Following the 10-Year Anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombing, Two Palisadians Share Their Experience
By JODY CRABTREE and JANNA KOHL
It was a clear and crisp day in Boston on April 15, 2013. We were up early getting breakfast in the lobby of our hotel, The Lenox, which overlooked the marathon’s finish line.
After our last race together—New York in the fall of 2011—we decided it was best to stay as close as possible to where the marathon would end. After running 26.2 miles in New York, we had to trek several more to get back to where we were staying, though we did stop into a bar for a celebratory beer along the way.
For this marathon, our plan was to finish the race, go to our hotel to shower and then head out for drinks to celebrate.
The Boston Marathon was somewhat different from the other two marathons we had done together in Los Angeles and New York. Though the Boston Marathon has history and a certain prestige, it has a quaint, small town feeling about it.
The course starts on the road by Hopkinton High School, about 26 miles due east of Boston. Since space is very limited, the starting line is carefully monitored, and runners went out in “waves” according to their qualifying times.
In New York, I was fairly certain I had qualified for Boston at the finish line, though only by about three minutes. Though I have been a runner for nearly my entire life, the qualifying standards for Boston are exceptional. I stopped only once to use the bathroom and chose the stall no one was in line for (it was clear why when I got inside, but I could not waste any time).
After Janna and I finished and enjoyed our post-race beer, we saw online that we had both qualified in our age groups. We decided then that we would run Boston, since we both actually had the chance.
When participating in a marathon that requires a qualification time, sometimes the gap between qualifying and running is fairly lengthy. New York took place in November of 2011 and the Boston Marathon that we qualified to run was not until April 2013—more than 17 months later.
A lot can happen in that much time, especially when keeping up an intense training schedule. I developed plantar fasciitis in both feet, which is excruciating and slow to heal. And my left hip joint started to flare. I had a preexisting condition in that hip that had seemed to go away for the first two marathons, but I was now having trouble getting through my long runs.
About six weeks before the race, I realized I would need to do something to get through 26.2 miles on a compromised hip. I spoke with Janna’s husband, Jon, who is a physician in an orthopedic practice, and arranged to have a cortisone injection in my hip joint.
It worked and I could run again. I finished my last 16-miler before “tapering” to lower distances before the race.
But about 10 days out, the pain was back and intense. I scheduled another cortisone shot, despite being advised against it. I knew I would never again have the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon.
We planned our Boston flight to arrive the Saturday before the race, so we had time to relax and enjoy the city a bit before.
On the flight to Boston I sat next to a friend of a friend who was also running the marathon. His name was Adam Frisch, and he happened to be the mayor of Aspen at the time. Adam ended up joining us on the bus ride to the race start in Hopkinton.
We arrived at the high school and warmed up for the race. I had developed Achilles tendinitis between New York and Boston, and had a large bump on the back of my right ankle. Though I could still run, there was no doubt in my mind that this would be my final marathon. But thought the Boston Marathon was the ideal ending to my decades-long running career.
At 10 a.m. the day of the race, the first wave of runners began. There were nine corrals per wave, again based on qualifying time. I was scheduled to be in corral nine of the second wave, which was leaving at 10:20, and Janna was in corral one of the third, which started at 10:40. This meant we would have to start running 20 minutes apart, though our qualifying times were similar.
Because of my injury I needed to have my running buddy close by. So despite the very intense security checks at the starting line, I managed to pull Janna along into my corral, and she started 10 minutes ahead of her scheduled time.
As the race began, I felt tears well up in my eyes. It was a glorious feeling to be part of the most elite marathon in the U.S. and beautiful to run over the rolling hills of the Massachusetts countryside. But I also did not know how I was possibly going to make it.
I took the race mile by mile, trying my best to zone out to my music playlist. Sometimes Janna and I were close to each other, sometimes I didn’t see her. Every once in a while, I would stop to try to stretch my hip joint a bit. It was not easy, but I was determined to finish.
Off and on for 24 miles Jody and I passed each other. It’s difficult to put in words the patriotism seen in that race. Almost every step of the course is packed with Bostonians cheering in red, white and blue clothing and Boston Red Sox hats. The Boston marathon actually celebrates Patriots Day, which is a state holiday in Massachusetts.
