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My Boston Marathon Story

Before moving to the Adirondacks, Jess and I lived in the Boston area for more than a decade. We still work for organizations in Cambridge, just a few miles from where today’s manhunt is taking place, and we have many friends and co-workers who still live in and around the area.

The events of this week have hit close to our hearts.

What follows is a personal story written by a good friend, and old college roommate of mine, Ron Fraser. I’ve watched with interest and admiration as Ron and his wife, Cheri, have transformed themselves over recent years into what can only be described as dedicated, committed runners. The 5ks, the half marathons, the tough mudders, the trips to Florida to run the Disney race… all of it culminating in a chance to run the big one – the Boston Marathon.

Ron and Cheri, and their charity team from the New England Aquarium, were running this year’s Marathon when the bombs exploded. This is their story.

The 5K, the VIP, the Phone Call, and The Jacket. My Boston Marathon story…

The emotions from Marathon Monday are difficult to comprehend.

What could have happened, what did happen, and how to move forward.

I was running my first Boston Marathon for the New England Aquarium.  It was the first year the NEAq was an official charity of the Boston Athletic Association.

Ron and Cheri at the Runners Village in Hopkinton

Those of you who know me, know I’m not very “fast.” I run with the charity runners. The soldiers running with American flags. The daughters running for their fathers. The mothers running for their sons. Grandfathers running because they still can. People running for cures to cancer, supporting children and schools, and many, many other amazing charities.

We’re not running with the Elites. We’re running for a cause. We don’t look the part of a marathoner and if you saw us you wouldn’t think we were capable of moving 26.2 miles using only our feet and legs. But we can, and we were determined to finish and prove the doubters wrong.

We trained for this day. We were beyond motivated. We were determined to finish.

The 5K

The weekend started out as “normal” as could be. I use quotes around normal because I believe sane people do not run 5k’s the day before they are going to run 26.2 miles. But that is what we did.

It was a beautiful Sunday morning in Boston and Cheri, Linda Bachand (our running friend), and I took off Eastbound on Boylston Street away from the BAA 5k finish line. We looped around Boston Common, passed Cheers, down Commonwealth Ave, and back again. You basically finish the last mile on the actual Marathon course. Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston.

As we finished the 5k, we couldn’t help but think about what the next day would be like. I wanted to take a quick picture of the famous huge blue and yellow finish line, but as I walked down the street toward the finish I saw scaffolds and ply boards stacked 15 feet high right next to it. Oh well…no picture.

Little did I realize I was standing at the future spot of explosion #1.

The VIP

My Mother came to town Sunday afternoon to see us finish the Marathon. With great pride, I handed her an official Boston Marathon VIP pass to sit in the bleachers at the finish line (these are the blue bleachers that were across the street from the explosions.)

She was excited for us and I was so glad she was there for me.  I already made the mental note to run on the right side of Boylston Street at the finish. Couldn’t wait to see her in the VIP section.

Marathon Monday. Perfect weather. We met our New England Aquarium Marathon Team out in Hopkinton. We were all prepared and psyched for the race. We hit the starting line and Cheri and Linda break into tears. All the hard work, training, and fund raising efforts have come down to this moment. It’s quite emotional to say the least. Crowds are amazing. Rows of people cheering.

The Run

Mile 7 is my first hamstring cramp. Bleeping fantastic. Only 19 miles to go. Another charity runner, Adam, hands me salt packets to help with leg cramps. He learned from last year’s 85 degree Boston. Saved my hide.

Mile 10, Cheri’s having trouble. Legs are like lead blocks. Can’t get energy. Thankfully we hit the Wellesley College Scream Tunnel after Mile 11 to keep us moving.

The next few miles are a grind.  Cheri is struggling and not speaking at all.  I know she’s hurt.  She wants me to leave her behind, but I can’t.  I won’t.  I have to keep her going and staying positive.  I remember turning to her to say, “We’re finishing this (expletive) race, we’re getting that (expletive) medal, and we’re wearing that (expletive) jacket!  WE GOT THIS!!!”

Mile 17, we know what’s coming. The 4 Newton Hills. Heartbreak Hill is the last and most painful. Here we go. Over the first 2 hills.

We pass Mile 18 and my phone rings. It’s 2:53pm. It’s the call that changed everything.

The Phone Call

I never get phone calls on my cell during the day. Must be my mother wondering if we’re close to Boston. Checked my phone…yup…it’s her.

“Hello, Mother!”

“Ronny, are you guys ok???”

“Umm…yeah.”

“Two bombs just went off at the finish line!”

“WHAT?!”

“Two bombs just went off at the finish! They’re clearing everybody out of here!”

