Reflections on BostonArea runners discuss the tragedy at the world renowned marathon
Washington Community Y director Becky Harkema was busy in a meeting Monday when her brother Russ called her and told her two explosive devices had gone off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Harkema, who hails from a town in Maine about 90 minutes outside of Boston, has run in the Boston Marathon four times. Her most recent run was last year. With a marathon coming up in Marion, Iowa, Saturday and a desire for new experiences, Harkema opted not to run in the event this year. She said today many friends from a Massachusetts running club that Harkema is a member of were on the course when the devices exploded.
“They were right down on the course or at the hotel right across from where the bombings were,” Harkema said. “Two of my friends were running when the bombs went off and it knocked them down. It was pretty devastating.”
Harkema said that while she was concerned about her friends, she fought the desire to call them right away and waited for a while. She said she wanted to give them a chance to get to a more secure area before trying to reach them. She had spoken with all of them by Monday evening.
According to the Associated Press, many runners had already finished the event when two bombs went off a few seconds and about 100 yards apart close to the finish line. The bombs detonated at the four-hour mark of the marathon. Reports so far say that three people have been killed — including an 8-year-old boy — and 170 more injured. A doctor treating the injuries said many of the victims had been hit with what appeared to be BBs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the incident.
The area around the finish line is always crowded at the end of the marathon, Harkema said. She said in many cases it is where the families of people running in the marathon wait. She also said the area in front of the track is fenced in.
“You are there for an accomplishment or a personal achievement and then to have something like that happen, it is devastating,” Harkema said.
At Highland High School, school nurse Shawn Loy wore her 2009 Boston Marathon jacket in honor of the people who were injured and killed. The blue Adidas jacket was emblazoned with emblems reading ‘Boston Athletic Association.’ It was a keepsake from the 113th running of the Boston Marathon, which Loy participated in. She said everyone who runs in the marathon buys a jacket.
“The jacket is a symbol,” she said. “When we get to Boston, everyone goes and gets a jacket.”
Loy said that runners have to qualify to run in the Boston Marathon. She finished in 3:35. She remembers how friendly the environment surrounding the marathon is. She said many people spend time before the event talking about other marathons they have run in and giving pointers in how to successfully complete the run.
For runners, she said, it is exciting to qualify. Runners have to make a certain time in another marathon — with the times based on age and gender — to enter the Boston Marathon.
“When I look at what happened, it is really sad,” she said. “There are people who have worked and worked to qualify. Getting there and being able to run that and then you have this tragic thing that is going to cloud over your experience.”
In future marathons she said that she is going to be more alert for anything that seems out of place. She also said that she is going to have her family meet her somewhere other than the finish line. Other than that, she said that she is not going to let the event keep her from competing in marathons.
She said a group from Washington County is going to a marathon in Chicago in the fall. She also said that she has run a marathon in New York and not been concerned about safety.
She said fellow runner David Mitchell and her husband had texted her at work to inform her the bombing had happened.
“I was in shock,” she said. “The marathon isn’t political. It is just a well-known race around the world. You just wonder how they targeted that event.”
She said that spectators line the entire route of the marathon, but at the finish there are rows of people, sometimes 20 deep.
For Mitchell, the Boston Marathon is still a goal. He has run 11 marathons. He said the closest he got to qualifying was in fall 2011, when he missed qualifying by 21 seconds. He said in order to qualify, he has to complete a 26.2-mile course in under 3:15.
“I know people who have run in Boston,” he said. “My first thought was whether I knew anyone who was running this year. There are a lot of vulnerable people in a situation like that.”
He said that he didn’t know how security could be improved at an event like a marathon. He said the thought of a danger had never crossed his mind while running a marathon.
“During the last few miles of a marathon, the runners would not be mentally prepared for something like that,” he said. “They are so intent on finishing and being done and being able to relax, then to have that happen at the end of the marathon …”
Loy said that she does not believe the event will stop the marathon. She said that she has seen notices on Facebook saying, “Boston will rise again.”