We ran through charming suburbs, passed Boston College and continued on to the city on the horizon. There was not a moment that the energy of the crowd left the marathoners.
At mile 24, I passed Jody, who was obviously limping at this point and looked like she might pass out. I said, “Jodes, you OK?” And she said, “I’m going to finish.” I kept running.
Once I got on Boylston Street I could see the finish line in the distance, and The Lenox on the right side a bit before with the grandstands just beyond. I finished and noticed the Fairmont hotel was close, only about 100 yards away from me. I had received texts during the race from Jon and other friends who were there and knew they were in this hotel. The thought hit me: “Hey, all our people are in there drinking. I can get my medal later, I don’t need post-race snacks, I want a beer.” So I pushed apart two police barricades (I was serious about this) and crossed the park in front of the Boston Public Library entrance.
Oddly I noticed that the people coming into the grandstands were having their bags checked before entering. The thought came to me that this security measure was a good idea, because the Boston Marathon was one of the most patriotic events I had ever witnessed. It felt like the entire city was out for that day, and American flags were everywhere I looked.
I entered the Fairmont, greeted our group and ordered my beer. I asked Jody’s husband to call her and tell her to come straight to the Fairmont lobby bar. I then went downstairs to powder my nose. When I returned Eric was on the phone and said, “I’m telling Jody how to get here the back way.”
Around 2 p.m., I was finally running through the streets of Boston. My memory of the end of the race is a bit hazy. I was overjoyed to finally see the finish line in the distance, and our hotel steps away from it.
I finished the race and staggered through the finish chute, getting my foil blanket and medal. I then told a race official that I needed to leave the line and head back to my hotel, as I couldn’t walk a step more than needed. He let me out of line and I headed back toward the finish line to the Lenox.
As I walked, I got texts and calls from Janna and my husband Eric. They said that I should come straight to the OAK Long Bar at the Fairmont, and save the shower for later. All I wanted was to get to my hotel room, but decided to go have the customary celebratory post-race drink with the group.
I walked into the Fairmont and found our group. I untied the sweatshirt around my waist and put it on.
As I sat down in my chair, the entire hotel shook violently. It felt something like an earthquake. People at tables nearby said things like: “Was that an earthquake?” and “Something must have happened at the construction site across the street.”
The hotel was locked down soon after and we couldn’t leave. Soon we heard that bombs had gone off at the finish line.
It felt incredibly surreal. We were not getting much information, though we were seeing a lot of action around the medical tents on the grassy area directly outside the Fairmont.
There were reports that the library was on fire. It seemed probable that a terrorist attack was taking place.
I departed Boston on a flight that night, still wearing my race clothing. I left all my belongings at the Lenox hotel, which we could not access.
I felt truly fortunate that I had not attempted to go back to the hotel, and that I had successfully gotten Janna into my corral 20 minutes earlier than she should have been running. We both could have been in the middle of the finish line chaos and horror, but each of us essentially saved the other from this fate.
Soon after Jody entered the bar and we toasted there was a loud kaboom. We didn’t know it was the first bomb, but it was something loud that rattled all the windows and shook the 125-year-old building. Just seconds later, the second bomb went off yards from the Lenox, and all hell broke loose out in the streets.
In hindsight, it truly felt like divine angels pulled me out of the finish line and across the police fence to the Fairmont. What compelled me to not get my coveted Boston marathon medal and forego my shower?
It felt like our two lives were spared that day. Had I been in my original start time corral, I would have left at 10:40 a.m. that morning. I ran the race in 3:52, which would have put me across the finish line around 2:48 p.m. The first bomb went off at 2:49 p.m.
Jody’s life was spared when I made the decision to celebrate instead of sticking with the plan to freshen up post race. She would have walked by the grandstands on the way to the Lenox right around 2:49 p.m. as well.
From April 15, 2013, I created an email folder with all the messages I received that day from friends thinking of me. If I am ever feeling down or lonely, I go back to those messages and my mood changes.
Friends who I didn’t realize knew I was in Boston checked in to make sure I was OK. Those messages to this day mean so much.
Sadly, so many people were injured—physically and emotionally—at this event. Ten years later, Jody and I both still think about our brush with death, thinking how the day could have turned out so terribly differently.
Whether it was luck or divine intervention or something else, we both feel eternally grateful that we were safe.
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