Bellingham marathon runner stunned by Boston bombings

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 21, 2013 

Boston Marathon, Bellingham runner Kristen Carter

Kristen Carter of Bellingham is working toward again qualifying for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials.

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

With excitement, nerves and chills from the breezy Boston morning I stepped out of my hotel and gazed at the Boston Marthon's finish line. A small rush of adrenaline shot through me as I thought about the 26.2 mile historic race I was about to run. I felt blessed to have been able to get a hotel so close to the finish line. I had spent the last few days exploring the beautiful city of Boston, each day walking back and forth by the finish line, seeing Boston Marathon officials make progress on setting up the enormous finish line and grandstand seating along the street.

Now race day was finally here. I shivered again and made the short walk over to the bus that would take me to the start in Hopkinton, Mass. I had been selected as an elite athlete and boarded a bus loaded with running powerhouses. I shook my head and tried to convince myself I belonged there. A police escort took my bus, along with two others filled with the top women and men runners, to the start. This escort seemed silly and unnecessary at the time.

We were all corralled into a small building where Boston Athletic Association officials carefully kept cameras away as we relaxed and then began to warm up. After a short jog, I approached a set of outhouses that had been set up for us. Shalane Flanagin and Kara Goucher exited the outhouses right in front of me -- yes, even Olympians are given the traditional pre-race bathroom.

At the starting line, the feeling was electric. The crowds screaming with excitement. The noise and excitement only calmed as we all hushed in 26 moments of silence for the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. The announcer stated that mile 26 was being marked in the victims' honor. Nerves and spectators stilled in honor of those victims.

Shortly later, the elite women's gun went off (we began at 9:32 a.m., 28 minutes before the elite men and first wave of runners). The next two miles were bizarre. None of the top elites were taking it out fast. We clocked off the first mile in a tight pack in just over six minutes. I questioned my sanity around mile two as I was still running stride-for-stride with the Olympians and record setters. Not long after, however, the top dogs opened up the pace and quickly left the rest of us behind.

I then proceeded to do exactly what all the veteran Boston Marathon runners I had spoken to had told me not to do -- my adrenaline got the best of me and I ran nearly 20 seconds per mile faster than my already ambitious goal pace. Anyone who has done this early on in a marathon knows this is the equivalent to runner suicide. Sure enough, heartbreak hill got the best of me, and I ended up limping away from the finish line disappointed with my time -- a feeling that was soon to be put into perspective.

I went from the finish to my training partner and fellow Brooks-sponsored athlete Amber Morrison's hotel room located directly above mile 25. She had had a personal record by nearly ten minutes with 2:49:58 and we sat celebrating her time and watching the runners pass by below our window. The topic of our conversation quickly switched though as we noticed that runners were stopping, being turned around. Police began to appear and more and more people were getting on their cellphones. We flipped on the news and stood in shock as we watch the bombing footage. We had both just been there. We both had friends still running. What was happening?

We continued to flip back and forth between the news and looking out our window. Dazed and dehydrated runners were wandering around below. After having run 25 miles they were being turned around from the finish. Many didn't know why. Still more had no way to contact their families as their cell phones were located near the finish line -- an area that was becoming an emergency room and soon to be a restricted crime scene. Some of these runners sat down on the curb and began to cry.

Our phones began ringing. Concerned family and friends wondering if we were OK. Soon though, cell service was shut down. We later heard rumors that this was because the bombs may have been set off by cell phones. We checked race results to see when our friends had finished to get a guess if they were OK.

Shortly after we were told our hotel was on lock-down. We watched out our window as cops pulled up, helped runners away from the area and roped off a section of sidewalk directly below our window. They then sent a sole man in full bomb gear into the zone. We watched as the man walked around, going back and forth from the sidewalk to his truck. About 30 minutes later he left and the sidewalk was re-opened. Perhaps in the next few days I will learn if that bomb squad found anything below our hotel. More importantly, perhaps we will all learn who placed those bombs.

I have been told that traditionally after the Boston Marathon the entire city erupts in parties and celebrations. Participants proudly wear their medals everywhere. Bars give discounts to medal barrers and restaurants are packed as everyone celebrates having finished the iconic Boston Marathon. I have heard this is traditionally the biggest celebratory night of the year in Boston.

Tonight though, the streets are silent. The city is subdued. There are no parties and no celebrations.

There is, though, a sense of reaching out to help. We have already seen some of the heroes emerge, and I am sure that we will see more as the next few days unfold. I have personally spoken with multiple runners, and heard more runners interviewed. Interestingly, I have yet to hear one runner say he or she will not consider running the Boston Marathon again. I am sure this sad event will change how marathons are orchestrated, but it appears it won't change how marathons are run. We will be back. Like I am sure this strong country will do: we will recover and race again.


ABOUT WINDOW ON MY WORLD

Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.shirley@bellinghamherald.com.

Kristen Carter is a 2001 Bellingham High School graduate who returned to Bellingham after earning a master's degree in communications at Ohio State University. She works for Logos Bible Software is working toward again qualifying for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials. She wrote this essay April 16 about her experience at the Boston Marathon.

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