had to let him go (he went 2:40:04!), and instead fed off the amazing crowds that came out in droves. Nothing like a few high fives to get your spirits up!

The Newton hills came, and I charged up best I could. My left foot started cramping right under my strike zone (a relatively new experience for me), and despite various attempts at altering my gate, it got progressively worse. By the time we hit Heartbreak Hill (mile 20), I had a peg leg stride that was adding 20-30 seconds per mile. Darn! I asked the guy next to me what he would suggest, and he said, "I suggest you sack up and deal with it". Hilarious! And also true. Words of wisdom from a fellow tough runner. This would all be over in 30 minutes and I could ice it all week if I needed to. 

(Peter Gurney gets some love from his spontaneous crew of supporters)
I kicked it back up to a 6:00-6:08 min/mile pace, with a curse-laden Tourette Syndrome whisper accompanying my rhythm. Lots of folks saved for a kick, so it was easy to tag onto faster runners as we entered the last miles. I had lost a 2:40 finish, but was within striking range of a new PR. We hit Boylston St. and I red-lined to the finish, good enough for 2:44:35 and 457th place. A 42 second PR! I'll take it. I took off my left shoe and hobbled my way through the finish chute with a big smile on my face. 

(2013 Boston Marathon winners Rita Jeptoo and Lelisa Desisa)
The front runners had an epic battle, with Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa pulling away from two others in the last mile to win in 2:10:22, and Rita Jeptoo winning with 2:26:25 just over a year after having her first baby. American's Jason Hartmann and Shalene Flanagan each took 4th, respectively.

(Massage volunteer and 10-time finisher Donna Cormier assists the medical team in helping an elated Liang Wu from Austin, TX, who didn't let a pesky blister stop him from setting a new PR)
(World class service from Boston massage volunteers)
As we got our snacks and headed to the massage tent, it was clear that many had PR'd today. Everyone I asked had shaved off one minute, two minutes, even seven minutes...it was a day for champions. I got my massage, thanked the volunteers for their amazing service once again, and headed back to the finish line to get a beer and cheer on other finishers. 

The BOOM

The finish line was packed by the time I got back there, and my functional alcoholism was getting impatient with a 15-20 minute wait for a beer. Especially on a PR day! I decided to walk several blocks down Boylston St and find a pub, and soon was clinking pints with fellow runners and sharing our stories. Then we heard it...a sound that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. (watch the first 10 seconds of the next video to get an idea of how loud it was)



(The first explosion was just 100 yards from the finish)
BOOM. A few seconds later, another one. BOOM. What was that? A celebration? A gas leak? Within seconds we had our answer, as all we could see through the pub front window was thousands of people running with panic in their eyes. A crying woman stepped into the pub, saying something about an explosion at the finish line, bodies, and limbs...we all stood there in shock. A few minutes later, the TV's were turned to the live coverage and we got the unfiltered clarity of the horror. It was surreal to see it on TV while hearing the crowds outside, and seeing and smelling the smoke. My senses said to run, but I didn't think it made sense to go anywhere for the time being. But a few minutes later, the pub owner said they were closing. All of the blocks near the explosion were being evacuated.



(Devastation)
On the curb, the scene was intense. Nobody could find their loved ones, and feared the worst. Names were being screamed out in helplessness. Local Bostonians couldn't believe what was happening in their community, and the tears streamed down their faces. Sirens echoed down the city streets, and bomb units moved their way in. I hustled across the Boston Commons park and stepped into another pub with lots of big TV screens, texting my wife and parents that I was okay before the phone lines jammed up. The efficiency of the Boston Police Department, medical teams, and volunteers was stunning, and the medical tents for the finish line quickly turned into MASH units. The videos showed as many runners going TO the scene as running away from it, and it was clear there were 100 people helping on scene within five seconds. Then the counts started to come in...three dead (including an 8-year-old boy), 125+ injured, 10+ amputations already. Then another explosion at the JFK Library. It's not over, people. 

Tragic. Senseless. I felt nothing. I couldn't even conjure up anger or denial. It was similar to when I narrowly missed the 9/11 tragedy twelve years ago and couldn't feel anything for days. I needed to do something. I needed to help.

