Boston Strong

Written by Craig Zelent on . Posted in TCSD Conversation

TCSD Conversation by Craig Zelent

This month will be a unique TCSD Conversation as I posed 3 different questions to our members who ran the 2014 Boston Marathon.  I have conducted well over 100 of these interviews since 2002 and this is one of my favorites.  I hope you will enjoy their answers.

"Tri Club members gather for lunch the day before the 2014 Boston Marathon"

This month will be a unique TCSD Conversation as I posed 3 different questions to our members who ran the 2014 Boston Marathon.  I have conducted well over 100 of these interviews since 2002 and this is one of my favorites.  I hope you will enjoy their answers.

Question #1: If you were in Boston for the 2013 race, what was your experience?

Laurie Kearney: We were on our way to meet my parents at California Pizza Kitchen when we noticed an unusual number of ambulances screaming by. When we got to the Prudential Center, there was a cop in SWAT gear preventing anyone from entering the building. We ducked into the first open door, which happened to be 5 Napkin Burger, where we learned of the bombings. We were able to meet up with my parents, and had lunch, while our cell phones were exploding with texts from friends & family asking if we were ok.

Steve Tally:  Although I had finished about an hour before the bombs went off, we were heading back over to just south of the finish line to watch people finish. We were close enough to the second bomb to be pretty shook up in 2013. Got to see the smoke, panic, and uncertainty. Then while in lockdown in the general area for the next few hours got to see a lot of the emotional aftermath.

Kim Weibel: Boston 2013 was my first Boston. After falling short twice, my third try was the charm and I was thrilled to have finally qualified.

A little too eager, over training resulted in a serious injury just two months before race day. Fortunately, the injury that kept me at a slower pace also kept me safely behind the finish line when tragedy struck that afternoon. It was almost surreal to be stopped so close to the Boylston Street finish line, but what impressed me most were the many spectators and fellow runners who offered their support while we stood waiting to find out what had happened. One person offered his phone so that I could call my family to tell them I was safe. People brought pitchers of water from their homes along streets where we were stopped, while others offered trash liners, and even jackets for warmth.

Despite the tragedy, the Boston I experienced that day was kind, courageous and strong. My friends and I flew home saddened by the horrors of terrorism, but grateful for the good, the heart, and the courage we saw in the people of Boston.

Craig Zelent: The bombs went off at 2:50pm local time.  We were in our hotel room 500 meters from the finish line at the time and had no idea anything had happened.  We started our walk to meet up with Laurie’s parents at 3:15pm.  For 15 minutes we were really confused by all the sirens and ambulances outside.  Finally at 3:30pm we ducked inside a restaurant and saw the “Breaking News – Boston Marathon Bombing” on the television ticker.  I’ll never forget that moment. 

Question #2: Why did you enter the 2014 Boston Marathon?

Bob Babbitt: I didn't run the 2013 Boston Marathon, but it was important to me to break out the Elvis outfit and be at the starting line for the 2014 edition. Folks in the Tri Club might not realize it, but Dave McGillivray, the long time Boston Marathon Race Director, did the third ever Ironman Triathlon back in 1980 when there were only 108 of us on the starting line at Ala Moana Beach in Oahu. Besides being an amazing athlete who was shooting for his 42nd consecutive finish at Boston, he had the weight of the world on him as he and his team set out to put on what some in the media called 'The most Important Marathon in history,' since it was coming on the heels of the 2013 event.

Tracy Cohen-Peranteau:  When Deb Hoffman contacted Lianne Chu and me, about joining her to run the Boston Marathon in 2014, I knew that was exactly what I needed to do, to share in Boston's healing, after the bombings. We needed to stand strong, to give Boston back to the runners, to be united as a running community. Deb created, "I Run For You" shirts for us to wear. My non-runner friends share "Girls' Weekends" in Vegas, in Palm Springs, at the spa. My girlfriends go to Boston and run a marathon.

Kye Gilder - After turning 40, 2014 Boston Marathon was on my bucket list. I told myself that 2 marathons (quality for Boston and then Boston) and I'd never run a marathon again. The marathon that I qualified at in 2013 was just 4 weeks after the bombing. I had been registered for this qualifier for 6 months, prior to the 2013 Boston Marathon tragedy. The incentive and motivation to run a solid qualifying time was significantly increased knowing how special and memorable the 2014 marathon would be.

Brannen Henn - After the bombing in 2013 I decided I needed to go back. I love to run and I needed to go back to pay tribute to those who lost their lives, to those who were injured and to those who were affected by the events. I entered because I wanted to show that people cannot take away the experience The Boston Marathon gives us. I wanted to show how strong the running community is and with tragic events we just get stronger.

Laurie Kearney: That’s a no brainer. It is one of my main life goals to run Boston & RnR San Diego every year for the rest of my life. A little bombing isn’t going to deter me! I was impressed with how many friends suddenly wanted to run to show support for the race & the city.

Bessy Leszczynski - I wanted to achieve a challenging physical goal before I turned 30. When my husband qualified for the Boston Marathon 2014 in early 2013, he asked me if I would try to qualify for the same year and we could run it together. That motivated me to train/run my first marathon in 6/2013 and qualified with 6 minutes to spare on a very tough course of Rock n Roll San Diego (new course). We got to share the experience together, and that was incredible.

Roger Leszczynski - The difficulty to get in, but the bonus that me and Bessy have an opportunity to visit family and friends. By chance them cheering in the crowd they participated with us.

