When I crossed the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, the first thing I said audibly and to no one in particular was: “That’s enough of that for a while.” Then, as I do at the conclusion of every marathon, I began thinking about how I would summarize the most important race of the year. It’s a thought process that, for me, continues through the post-race Epsom salt or ice bath; through the beers and burgers; through the train or plane ride home, and culminates in a long, often rambling recap the next day.
I thought I would talk about my time—a new personal best, but not my goal. I thought I would talk about the health hurdles I cleared to get to the starting line. I thought I would talk about how Pandora’s Sleep and Relaxation Station blasts ads every two to three songs that jolt me out of a trance just as my mind begins to surrender to sleep the night before the big race. I thought I would talk about toeing the line and running most of the race with one of my best friends, the guy whose running I admired so much I decided to try it myself 12 years ago. I thought about splits. I thought about Heartbreak Hill. I thought about the next race.
But, within hours, all that became inconsequential. As I was changing into clean clothes in our rented apartment on the Boston Common, a friend called from the finish line. I could hear panic in his voice as he asked me if I knew what was happening. He was the first to tell me of two loud explosions, a lot of blood and people in tears. I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew it was my job to find out. Legs sore from the long run, I jogged toward downtown Boston, stopping people to ask what they had seen.
Along the way, the story evolved. With cell service spotty, I frantically attempted to call updates to WABC-TV news desk in New York City as stunned witnesses described the scene and shared tearful stories of their close calls. I contacted our chief meteorologist, who was in town to see his brother run. We coordinated a spot where we would meet to produce a live report. With nothing more than my iPhone, we were the first New York City television station to report from Boston.
Over the next several hours, resources from New York arrived: reporters, live trucks and cameras to cover every angle of this story. My job became coordinating who went where and when and acting as a liaison between our makeshift bureau in Boston and our newsroom in New York. I spent the next three days immersed in the story, working from well before sunrise to well after sunset as the investigation unfolded and the stunned community mourned.
After running across the finish line early Monday afternoon, the next time I saw it was Wednesday morning, when some of the barricades and police tape had been removed from the crime scene. People had already placed flowers and messages at the site. Some left their finisher’s medals behind. I stared at the line that runners prepare for years to cross. We train for separate marathons just to qualify, many of us having to make multiple attempts. “I finally BQ’ed!” we proclaim. And when we do, we spend months getting ready for the Big One. So, to see something that represents so much hard work, so much accomplishment and so many tears of joy turned into something that represents so much pain,
so much shock and so many tears of sadness is overwhelming.
I’ve stopped trying to comprehend what happened and started planning for next year’s race. My intention to take a couple of years off from running Boston have been abandoned. As long as I’m physically able, I’ll be on the starting line in April. As runners, we won’t let this attack ruin a tradition that dates back to 1897. Tens of thousands will run. Tens of thousands more will cheer. Boston will come together and celebrate at the very event where two deranged terrorists tried to tear it apart. I love reporting the news, but I think after this year’s race, I’ll just take that burger and beer.
Jason Holder ’05 is the producer of Eyewitness News at 11 for WABC-TV in New York. While at SUNY Oswego, he was the news director at WTOP and ran cross-country and track. He continues to run competitively and completed the 2013 Boston Marathon in 2:37:55. On Sept. 9, the first day of registration, he signed up for Boston 2014.