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The bombs struck Boylston Street, and then….
By Hal Higdon

“It must have been an emotional experience,” she said.

“Yes, it was,” I admitted, stumbling for a few seconds, not yet sure how to respond, the asking of that question already producing an emotional reaction on my part.

We were talking about the Boston Marathon, the reporter and I, the bombs that had exploded with 4:09:43 showing on the finish-line clock, bombs that had killed three people and injured 260, bombs that had caught the attention of the world, ordinary citizens who normally would not care about 23,000 recreational runners and a few fast Kenyans running 26 miles 385 yards between suburban Hopkinton and Boylston Street in Boston’s Back Bay.

I did not run Boston last year though I have 18 other times. Nevertheless, I wrote a book about the tragedy. Unlike any previous book, the writing of 4:09:43 (the book’s title) had been an emotional experience. I cried often while telling the stories of 75 runners in the race and how close they came to death, how they finished (or did not finish) with tears in their eyes. And now I was doing my duty as an author: talking to newspaper reporters and TV anchorpersons and Internet bloggers, one of whom had just asked me if Boston 2013 had been a emotional experience.

Running a marathon always is an emotional experience, even without bombs exploding at the finish line. Typically, runners new and old train 18 weeks or more to prepare for a marathon. For that brief period, running becomes their focus: the long runs on weekends, the short runs at early hours in the dark, in good weather and bad, in sickness and in health. Yes, for 18 weeks runners are married to the marathon. And suddenly it’s over.

They cry.

They cry as they complete their long journeys. They cry as they pass under the ticking finish-line clock with their times in digital-red numbers. They cry as they bow heads to have medals draped around their necks. An important period in their lives is over. It’s like getting a degree, having a baby, having someone dear to them pass, and they realize that nothing will be quite the same again.

For those running Boston 2014, they will have an additional reason to cry.

I cried after crossing the finish line of the 1964 Boston Marathon. For more than a year I had focused my attention on not merely finishing Boston, but winning Boston! Grabbing  the lead before the Newton hills, I thought I had the race won—then somewhere around 19 miles on the second of the four hills that climax with Heartbreak, the train went by. One, then two, then three, then four runners. I finished fifth, first American, a Personal Record, but I wanted to win that race, and I had failed! I cried because I recognized a passage in my life. Time to stop pretending to be an elite. I had trained so hard and so long for that one race, and I knew never again would I be able to summon the will to train as hard. Never would I win this iconic race.

During a long career as a journalist, I once did an interview with cross-country skier Dan Simoneau and asked, why the Olympic Games were so important? “Everyone is there, and everyone is watching,” said Simoneau.

Everyone in the world will be watching this year’s Boston Marathon, because of last year’s Boston Marathon. If Boston was not an iconic event before 2013, it certainly is now. To accommodate the 5,000 runners who failed to finish, the field has been expanded to 36,000. Each runner can expect to have an emotional experience, unlike in any marathon before. They will cry. I guarantee you, they will cry. When they turn the corner off Hereford and onto Boylston and see for the first time the finish-line clock with its digital-red numbers clicking relentlessly away, they will cry. Many will cry the entire length of Boylston Street, more so as they pass the locations where the two bombs exploded.

Spectators on both sides of the street, those allowed access because of tight security, will cry. They will cry at the runners crying. I will be with them cheering the runners but crying too. One more emotional experience.

Boylston Street will be a street of tears.


Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for Runner’s World and the author of 4:09:43: Boston 2013 Through the Eyes of the Runners