Welcome to Heartbreak

USA TODAY Sports

Patriots Day means a lot to Bostonians. Let's take this time to stand together in unity. (strong language)

Editor's Note: It's been a year since the tragedy of last year's Boston Marathon. This is the article that I posted the day after the events, without any changes. Let's use this as a time of reflection- for overcoming struggles, for coming together in times of need, and for the unbreakable spirit that our city is built upon.

Last year they stood on Hereford to cheer their son to the finish line. This year, they just wanted it to end. My parents stood in the shadow of a Dunkin Donuts at approximately 3pm to cheer on as champions from around the world completed their race. It was a cool day, much different from last year, and their view was perfect. They didn't have anyone in particular to cheer for, but they were there for the excitement and for the pride that our city was able to unite for such a special occasion.

4:09.

They said the high temperature was an earth scorching 88 degrees on April 16th, 2012, but that doesn't do the weather justice. The marathon officials let people drop out of the race and defer their entry to the following year- there was no way I was not going to run. I started my training in December of 2011 with the Boston College Campus School, but more specifically with my friends Danny and Evan. We were all seniors, but they were Marathon veterans, having run each year since we were freshman. I wanted to finish- that was my only goal- and Danny offered to train and pace me. A selfless act for a selfless human (Danny's now in the Peace Corps and ran his own marathon in Africa).

So we trained. I wanted to break 4 hours and we seemed like we could do it. We ran through the winter, in freezing temperatures that numbs the fingers and stung the legs. We ran through Cambridge, through the Commons, through Charlestown. Every Sunday, we strapped on our shoes and trotted to some specified locale, guided by the hundreds of other Boston College runners who were raising money for charity. Seven miles. Thirteen miles. Seventeen miles.

The school bussed us out to Hopkinton for our 21 miles run so we could see how it felt to run the whole beginning of the race. 45 degrees, crisp; cool enough that I was happy I wore my sweatshirt, warm enough that I could have left my gloves at home. Evan, a future doctor, ran with the lead pack and disappeared in the distance. Danny and I ran, step after step, in the chase pack. Two hours and thirty minutes up and down hills, through Wellesley, Newton, and Heartbreak. Oh, Heartbreak. Make it to the top of Heartbreak and you can smell the finish line, a mere five calf-screaming miles away. Stop and walk and it will break you, but on that Sunday morning, we broke the hill- and we were on pace for my sub-4 marathon. We could do it.

4:09.

My parents were on Boylston to watch the finish, in between Exeter and Fairfield when hell broke at the finish line. I was at work in New York City, a world away, watching the race on the Bloomberg terminal. I shook my head when Jason Hartmann finished an agonizing fourth for a second straight year and turned off the live stream; no need to watch anymore.

3:25 PM. "At Marathon. 2 explosions. Evacuating Boston. Just feet from us. Angels." A text from my mom that I didn't understand and didn't know how to read. Explosions? My mom following up with a picture of the smoke rising behind Exeter Street, American flags waving in the foreground. A woman wearing last year's Marathon windbreaker clasped her hands over her mouth and was looking into the distance behind my mother, clearly in shock at the second explosion. One explosion in front of my parents, one behind them. Trapped.

I called my mom after the shock wore off. "I can still remember the time. 4:09. He was my hero- your father. He was my hero." My mom relived the moment and spoke of how my dad snapped into action when disaster struck. How he pulled her through a hotel lobby since there were explosions on both ends of their street. How he pulled her by a woman, lost, looking for her leg. How they made it to safety and into the car and back home within an hour. "Shit." I was shaking and couldn't think of anything else. "Just...shit."

4:09. That hit home.

Prior to every marathon, Danny and Evan always came up with a quote to carry them through to the finish line. Some silly quote from a movie that, while humorous to use at first, eventually grew to hold meaning. This year, a bunch of us went to the movies to see the newest Liam Neeson movie "The Grey" and decided that our quote should be the same one that pushes Neeson to the brink and beyond.

"Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I'll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day."