My first reaction was to make sure she was ok…and she was. I couldn’t hear anything else because of the noise at the finish line and the loud crowds I’m running past. I told her to text me with updates. We had NO IDEA of the scope of these explosions. Nobody on the course had any idea what happened.

We ran for 2 more miles (about 25 min)…still…no updates from race officials. One officer said they were manhole cover explosions. It’s ok…just keep running. Ironically enough, we hit Heartbreak Hill.  John Hanzl and Deborah Bobek from the NEAq are there to greet us and give any info they had. It was great to see a friendly face at that point. We conquer Heartbreak Hill and run past the 21 Mile marker. We’re at the Boston College campus when race officials tell us to get off the road, the race is over.

We’re left heartbroken.

We sat outside with hundreds of runners. There were houses who invited us in for food and shelter. After about 45 minutes, a bus came to drive us to St. Ignatius Church on Comm Ave in Newton. At the church, police are lined up inspecting bags and taking our bib numbers. We were at the church for about 3 hours.

Inside of St. Ingnatius Church in Newton. Arrived around 4:00pm. It will be our home and shelter for the next 3 hours.

Boston College sent over pasta dinners, pizza, and drinks for everyone. The priests, medical staff, Boston College students, volunteers, BAA officials, Boston Police, and Mass State Troopers were amazing. They went above and beyond in such a time of chaos. They kept us calm, safe, well informed, and well fed. I had several texts, phone calls, and Facebook updates from friends and family. You’re all amazing.

7 or 8 buses picked us up from the church for a police escort back into town. People on the side of the road just staring at us or taking pictures. It was surreal.

About 7:15pm. On the shuttle bus from St. Ignatius to the Castle at Park Plaza (near Copley Square). Not the same mood as the morning shuttle.

Back in Copley, there was BAA staff, runners, and police. That’s it. Boston in lockdown. We get our gear check bags in the middle of a ghost town.

Bag pick-up around 7:30pm. Thousands of them waiting to be claimed.

There was an AP news reporter who interviewed Cheri about our experience.  Cheri, Linda, and I then spoke with a Japanese reporter, which just hammers home the message of a global tragedy.  Finally, we walk back to our hotel around 8:00pm. I turned on the TV and witnessed a video of the explosions for the first time.  My heart nearly stopped.  Not exactly the day we were expecting.

Boylston Street around 7:45pm. The finish line is a few blocks down. One of the most surreal images I can remember. Boston is in lockdown.

Emotionally and physically drained, we are contacted by Deb and John from the NEAq. The team post-race party is still on, and they really want us there. It’s a time to spend among friends and loved ones. Deb arrives at the hotel and drives us to her home. We share our stories, and I realize how much worst things could have been.

We learned that the mother and two friends of my teammate and friend, Rebecca Roche, were at Tufts Medical Center. After multiple surgeries, they will be ok. They’re all going through a very difficult time, as you can imagine.

Our teammate, Matt, from Australia, was near Boylston when the bombs went off. His wife and daughter were at the finish line a half mile away, and Matt couldn’t contact them. After two hours, Matt was finally able to reunite with his wife and daughter. They were both uninjured.

We all needed this post-race party. We needed to talk, vent and console each other. To celebrate teammate Jocelyn’s 26th birthday and laugh at Coach Chris’s rainbow colored haircut (Team NEAq was the highest donation bidder to select his Marathon hair style.) We needed to celebrate our achievement and reflect on our long journey to the Boston Marathon. Cheers to Team NEAq!

The Jacket

There’s a common opinion around runners that you can’t wear race apparel unless you’ve FINISHED the actual race. I bought my 2013 Boston Marathon jacket back in February, but NEVER wore it. Getting stopped at Mile 21 made me wonder if I ever would. Did I deserve it? Marathons are 26.2 miles…nothing less.

But I decided today that I DO deserve it. I was finishing that race and I’m not letting some cowardly act take away my pride. I’ll wear it for all the families who were affected by this tragedy, including my own. I’ll wear it for the thousands of runners who finished and the thousands that were stopped in their tracks. I’ll wear it for the hundreds of police, volunteers, medical staff, civilians, and runners who acted so heroically on Boylston Street.

To me, the jacket represents so much more than 26.2. It’s about strength, courage, community, and honor. And with that, I’ll wear it with pride!

Ron wearing his Boston Marathon jacket

I do plan on finishing this race at some point.  From the months of training runs on the course this winter, I know the route from Boston College to Boylston by heart.  I’ll get those 5 miles in.  My coworker has informed me that it’s about 100 laps around my Boston office.  I might need a water station set up at the reception desk!  It’s friends and family that help us through these difficult times.  I’m just glad I have I have so many of you to support me.  And… yes… I’ve already been asked by the New England Aquarium to run the 118th Boston Marathon in 2014.

I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Ron and Cheri. Training for 2014 has already begun!

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