All celebration festivities were certainly cancelled so I couldn't go there to offer help, so I called Mass General Hospital to see if they needed help or blood, but they had plenty of both. I went online to offer my hotel room to any displaced runner, only to find a list of thousands of Bostonians opening up their houses. Boston was telling me "we got this, bro...we got this". Of course they do. This is Boston, one of the greatest communities in the world. Nobody takes care of their own like Boston.

I looked at my cell phone which said I had 53 texts, 25 Facebook messages, 30 tweets, and 18 phone calls. It was family, friends...it was you guys. Yes, I was okay. Yes, I had been at the finish ~30 minutes before, but my need for beer may have saved my life. In fact, let's have a few more beers. I opened up a tab and invited everyone to raise a glass to the families of the dead and injured, and to celebrate being alive. But in classic Boston form, the staff of the Beantown Pub just kept bringing free drinks.

(Runners were stopped along the course soon after the blasts)
As I got back to my hotel, another runner told me what it was like to be 500 yards away from the finish and told to stop (~5,700 runners were unable to finish). It was his first Boston, and like many who were coming in around the 4:09 mark when the bomb hit, he was running for a charity. I offered him my finisher medal, and he just smiled and said "you're the fifth person to do that in the last hour...no worries, mate, the BAA will take of us". His smile made me smile, and we hugged. Then he saw my watch and said "2:44? That's outstanding! Tell me about your race...". 

And just like that, the healing began. 

My senses came back quickly. I felt denial, and asked myself "why?" a few hundred times. I got angry, and blasted off a "#GFY terrorists" tweet (that's the Go F*** Yourself hashtag). I felt helplessness, realizing what an easy target the Boston Marathon is and it was likely just a matter of time before some of that small sliver of crazy in all humankind would see this easy target. Munich Olympics, Atlanta Games...the pinnacle of sport will forever be in the crosshairs of attention-seeking zealots with a few loose screws. I FaceTime'd with my wife and kids and turned into a sobbing mess as soon as it ended. This was good. This was healing. Somewhere in the whirlwind of emotion I fell asleep, and woke up still fully dressed with a new appreciation for life. That day is done. This day is ours. We all move on, stronger than before and gracious to be alive. Heroes abound. We will remember this day forever.

I am sad for the victims of this terrible tragedy. I am proud of Boston for their incredible response and support, and to the B.A.A., B.P.D, and local hospitals for being so prepared they undoubtedly saved lives. But most of all, I am happy for today. Happy to the point of tears that I get live and be healthy, surrounded by caring friends and family. The world feels brighter this morning, the sounds and colors more vibrant. I will not take it for granted. This day is a gift. 

Give your kids an extra hug, raise your glasses, tell everyone close to you that you love them. It might be a PR day, it might be your last day, but it's YOUR day. Cherish the gift, people.

I hope to see you all soon. And in case I haven't said it lately...I LOVE YOU!!!

- SD

62 comments:

  1. oh I'm a mess. Glad you're ok.

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  2. Such a great telling of your experience and feelings. It is horrible that anyone would want to hurt innocent people, children, families, runners and awe inspiring the reaction and giving that happened after. And I hope all the runners are able to appreciate their accomplishment despite the days events. Congratulations on your PR and your willingness to help and contribute.

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  3. Compelling account of what must have been an extreme rollercoaster of emotions yesterday. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  4. Congrats on your PR! It is a very sad day. But I am proud to be a runner.

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  5. wow. just wow.

    Thank you for the powerful write-up.

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  6. Wow, very compelling telling of the story. Glad to hear you are safe and sound.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your story...

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  8. Wow... you continue to amaze me. Keep up the good work. Hugs to you and your family!!

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  9. Scott,
    Thanks for sharing your story. I didn't get anything done yesterday afternoon and am taking the day off today to come to grips with this. I looked up your name in the results yesterday and was relieved to not find it. I guess I spelled your name wrong. I'm sorry anybody had to go through that, but I'm glad you were there so that you could tell your story.
    Mike
    P.S. Congrats on the PR!

