Boston Marathon 2013 – I Was There

Boston logo 2013Angela Coulombe is a graphic designer and photographer. She uses her running to raise awareness for Lyme Disease. She and 5 friends were near the finish line as volunteers.

Boston – In 2012, a friend and I set a goal to train for and run a marathon that would qualify us for Boston, which, as you know, is a runner’s Mecca. It’s the worlds longest standing marathon and most prestigious, either you qualify or you raise lots of money to run for charity. Two of us were fortunate enough to qualify for 2014: me with a time of 3:41 and a friend with a time of 3:40. Because we hoped to run it in 2014, we thought it would be a great idea to go down and volunteer, to give to runners and help in a very karma like way, so that when we run it in 2014, we receive back the same karma. Also, meet new friends, speak with runners, get a lay of the land, but mostly, really to give support and help to runners and the BAA. Three women from Saco as well as myself met two other friends from MA in Cambridge the Sunday before the race, all of us volunteering together in what we thought would be a great girls weekend away.

We thought ourselves very fortunate that a college friend was able to get us a spot in Sector 6, finish line security, our sector starting right after the finish line. Our responsibilities were to direct runners towards water, Gatorade, blankets, their medals, or medical help. It was also to direct VIP runners down the VIP chute and to keep the medical lanes open so that medics could get from the finish line to the end of the water line and back again to the medical tent which was positioned in the middle of our sector. And so we started our day at 9:30 a.m. at an introduction meeting, picking up our volunteer jackets and badges, name tags and security badges and set off to work.

The day was going great. We got to see all the first place winners come over the finish line, Lelisa Desisa Benti for the first man, Rita Jeptoo for the first woman, as well as Tatyana McFadden, the women’s wheelchair winner and Hirouyuki Yamamoto, the men’s wheelchair winner all earlier on in the day. The day was one of great excitement, joy, sharing, caring, and a runners love fest. High-fiving runners, seeing two of our friends who ran it cross the finish line, waiting for a third to come across.

At about 3 p.m., I was looking up at the finish line and saw the first bomb go off. I felt the ground shake and suddenly smoke filled the sky. I thought it was a cannon or fireworks and thought it was slightly bad planning because the last thing someone who is almost ready to finish a 26.2 mile run needs is that kind of shock. Within seconds the the 2nd bomb went off and it became apparent that this was not something that had been planned by the BAA, but I could not comprehend what was happening, that bombs had gone off, because I could just not conceive of the race being attacked, nor could I conceive of people who were running for charities, for others, for their families and themselves, being harmed.

Before I knew it spectators as well as runners were coming towards us down the finish chute . People were shouting to clear the area. At that stage my friend grabbed my hand and we went towards Copley Square as medics and first responders ran towards the bomb blast. However, we needed to find our friends who were still in Sector six and so we went back towards the bomb blasts. We were only able to make one phone call before we lost that ability. Luckily I was able to tell my husband I was okay and my friends were able to tell their spouses the same. We were tehn asked to turn our phones off as we were told the bombers could use cell towers to detonate bombs. This was the first we learned that it was suspected that bombs had gone off. We were all opposite the medical tent and my friends witnessed the first wounded, including the man who had had his legs blown off, being taken into the medical tent. At this stage we all knew how grave the situation was and of course, we also wondered if more bombs would go off. We asked our volunteer captain what we should do and she replied that she did not know because this had never happened before. We were then instructed to clear the streets, meaning, get all of the water that was piled in cases four high by four or five wide out of Boylston Street so that more emergency vehicles could get through. While this was happening there was the constant sound of sirens going off, armed personal running up the street, injured people being brought into the medical tent. Everyone worked to form a chain to clear water as fast as we could. When we could do no more to help in that way, we were instructed to clear the square along with all the remaining volunteers and runners who were down in that sector and who did not have any medical training or background.

We walked with many, many people out of Boston and into Cambridge. Along the way we passed many people who were in shock, like us. We saw mothers comforting their crying and frightened children. We saw people who were just broken down crying, unable to move. We saw people opening up their homes to take in runners and others who need to collect their thoughts, eat something, get warm. We saw so much help on the streets and so much compassion amongst everyone there.

