Tuesday 16 April 2013

Bastards in Boston

The 15th of April should have been a day of joyous celebration for the runners and their families as they completed the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston. Instead it became something out of a Hollywood war movie, I still can’t quite believe it!

Our day started out like most people running the race, leaving the hotel very early and heading to the start line to avoid queues of traffic and road closures. Rather than heading for the athletes village, we enjoyed the hospitality of the family run Michael Lisnow Respite Center.

The team at the centre were excellent, laying on breakfast and anything a runner could need before escorting them to the start line moments before the gun went off. You wouldn’t want it any other way and the waiting time flew by. The team provided my family and me VIP passes in to the bleachers stands at the start and finish line, little did I know at the time how these pieces of insignificant cardboard would potentially save our lives!

The start line in Hopkinton
After watching Nikki cross the start line, we drove to the centre of Boston and parked under Boston Common, just a few blocks from the finish area. We navigated our way around the road closures, grabbed some lunch and headed to the bleachers area around 2pm. Nikki was tracking for a 1445–1455 finish time based upon her current pace.

The sea of red Michael’s Miracle jackets in the bleachers was our heading and we were welcomed like long lost family members by the group. The whole team from the Respite Center and EMC have been nothing short of extraordinary, making us feel wonderful and happy about the teams achievements this weekend.

At 1449 (or thereabouts) an explosion rocked our world and that of those all around us. Almost directly opposite the area we were in an explosion went off, throwing clouds of smoke and pieces of debris in to the air. The explosion was like that of a flash bang, something I’ve heard a few times whilst in the cadet force years ago, the pressure wave hitting my ears and then…….silence.

There was an eerie silence that arrived so quickly. Time standing still almost. I put my arm around John & Janie (my Uncle & Aunt) as we moved diagonally up the bleachers. I scanned the scene in front of me, smoke, glass, blood, people lying on the ground, people running in every direction.

My brain was processing what was going on, or trying to. I thought it was some kind of firework that had exploded ahead of schedule or perhaps an electrical fire. Anything other than a bomb…then 1–2 seconds after the blast the smell hit me, cordite.

The sound came back almost as quickly as it had gone. The silence was broken and the noise was incredible. Screaming, shouting, whistling, crying and the scene was now awash with first responders. While most of the people with us were processing what had happened, the police, army, BAA volunteers and countless others ran towards the explosion to help those less fortunate.

Moments before the first blast
10 seconds later, BANG! Another explosion slightly further down the street. John screamed at us to get down. We hit the deck, still on the bleachers. Janie dropped her bag, as John assessed if we could drop down under the seats and get out quicker underneath the bleachers. I grabbed the bag, threw it over my head and grabbed hold of John, the drop was too great in my mind.

We were on our feet quickly, everybody was being ushered out of the bleachers. I turned to make sure Marathon Mike was with us, a client of the Respite Center, he was being bundled out of the area by the wonderful staff who were once again thinking of their clients even in the face of such adversity.

30–40 seconds after the first explosion have passed by now and yet I’ve processed more data in the last few seconds, that it feels like hours have ticked by. I realised at this time I had an iPhone in my hand, ready to capture what should have been a celebration of Nikki crossing the line in her first marathon.

I stopped briefly and pushed the shutter button 6 or 7 times to capture the mayhem around me. Janie was shouting at me I think or it could have been other people, everybody trying to get out of the area.

The blast directly across the street
Panic! Nobody knows what’s happening…the race has been stopped. We’re now a block or so away and feeling pretty shaken after seeing two explosions within 100 feet of us. Where is Nikki? How close to the line was she? Had anybody seen her in sight of the finish? I tried both my phones and John’s but no luck, it was ringing, then lines went dead, then it rang again but no answer.

For some time the network was busy, probably because of the volume of people trying to contact loved ones but mainly due to the anti-terrorist process put in place to shutdown the networks to prevent any further detonations occurring.

About 20 minutes or so after the explosions went off I got through to Nikki and discovered she was fine. The race organisers (BAA) had shown wonderful planning and skills and shutdown the course within moments of incident, preventing anybody from running in to the area. It took 1.5 hours or so before we met up as a group due to the street closures but when we eventually did it was quite an emotional moment.

We got to the car and got out of the city as quickly as we could.

We passed countless Police and other emergency people, all heading in the opposite direction, not knowing what they were going to see or the danger they were potentially running towards.

Today I feel lucky to be alive, I have a feeling it’s going to be quite emotional but our thoughts must go out to those families who weren’t as lucky as us. As well as to the first responders, who no doubt have much worse images ingrained on their memories than I do and whom I can’t thank enough for dealing with the incident so swiftly.

The Michael Lisnow Respite Center may well have saved our lives yesterday. I hadn’t appreciated it until John & Janie pointed out that if they hadn’t given us the VIP passes, we would have been standing by the finish line on the opposite side of the road. Possibly too close, possibly not and we’ll never know for sure.  If you can spare anything at all for this wonderful charity, please donate directly or via Nikki's Razoo page.

I will be back next year, running Boston in 2014, with an entry or as a bandit, I don’t care! I will be running to show those bastards they can’t win!  Ironically, the race director of Boston ran his first 2 Boston Marathons as a bandit, I hope they allow them next year too.

Peace and love