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  10. Thank you for the great write-up on a day filled with both elation and horror. I love how you can run so fast and take pictures and videos. Congratulations on your fantastic race; you give fellow 40+ year old runners hope that their fastest days may still be ahead of them. :-)

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  11. Thanks for such an awesome story. I'm glad you gave us the full account. The good, the bad, the ugly. Because I really do hope you don't just remember the day as "defined" by the bombings. I hope you remember the comraderie, the beautiful day/weather, and your PR. Otherwise, the evil people win.

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  12. Michael Jimenez4/16/2013 12:28:00 PM

    Well told Scott, thank you for the experience.

    We love you too, Michael Jimenez

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  13. Thanks for sharing, Scott. You embody what runners are all about.

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  14. Good stuff Scott, as always.

    Congrats on PR.

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  15. Scott,

    Thanks for the write up. I have been thinking about you and others I know where there nonstop. It is hard to comprehend. I hope to volunteer at Miwok and will be riding in the death ride. At one or the other I would like to get you a drink. Thank you for capturing the complete picture like no one else has, the personal the tragedy the heart of the city, all of it.

    Thanks Scott

    Charles Zuckerman

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    1. Miwok usually has a beer in the finisher bag, so come find me! I look forward to it.

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  16. Great writeup, Scott. Trying to reach friends was heartwrenching and I can only imagine how scary it was on the ground. This Wellesley gal thanks you for honoring Boston - and congrats on your PR. Glad you're safe!

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  17. thank you for your honesty. amazing time!

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  18. We love you too, Scott!! Thanks for sharing your story!

    All Day!
    ~Ken

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  19. Scott, congratulations on your PR. I actually saw you getting on the bus in the morning (I was a few people behind you). I was shocked you were on such a late bus (back with us older age groupers and the charity runners). I was going to say something to you but I was actually a little star-struck having followed your blog for years and you were chatting with some other runners.

    I was WAY behind you on the course and after hitting several walls along the way was sprinting around the corner on Boylston when police stopped me just before the 26 mile marker. I am actually glad not to have seen what you have seen, but in some ways the unknown was even more scary. My husband in Colorado had the scare of his life seeing my 40K split and then nothing... His text to me went unanswered for a while.

    I am glad you and your friends are safe. It is a very sad day. Thank you for the post.

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    1. Lisa, you are a finisher in my book. I can't imagine what that must have been like for you. And for your husband! As I made my way from the scene, my first thought was "oh please have my family read my text/email before they get the news". He must have nearly passed out.

      I was super-late to the buses! I was so thrilled to have a night without kid interruptions, I didn't wake up until I heard buses. Barely made it! That would have been an expensive cab ride. Next time say Hi and we can get a picture for the blog!

      Glad you are safe.

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  20. "I went online to offer my hotel room to any displaced runner, only to find a list of thousands of Bostonians opening up their houses. Boston was telling me "we got this, bro...we got this". Of course they do. This is Boston, one of the greatest communities in the world. Nobody takes care of their own like Boston."

    I really appreciate this. I am a Bostonian, who did just that, offered my home, via twitter, FB, the official google, then Neighbors to Neighbors list. I had no takers but have gotten 2 emails and a text from people out of state saying thank you. But it isn't enough, and I, like my neighbors and friends, wish I could do more. Something was taken from our city yesterday and we won't give up til we get it back.

    Thank you for a moving account. And congratulations on your PR. We'll hold a spot for you next year.

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    1. That list was AMAZING. Thank you so much. I didn't want to link to it because all the contact information for all of you was in there (out of necessity). I fear what the Google might encourage with that.

      Bostonians had our backs at the Nor'easter in '09, the heat of '12, and now this. I can't thank you enough and will see you next year. Let me know if you need a running partner!

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  21. Thanks Scott, I was grateful when I saw a post or two suggesting that you were OK. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  22. Thanks for the comments! Thinking of you all.

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  23. Great write-up, Scott. I was supposed to run NYC last year and decided to bail out before Bloomberg called the race off given the extent of destruction. While many were headed to the Big Apple to show their resiliency I had to battle internally for a number of days on whether I should or shouldn't go. Having lost my house and car in the "perfect storm" in the early 90's in Fairfield, CT I knew what the folks in Staten Island were facing and I didn't feel quite right on running through the borough when so many had lost practically all of their belongings. Made me realize yet again how fortunate I am in light of the goings on. I hope to be in NYC next year if Wasatch doesn't destroy me!