As we were making our way out of the city two shocked and dazed male runners saw our yellow volunteer jackets and came up to us to ask us where we had been on the course. When we told them the finish line they wanted to know if we had seen their families who they described to us. We told them we had not, and as they had not received their blankets and were completely shivering and obviously very, very cold, my friend and I gave them out volunteer coats to keep them warm and as a way to try to help them keep going to find their families.To this day I do not know if their families were okay nor who they were, and hope they were all spared.

We were all in a news blackout until we had reached Cambridge and even then, all we could think about was going back home to Maine and not being in MA. We did not watch any news, though we all were able to put our phones back on and hear from friends and family what they were seeing in the news. At that stage I texted a friend who is a news presenter at our local TV station to let her know we were there but okay. She asked if I’d phone the TV station to do an interview. It was about 5:45 p.m. at this stage and it was only while I was on the phone listening to the live news program I had phoned into that I learned exactly what had happened and how grave the situation was. Mine was the last interview before they cut to President Obama addressing the nation.

The events of the day seemed surreal. It is so very hard to come to grips with the idea of the bombing because it is so incongruous with the ideals and spirit of the marathon and what the marathon represents in my mind and the minds of so many. I would also add that the BAA have been fantastic throughout all of this. They have been in touch almost daily, giving us updates, information, access to free counseling and information about PTSD. Our Sector leader and team captains have also been in touch daily. We have all checked in with each other to offer support and comfort as we all grapple with the events of last Monday.

I probably would have so much more to tell you and have probably left out so many details that I would have included last Wed/Thur but it has also been very hard to talk about this let alone write about it. Also, I would say that everyone we encountered during the event and after seemed to all pull together, although everyone was scared, we all worked together to do what we could do to help and I am left with the lasting impression that the real, true best of human nature was on display that day more so than the evil. I will never forget how fast the medic volunteers rushed to help the injured as well as other first responders. Quite incredible. And though I would be a little shaky at the start, I would also be hugely honored if I did get into the Boston Marathon next year, to run for those who were affected by it’s tragic ending this year.

I started a 5K for Lyme Disease Awareness because first, running played a huge part in my recovery from Lyme Disease but also, because the running community has always been such a supportive, determined, strong and compassionate community. The marriage between the two communities means so much to me. The race is scheduled to take place this Sunday, April 28, 2013, 9:30 am at Jimmy the Greeks Maine Mall restaurant in South Portland, Maine. However, when I first returned from Boston I did not think I would have the energy or desire to go through with the race. But I realize that is not what anyone in either community would want. And so, Lymebuddies, who works with the Jimmy the Greek and the Maine Mall to put on race, have decided to donate a portion of the proceeds to One Fund in honor of the victims in Boston. Seems like one of the best ways to move forward.

2 Responses to Boston Marathon 2013 – I Was There

  1. Jim Buchman May 17, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

    I was listening today to your special podcast on the Boston Marathon, in which you pointed out that about 20,000 spots are reserved for people who qualify by time, whereas 5,000 are reserved for those who raise money for charity (much like the Marine Corps Marathon in D.C.). I don’t know whether it is still the practice, but in 1987, there were a few spots reserved for medical doctors. I was working for Johns Hopkins Hospital at the time, and ran my first marathon (Baltimore) with my best time ever — 3:31:30. I was so proud of the achievement (having had severe asthma as a child, and incapable of running once around the track) that I checked to see what time I would need to qualify for Boston. For 25-30 year olds, the time was 2:50, which I could not have done if the entire race were downhill!

    So I was surprised when a doctor friend of mine said he was going to run Boston that year. I was surprised, since I knew he was a bit slower than me, though also a little older – just shy of 40. He said that M.D.’s could run the race as long as they had a qualifying time under 4:00, on the theory that they would take care of any medical emergencies they saw along the way. I told him that I admired his altruistic spirit; he said, “Are you kidding? If I see somebody passed out on the course, I’ll just direct them to the nearest aid station as I run by!”

    I might add that I have run two more marathons since then — I’m more of a half-marathoner. I had never seriously considered trying to qualify for Boston. But after the events of this year, I’m suddenly determined to try, just to prove to the Tsarnaev brothers that their callous acts were in vain.

    Love the podcast! Good luck qualifying for Boston your own self,

    Jim Buchman
    Annapolis, Md.

    • Trevor May 20, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

      Too bad there are no spots reserved for nurses then Angie could run it. Actually, she would rather be there having officially qualified. Thanks for stopping by the blog.

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