Post by: Ray Fryan
Find Ray and his wife, Peggy, teaching How-to Run a Marathon at 12:15 p.m. at the How-to Festival.
This post was written by Ray Fryan following the 2013 Boston Marathon. It details training and the events of that day.
The Long Road to Boston
The journey leading to running this prestigious race together started 8 years ago. Brigitte was a junior in high school, traveled with us to Boston, and was impressed with both the city and race. She vowed that Patriots’ Day she would run Boston with me. My heart soared! Only 5 years later, Brigitte ran her first full marathon in Cleveland, but missed her Boston qualifying time by 9 minutes, and declared she would “never run a marathon again.” But, never say never! She trained rigorously for her second marathon (Columbus, fall 2011), and easily qualified for Boston with a 3:21 (qualifying standard – 3:35). I qualified a few weeks later at Savannah, and the Boston registration calendar put us in the 2013 race. The next 16 months seemed to fly by; starting last December, we began training together for weekend long runs, some of which were brutally cold – we do live in northeast Ohio, after all. A March vacation to Florida gave Brigitte and I some warm weather “tune-up” workouts – we were healthy, ready for Boston, and looking to run a time good enough to re-qualify for the following year’s Boston.
A Boston to Remember
The trip to Boston was filled with anticipation! Like Andy and Jill Black last year, I was privileged to run this prestigious race with my daughter. My previous 4 Boston’s were exciting, but this one was a “bucket list” experience. In addition to my wife Peggy, my daughter’s boyfriend, and his family, we had many area friends at the race, including our own Scott Brunner. This time, everything we did was extra special – enjoying meals together, going to the expo, and seeing the sights of Boston. Before we knew it, we were on the buses to the Athletes’ Village in Hopkinton. We jogged up to the starting corral of the second wave, and crossed the start line at 10:21am. Brigitte had told me that “just re-qualifying” was no longer the target. She wanted a personal record (PR), so we started with a 7:35 mile pace. Race conditions were perfect – starting temps in the mid-40’s, a slight cross-wind, and overcast skies. What a perfect day! We blinked and were at the 10 mile mark, and ran alongside a guy with “In Honor of Dylan Hockley” on the back of his shirt; he was from Sandy Hook, Connecticut. He was gracious and told us of the painful loss of his next door neighbor’s son. It turned out to be an eerie coincidence that we ran with someone honoring a victim of a tragedy.
At mile 13, Brigitte’s college friend Rachel joined us, and provided a fresh dose of encouragement as the course transitioned from the easy first half to the much more challenging second half. Brigitte and Rachel “carried me” up this 5 mile stretch, culminating in the famous “Heartbreak Hill” – which we ran at a sub-8 minute pace! The course is flat to downhill from this point on, so I confidently declared “now it’s time to kick this course’s butt”. Brigitte showed her steely resolve and saw the PR in sight, speeding up from a 7:35 to a 7:24 mile pace. By the 40km mark, Brigitte’s unrelenting pace broke me, and I had to slow down. She crossed the line in 3:18:56, 52 seconds ahead of me, at 1:39:53pm. I crossed at 1:40:45pm, hugged Brigitte, and congratulated several of my friends in the finish area. Brigitte had broken her previous PR by almost 3 minutes, and I got to run (most of!) the Boston Marathon with her. I was pleased with my time because I also re-qualified. About 70 minutes later, the finish times would not be that important anymore.
We slowly shuffled through the post-finish line process, where we were given our finisher’s medals, and some food and water. I got my gear bag and made it to the family waiting area by at about 2:00pm, about 2 blocks east and 2 blocks south of the finish line. Brigitte and her boyfriend Chris went to get her gear bag and get some “memory photos” back near the finish line, unbeknownst to me. Peggy met me around 2:10pm with Chris’ family. We waited for what seemed an eternity in the cold wind whipping between the tall buildings of downtown Boston. While we talked, we heard a very loud “boom” that sounded like a “ceremonial cannon” sometimes used at sporting events. When there was another “boom” a few seconds later, we wondered – what could that have been? Two cannon shots? Had someone famous crossed the finish line? We were increasingly concerned about Brigitte and Chris and at that point. They seemed fine when they went to get Brigitte’s gear bag, but we wondered if one of them was now hurt or dehydrated. We started back toward Boylston Street and thankfully, we found them a few minutes later. We all proceeded to the runners’ area exit around 3:10pm. At that point we did not know how concerned we should have been.
Something is terribly wrong…
When we saw people looking worried and concerned, Peggy and Chris both reached for their smart phones – the “booms” were not ceremonial cannons, but rather explosions! We frantically tried to hail to a taxi back to get back to the hotel. It sunk in quickly that we were now in the middle of a crisis, and realized that a getting taxi was going to be difficult; to make matters worse, the subway system was now shut down. Ambulances and police cars seemed to be everywhere, and helicopters circled above us. We finally got a taxi to pull over and take Peggy, Brigitte, Chris’ mom Bonnie and his son Elijah at around 3:40. Chris and I then mapped a route back to the hotel, staying outside of the center of the chaos; we ended up walking and running the 3 miles back to the hotel. Once we made it back to the hotel, I responded to concerned voicemails, e-mails, and texts. Peggy used Facebook, texts, phone calls, and e-mails to try to verify the safety of our many Canton-area running friends and assure our friends and family that we were safe. Dinner that night was supposed to be a celebration downtown; instead we shared a somber dinner at the hotel, talking about the suffering, the fear created, the shifting details of what happened, and our own fortuitous finish times. The next day, Peggy and I walked around downtown Boston, now cordoned off with crime scene tape. The area was overrun with police and media. The constant sound of helicopters overhead reinforced the surreal atmosphere, like we were in a war movie.
We are incredibly fortunate. Brigitte and I were in the area of the bombings about 70 minutes before they were detonated. Peggy wisely chose to go straight to the Family Waiting area, not the finish line area. Two of our friends were within 200 yards of the first explosion. As the story has unfolded, we’re impressed with the heroism of the first responders, the dedication of the authorities, and, as importantly, the rapid capture of the primary suspects. The terrorism had temporarily overshadowed what was to be a “bucket list” experience for a proud dad and his daughter; for the victims, for Boston veterans and first timers, and for the several thousand runners who were not permitted to finish, Patriot’s Day 2013 would not be anything like they anticipated. Instead of celebrating, we were mourning, praying, and giving thanks for our own safety. In this bizarre context, those who participated in this year’s Boston could cling to some sense of accomplishment for persevering. Brigitte and I ran Boston together, which is a “big deal” (and Andy Black can back me up on that). We’ve only started the journey of moving from the fear the terrorists wanted to create toward values that are much more important – the courage, tradition, and perseverance that epitomizes the Boston Marathon, and the blessing of being with family and friends. These were moments we’ll treasure forever – a Boston to remember.