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  24. Very nicely written. (I love the scream tunnel video - that looks amazing!) I was a little surprised not to see you at the "Dunlap" aid station on Saturday - I had forgotten that you would have been in Boston. Monday was an amazing roller coaster, and I wasn't even there. Thanks for sharing this.

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  25. Thanks for your report and I agree how well wrotten it was.... our hearts and prayers are with everyone in Boston and in the extended running community across the world that was affected by this senseless tragedy.

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  26. Scott, thank you for posting this. The account of your fantastic race (and the need to sack up) seemed entirely appropriate and framed the tragic events in a way that lets the rest of us truly appreciate what happened there. Boston, runners, Americans, human beings. All special. Thanks for showing us that.

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  27. Scott - I was so relieved to see Christi's Facebook update that you were okay. Yesterday I was quite grateful to social media because it allowed me to confirm the safety of so many friends who were at the race.

    Thank you so much for writing your full account, including all of the joy you had. I think that's really important, and for some reason I feel better reading it. Maybe it's just knowing that yesterday was defined by more than the tragic bombings. I also appreciate your first hand perspective on what it was like to be there near the finishline. And of course, we're all grateful for your functional alcoholism!

    Congrats on your race, and major props to Boston for showing their true spirit in every single way. Hope to see you soon.

    Gretchen

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  28. Thanks for sharing your experience. I have almost qualified, the closest being this past year. I got discouraged and was ready to give up the dream and stick to the trails. This experience as horrific as it was inspires me even more to make my dream a reality. Thank you inspiring myself and many, many others through by sharing your journeys. And may we all run on...

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  29. Scott,

    That is by far the best piece I've read in the aftermath of what happened. Thanks for sharing. See you on the trails, hopefully sooner than later..

    Bottoms up, man!

    Jeff Kozak

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  30. Scott, thanks for sharing your thoughts and your candor in the glory of your finish and need for beer. Always love your blog. Wishing you good luck and good health for your Big Sur Marathon.

    I've been struggling with abstract sympathy, but you helped me to remember the joy that always outweighs the pain.
    Kary

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  31. Thanks for a moving article, Scott, always great to hear from you and congratulations on your PR! For the record, nothing particularly scary happened at the Moscow Olympics (apart for a mass team no-show), the shootings were in Munich 8 years prior.

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    1. You are right, V. I corrected above.

      I hope you are well!

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  32. Thank you so much for sharing your heart with others. Praying for all those who lost loved ones, for all those that saw things people should not have to see, thankful that lives were saved due to the quick response of helpers. May we all appreciate life and the gift of each and every moment. (Knowing you were in the race started praying for you as soon as the news broke) Carol T

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  33. Scott, Thank you for sharing your experience. Our hearts go out to all Bostonians and visitors who had to suffer this tragic incident. Congratulations on your PR! Glad you are safe.

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  34. Good one!
    It shows once again how close happiness and sadness are...
    thx & keep on running & blogging

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  35. Benjamin Liebald4/17/2013 07:55:00 AM

    Hey Scott,
    Thanks for the great write-up and glad to hear you're safe!

    I went through a similar experience as you: Started my fourth Boston Marathon in corral #1, ran with Joan Samuelson for a few steps (she wished me good luck and told me about her goal to finish in 2:50, which she achieved!), had a strong day and finished with a new PR of 2:42:38! Naturally, I was all elated.

    Then on our way to the airport 2 hours later we heard about the bombings. Joy turned into sadness, anger, and fear. Barely had enough time to let family and close friends know that we were ok, and almost missed my flight after I got questioned by police since I was wearing my Boston Marathon jacket. I arrived 7 hours later to find dozen of emails, text messages and facebook messages from friends and colleagues asking me if I was ok.

    It scares me to think that my girlfriend was standing right in between the two spots where the bombs went off just hours earlier, cheering me on. Today, I'm just happy that she and I are alive and unharmed, but I'm mourning for the victims of this senseless act. The Boston Marathon will never be quite the same again...

