Monday: Triumph Amidst the Tragedy

Guest blog by Rob Gomez

When Eric first asked me to write a guest blog for Level Renner, I balked. My account of the events that unfolded on Monday, April 15th, 2013 seemed very insignificant. The tragedy that occurred on Boylston St has been recounted so thoroughly and from so many different viewpoints, and the impact that this tragedy will have on the Boston Marathon has been prognosticated very eloquently by hundreds of writers and bloggers.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that every person involved in Monday’s events should share their story in order to help our tightly-knit running community understand, heal and grow together. And of course, no story of Monday’s events is complete without including the backdrop of the marathon itself – that’s what we all came together to celebrate in the first place, and that’s what will continue to bring us together in the future. My story is no more important than anyone else’s, but sharing it will help me understand, heal and grow.

I can best recount my day on Monday as a series of sharp moments protruding abruptly from a cloudy lake of emotions. Here’s a timeline of those moments.

Rob, before horrifying the co-ed (bandana still on his head). Courtesy of Scott Mason.

Rob, before horrifying the co-ed (bandana still on his head). Courtesy of Scott Mason.

3:55 AM: I’m up and I’m not going back to sleep. The gears are turning in my head.

5:25 AM: Choking down the last eight ounces of beet juice. I’ve been pounding this stuff for two weeks straight with the promise that the influx of nitrates will improve my efficiency in oxygen consumption. It’s almost not worth it.

7:05 AM: Kirby has to pull over on I-90 because I have to piss so badly. Good to know that my body is ramping into race mode.

7:45 AM: Grabbing some duct tape for my torn gear bag from a very nice couple in Hopkinton that’s just handing out free stuff to anyone who needs it. Their daughters are doing cartwheels and playing catch in between handing out band-aids. Maybe this was a bit of foreshadowing for the kind of goodwill that so many people showed later in the day.

8:35 AM: Sitting on my throne of cardboard next to Lauren in the Athlete’s Village, propped up against a tent pole, listening to “Recover” by CHRVCHES. Jeff loves this song. I’m reminded of how he got me back into running. I’m out here for him today.

9:55 AM: The guy next to me wonders why his 2:22 at St. George didn’t get him into the Elite corral. I keep my mouth shut.

10:15 AM: So I’m still only a few steps off the lead pack and we’re almost three miles in. Yeah, this isn’t aggressive at all.

10:35 AM: I need to slow down.

10:40 AM: Screw it, I’m not slowing down.

10:55 AM: I’m running through the center of Natick, spectators three deep it seems, and there’s absolutely no one around me. Naturally, I throw my hands up to get a better reception. I’m a sucker for a big crowd.

11:10 AM: I throw my American flag bandana at an unsuspecting Wellesley co-ed. Her expression is of pure disgust.

11:25 AM: Vassallo looks as giddy as a schoolgirl as he jogs with me for a few paces and offers me Gu (which I should have taken). I’m out here for him today, too.

11:35 AM: Just stay relaxed on the hills. Stay RELAXED. A few more miles and you can cruise the rest of the way.

11:45 AM: And there go the wheels. I do not want to take another step. Wow that happened quickly.

12:05 PM: I want to be done with this sh*t.

12:20 PM: I’m looking for my parents and I can’t see them.

12:22 PM: Holy crap, I might not even PR.

12:25 PM: Denise Robson finishes just ahead of me. She turns around, gives me a big hug, and we stumble forward together for a minute. I promise to see her at Cabot in just over a month.

12:40 PM: It feels like I’m walking on stilts. My parents are trying to get from Boylston to Stuart to meet me without the help of a smartphone. A random group of Latino adolescents want their picture with me.

1:45 PM: I give my dad a hug before he leaves, a good hug. We never really hug anymore, just bro-hugs and good-natured razzing.

2:30 PM: I decide to depart the Marriott for the Cheesecake Factory with everyone else in the room instead of sticking to my original plan of meeting Mary and Co. at the Cactus Club. I feel bad about it but text Mary to tell her I’ll make it down there shortly.

3:00 PM: While waiting for a seat at Cheesecake I notice people flooding, running, sprinting down the Prudential Plaza escalators and stairs to the exits. Looks like a good idea to follow suit.

3:05 PM: People everywhere. Emergency vehicles are flying into the square. No one really knows what the hell is going on. Everyone is wearing confused and anxious expressions. Steve says he heard two sounds in succession that sounded like a tailgate slamming down. I see one woman on the phone, bawling. We walk away from the square with no destination in mind.

3:10 PM: I call my mom. She and my dad are already on a bus headed back to Portland. I tell her I have no idea what has happened but that they’ll probably hear about it and that I’m fine.

3:15 PM: Finally getting word through Twitter. BREAKING: Explosion near the finish line. And Jon and I were headed back towards the Cactus Club.

3:25 PM: My phone is constantly vibrating now. It seems like the most logical thing to do is to head back to the hotel.

3:30 PM: I pass a couple of white guys verbally assaulting a person that appears to be of Middle Eastern descent. Can’t believe this is happening already.

4:00 PM: The NBC Boston channel keeps showing the blast video over and over. I can’t get through to anyone.

4:30 PM: Mary’s at MIT. Sheri is under lockdown in the Fairmont with Al and her kids. I’m so thankful that Juliette isn’t here in the middle of all this with me. Lauren tells me via text to meet her at her sister’s place on O Street and we can catch a ride home from there.

4:45 PM: There’s a drunk guy giving some firefighters crap for not letting him through the barricade in front of the Marriott.

5:15 PM: Walking next to a young couple pushing their 3-month-old back to their car in South Boston. They offer to give myself and Jon a ride the rest of the way to O Street. This kindness is so encouraging on a day like this. Gives me hope.

5:55 PM: Juliette calls me and her voice shakes as she tells me she’s watching the news about the “Boston Bomb”. I finally cry.

7:30 PM: On the way home with Lauren and her parents. Lauren looks a little washed out from the events of the day but sitting next to her brings a sense of calm to me. An ambulance merges onto I-93 right next to us, sirens on. I’m so numb to sirens at this point that I make no effort to turn my neck to look at it.

11:15 PM: Slouched over motionless on the couch at home, phone put away, the bulb over the stove the only source of light. I can hear the peepers from the pond across the street making a racket. Sweetest racket I’ve heard all day. I resolve then and there to run Boston in 2014.

The night before the race, Rob and Seth Hasty invited me to come by their room to hang out for a little bit. It was good to see them and talk shop a bit the night before the big race. Rob told me about his beet juice regiment and even gave me a “shot” of it. It reminded me of being a college freshman all over again, with the “wise” senior giving me a shot of Jack. I just barely choked it down and the aftertaste was brutally indescribable. Kudos to Rob for going the extra effort to squeeze the most out of his race.

I could be wrong here, but Rob scored himself a nine second PR by running a 2:22:53 on Monday. Rob may be too humble to divulge that on his own, but one of the reasons why I wanted Rob’s account here was because I know he ran very well. It might not have been good enough to make all that beet juice worth it, but a PR is a PR. Like Rob said, “every person involved in Monday’s events should share their story”, and in his own unique experience you can see the ugliness (racial profiling) and the beauty (strangers lending a helping hand) that was present in the aftermath. The tragedy seems to be dominating the headlines but we need to find the triumphant stories within and tell the stories of the successful races as well.

Thanks once again to Scott Mason for the photo. More Boston Marathon photos can be found on his website.

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