This was senior year, our last hoorah and our last chance to leave our stamp on the marathon. This was our last fight and we wanted to leave everything out there. Evan wrote the quote on his limbs in permanent marker. We recited the quote at the starting line, before we jumped in as bandits (unregistered runners). "Live and die on this day." All in good fun, it meant for us to give 100%. Now it seems too real.

I was already fading at mile three. It had to be at least 95 degrees out, causing all the moisture to evaporate from my skin, leaving nothing but a salt trail down my legs. I had my running hat that I had purchased at the Marathon Expo at Seaport- a bright orange hat with the 2012 insignia on it. Danny was wearing a hat and had a running towel that I made fun of him for buying ("You shelled out fifteen bucks for a towel?"). I could feel myself cramping up in the heat and my legs were already dragging. Danny drenched the towel at every water station and finally just put the towel on my shoulders- likely saving my Marathon. We weren't running at our eight minute pace from the couple of weeks before. But I just had to finish.

"C'mon, ya pansy. I though Boston College kids were tougher than that!" Some seventy year old man, probably a Boston University graduate, carrying an American flag ran by, looking as spry as ever. No turning back now. I sacked up and gave chase, the cool water from the towel dripping down my back and granting new life.

Once more into the fray.

4:09.

Marathon Monday means everything to people in Boston, and Boston College is no exception. BC gets flack for "not really being in Boston", but no one can deny the impact and importance BC holds during the marathon. It's an all-day inebriation celebration and our campus is charged with supporting the runners at their most difficult point. Eagles line the course from Centre Street and Commonwealth Avenue, all the way up Heartbreak Hill and to the top at Mile 21, and through mile 22 and the turn into the final stretch.

It's a tunnel of excitement that can grant second winds- and third and fourth winds- to those struggling to reach the finish. Friends line both sides of the road and shout slurred encouragement to their friends and strangers alike. I spent three years on the side line, screaming "CANADA! CANADA! CANADA!" to those proud foreigners from up north who wore their national flag with pride. I screamed until my voice was hoarse and then I screamed some more. This year, I wish more than anything that I could be back on that campus, back on that sideline.

Boston College prides itself on being "Men and Women for others" and damn it if they didn't do everyone proud. Senior (and insufferable Bills fan and Buffalo Rumblings reader) Alexander Hoffarth and hundreds of other members of the Boston College community spent all day and night caring for lost runners in St. Ignatius Church. "BC EMS and BC Dining Services did incredible work, and I saw countless examples of BC students stopping by and offering to buy food for the runners and volunteers, or just comfort them," He said. "It was absolutely incredible."

Hoffarth is just one member of the Boston College community, but he heads a leadership program on campus that is organizing an event called "The Last 5." Thousands of people were unable to reach the finish line due to the disaster and this upcoming Friday, Boston College is inviting everyone back in an act of solidarity to walk the remaining five miles- and there are already six thousand people signed up to attend.

"We will walk to show that we decide when our marathon ends." And so they will.

4:09.

Danny and I found a consistent 9:30 pace after I was able to collect myself and refocus on the race. We had clearly gone out to quickly- our first miles were tacked at 7:30 due to the excitement, the next few were in the double digits- but once you find your groove in distance running, you can start to get comfortable and can continue to push yourself. While I wouldn't say that I could ever have gotten comfortable in that heat, I was able to be consistent and that's the important part.

We pushed through Framingham and Natick and I was struggling too much for anything to happen around Wellesley (that didn't stop Danny, though), and we made it to the halfway point in Wellesley center. For the first 13.1 miles, there wasn't a single point where there weren't cheering supporters. Families lined the sidewalk, creating water and Gatorade stations of their own, with some passing out fruit, others passing out Powerbars. One house had a banner that read, "Shortcut: Take a Beer before you Go!" with an arrow point to an open front door. I wonder if anyone took them up on the offer.

The entire community of Massachusetts showed up for the 116th year. This isn't a Boston marathon. This is a Massachusetts marathon. This is an American marathon. This is a global marathon. Hands reached over to the street, offering high fives and signs of encouragement. Kids wrote signs in chalk in the middle of the road. "Just keep running, just keep running." The scream wall at Wellesley didn't let us down and their signs were blatant in their intentions. "Kiss me, I'm blonde/Asian/a mathematician/an engineer/why not?" My girlfriend could have told them why not as I ran by, gasping for air, mouth hanging, eyes focused on the ground- one step after the other. Just keep running.