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    1. 2:42, that's insane! Congrats. I'm sure you and your wife are very glad you are so fast. Hope to see you next year...

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  36. I'm really glad to see this post- thought of you when I heard about the news. Great write up... our thoughts go out to all those impacted by this senseless act!

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  37. Don't want to sound cheesy, but I got teary when reading you offered your medal to other runners. Great write up, and you are truly awesome!!

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    1. Thanks, Michele. All the finishers were offering up their medals...it was very moving. I heard this morning from a runner in the airport who was stopped at mile 25 that the BAA was giving out medals to those who were stopped and wanted one. They just need to contact the BAA.

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  38. Thanks for telling your story. I was one of the slower runners on the course yesterday, but was headed to a sub 5 hour PR. Such a conflicting mess of emotions.
    Www.paulasironjourney.blogspot.com.

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  39. I am a mess from the different emotions and crying from reading your blog! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and emotions. My daughter is a runner. Her goal was to run the Boston Marathon. All I could think of when I saw the news, that could have been my daughter. I could not stop the tears and then came the prayers for all the people hurt and for the families of the victims. The great thing about our country is that you may hurt us temporarily but it is only temporarily - our people have big hearts and we take care of our own. The Boston community did a great job of making sure they helped those that needed help. I agree with you we need to celebrate being alive, not to take this day for granted, show your love to those you love! Don't focus on the bad guys, focus on all the good done by many that is the news coverage I want to see, the good that was done!

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  40. What an amazing post. Congratulations! And I'm so glad to hear that you are safe.

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  41. Congrats on the PR...great race for you. You showed a lot of character by offering your finisher medal to another runner -Impressive. Glad you are ok.

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  42. Another fine story and congrats on the PR. Hope to see you at Big Sur.

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  43. Scott such a we'll written post! I am so glad that you were okay! I believe that god will previal and hope that your healing has already begun!
    Cheers
    Diana
    1mileatatime.com

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  44. Excellent writeup, Scott. It made me well up. I was supposed to run Boston this year, but missed out because of an injury. Recover well in every way you need from that experience.

    I'll see you at Miwok.

    -Adam

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  45. Great post. Congrats on the PR and for putting things in perspective. Glad you are ok.

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  46. Hey Scott,
    Nice to meet you and run with you for a bit out there. Nice job on the PR! i was worried we had started too fast but we were just right! Nice wrtie up too! Hope your recover well in all senses and I hope to see you at future races! Maybe next year for number 10!
    Loren

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    1. Great to meet you too! Congrats on your time - very impressive!

      I hope your girlfriend also had a good race. Hope to see you racing soon - I will certainly be back next year.

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  47. Scott - was great to meet you Saturday night at dinner, and congrats on your PR! I also had a good day, slow through the half due to unwanted pit stop but ran a negative split for a big PR (2:54:22).

    Thanks for your moving write-up, and especially for capturing the positives so well. Important that we keep those with us as we mourn the tragedy of the past week. Hope to see you celebrating life at Boston again next year!

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  48. Congrats on your PR! Glad to hear you were safe! And the honest write-up was a good one!

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  49. Congratulations on your race; it's awful that so many good memories will now tend to be overshadowed by the tragedy. Thanks for posting about all the positive that went on!

    My (similar, but without the PR) thoughts are at http://hungerfordgames.blogspot.com/

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  50. This is the first time I've commented but what a great write-up. I think it's totally appropriate to celebrate the happiness of the first half of your day - I think most of the runners injured would feel the same way. So glad you were safe. And so glad they got him.

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  51. Congratulations on running Boston.
    A great write up.

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  52. Thanks for the post. This year was my first Boston. Definitely not the memory I was looking for, but so grateful to have finished, and even more grateful that my loved ones are safe.

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  53. Great write up. The City really shone, both for the race and the response. It was my first Boston experience, it took me 6 years to get there and am now so hungry to get back. My take on the day is here http://achillesniggle.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/boston-marathon-15th-april-2013/

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  54. what a great blog! thank you for sharing! you did an amazing job capturing the Wellesley girls! From all the emotions of (my first) Boston marathon it is wonderful to see these great moments back as well.

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