Danny and I wove through the landscape as the views changed from open fields and large yards to more concentrated apartments and town centers. I was devouring the "GUs", little bags of yogurt heaven, a quick slurp that provided energy for the next couple of miles. Strawberry Vanilla. My hazy mind thought it was the most delicious snack (Vanilla, not so much). Mile 17 led to Commonwealth Avenue- Comm. Ave. to the initiated- and the rolling hills that are famous throughout marathons.

Heartbreak Hill. It was a blur. A nasty, eyes rolling in the back of your head, clench your teeth and grind two mile stretch that led to Boston College and the men and women for others. My friends flocked us and ran alongside us for the mile or two that we passed the campus. Danny ate it up. I just wanted to make sure I didn't eat the ground. I had wanted to live in the moment as we passed in the campus, but goals change over time. That four hour marathon had faded into the distance. I just wanted to finish.

4:09.

Stories of yesterday's heroism are already widespread. This is a hero. These are heroes. These are heroes. These people are heroes. The Boston community has opened its arms to those afflicted, while the global community has reached out to Boston. Moments of silence and respect bridged ideologies, borders, and even rivalries for the sake of unity.

My mom sent me a text an hour after the explosions: "Sitting on the couch at home with my hero."

Patriots' Day means plenty to Bostonians. The day represents a celebration of the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord 238 years ago. It's a statewide holiday that is in honor of the bravery of our nation's ancestors and forefathers. Bravery. Unity. The shot heard around the world.

How relevant.

On the anniversary of the ride of Paul Revere, thousands upon thousands of all mankind rode through the city, and will continue to run in "defiance and not of fear." For yesterday we witnessed the first responders running towards the flames, and we saw the bravery and unity of those who disregarded caution to help those in need.

Those are the heroes and they walk amongst us.

4:09.

Right on Hereford. Left on Boylston. My parents stood on the corner of Hereford and Newbury, waiting for me to go by. A whole day event in the heat to see me for a couple seconds. I trudged by on Hereford and forced myself to stumble down Boylston. The final stretch is like nothing you can imagine- just pure bliss as you know you're going to make it, that you're going to complete your goal of finishing the marathon. Months of training, years of struggle for those running on behalf of others, all culminating with a festive tunnel of medals, jackets, and cheering fans. Every step is a fight and every step is a struggle that I would do all over again. I crossed the finish line and met with my family and friends on the other end.

I didn't beat the four hour mark. Danny pushed me the whole way, but I couldn't do it. But we finished. We finished that race. Running time: a little more than four hours, 10 minutes.

One year early.

Yesterday, we saw the power of our community. The care shown by those handing out water on the sidewalk is now extended to those without a place to go. The brave police officers, firemen, medical personnel, and all those who stood in the way of disaster to serve and protect those in need became the heroes they needed to be. Those incredible runners who continued their race to the nearest hospital to give blood. The people who finished the race, only to turn back and offer help wherever needed.

Heroes. All of them.

Those who have run marathons know that the race becomes a part of you; challenges are nothing but hills; deadlines are nothing but goals. And that's what Patriots' Day is about in Boston. Bravery in the face of desolation. The knowledge that we can and will overcome, for we are all tied by our indomitable human spirit and united in our triumph.

I hope that everyone shows up to walk the final five miles of the Marathon, to show that same triumph that we've seen from Bostonians, Americans, and humankind time and time again. Walk those five miles for yourself. Walk them for those who lost. Walk them for the heroes of yesterday. Walk them in defiance, and not in fear.

Yesterday, Heartbreak didn't end at mile 21. For many, it will go on forever. For our global community, we need to take this opportunity to stand, to walk, and to run together to overcome this tragedy.

Because we decide when the Boston Marathon ends- and it will not end until we stand united, as Patriots of the world.

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