Bruce Meister - I never had a desire to run Boston, nor do I think I ever could qualify, maybe the two are linked. Up until 2011 I had run 5 marathons with my best time 3:54 and my avg finish time 4:35 so I really had little chance to qualify. In 2011 I tried to qualify and missed by 5+ minutes the first time and 15+ minutes the second time. I felt Boston was out of my reach, but with Ironman training I was getting faster and learning how to train. I was becoming more engaged in the running community. After the bombing I was glued to the TV and Facebook as I had more than a dozen friends who were there. Most had finished well before the bombs went off, a couple had been re-routed, but all were OK. After that bombing something clicked, it was still a distant event, but it was somewhat more personal. If this could happen at Boston it could happen at New York, Chicago or any public event. At that point I decided to train and try for Boston. I was working with Mike Plumb training for IM Lake Placid and asked if we could fit in a marathon to qualify for Boston. We targeted three races; Mtn2Beach, Newport Marathon, and Vancouver Marathon. In 5 weeks we ramped up the mileage and luckily on the first try at Mtn2Beach I qualified with room to spare.

Laura Sasaki - It was important to me to honor the racers and spectators that were at the race in 2013. There were countless heroes that helped the spectators that suffered horrific injuries. I had the opportunity to see a few of the injured spectators at the CAF Triathlon in October. They, along with the others that were injured, are also heroes for the steps they have taken and continue to take to recover, both physically and mentally.

I also felt it was important to honor the sport of running. The racing field and crowds were overwhelming! The event truly showed the running community and the world that nothing can or will change our love for the sport!

Les Shibata - After what happened at the 2013 Boston Marathon I knew I wanted to go back in 2014 and support the residents in Boston get back to their new normal and run the Marathon as one.

Mike Stange - The easy answer to why I decided to race is because I had earned a qualifier. I grew up in Western Massachusetts and the race is an opportunity for me to visit family and run in my favorite road race. The reason I had earned a qualifier was because of how I felt after the attack on the finish line last year. I felt that I needed to be there.

Within a week I had targeted a qualifying race (Foot Traffic Flat in Portland, OR) and started building mileage - first to 60 miles-per-week for Foot Traffic, then 85+ for California International in December. I ran every day for the better part of 18 weeks (needless to say my swimming and biking were a little neglected).

After showing up unfit and flaming out in the inferno of 2012, walking most of the way from Wellesley to the Back Bay, I wasn't about to let that happen again this year. I was going to do whatever I could to prepare myself to honor the victims and the City and run Boston Strong this year. I raced local half marathons and 15K’s. I practiced Bikram yoga. I started a 30-day core challenge in March. I tapered. On the morning of April 21st, I showed up at the starting line in Hopkinton, ready to race.

Steve Tally:  Kris and I had already decided by the time we got on the plane to go home that we needed to go next year just to experience what we knew was going to be a huge symbolic event. It would also serve as some nice closure for us, but mostly we wanted to be a part of what we knew was going to be a momentous occasion.

Kim Weibel: Several months after the tragedy of the 2013 Boston Marathon, the BAA ( Boston Athletic Administration) announced that runners not allowed to cross the finish line in 2013 were invited back to race in 2014. Having been stopped just before crossing the finish line in 2013, I was thrilled to be able to go back to race again. And what a year it would be!

Craig Zelent: I was injured and missed participating in the 2013 race.  I had done the race 11 times and sort of felt like that might be enough.  But the night of the bombing I decided I had to go back for 2014.  If the Boston Marathon had grown to be old hat for me prior to 2013, it is not anymore.  The bombings have rejuvenated my resolve to do the race for many years to come.  2013 reminded me never to take these things for granted.

Question #3: What were some of your lasting memories from the 2014 race?

Kosuke Amano:  It's hard to even begin to choose. Describing this experience is like having to describe a color in words. I don't think it can be done. It's been close to a month and I still catch myself looking back and thinking, "did that really happen?" What I can say is that it is something I will close my eyes and look back on 50-60 years from now and be taken back by the atmosphere, the energy, passion and emotions that surrounded this event.

It was something I will tell my kids and grand kids (if I end up having any) about. And I'll tell them how special the whole experience was, from the events leading up to the race, the plane ride, the expo, the day of the race to the post race celebration. I will tell them about running past the cheering motorcyclists at the motorcycle bar, the Wellesley College girls, the people who lived along the course handing out water cups and nutrition and the rows and rows of people cheering for us runners throughout the 26.2 miles. From the cheering (probably drunk) college guys to the little kids holding out their hands for a high five, I will tell them how my arms got tired from all the love I got from the crowd. For that one moment in time, runners, motorcyclists, college guys and gals, families and everyone else involved, we were all together. We were all there for the same reason.

I will tell them that when I was walking back to the hotel after the race, on three separate occasions, random people stopped me to say great job and "Thank you for running". "Thank you for running"...We should be thanking YOU. You are the reason why we as runners were able to run and do what we do. It was the organizers, the volunteers, the police and security and everyone else involved that made it possible for us runners to go out there and do what we love to do. This was one race where the non-racers - the organizers, the supporters, the city of Boston, and the small towns along the way gave as much and more for the race than the runners did.

I will tell them about Meb. And how he became the first American male winner of the Boston marathon since 1983. I'll tell them about Rick and Dick Hoyt, coming back to finish their last Boston marathon.

I will tell them about the friends I got to experience this memory with and new friends I met along the way. I'll tell them about Brannen and her family taking me in as one of their own for the whole weekend and about the ride up to the start with the Tri Club people. And as if this experience couldn't be any more special, about running the last few miles with my friend Fern and finishing the race together. I will tell them about the good wishes, the emails and congratulations notes I received from so many people. Even from friends I have not seen or talked to in years. This was an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Yep, years and years from now, while sitting on my anti-gravity rocking chair, I will tell them a story about April 21, 2014, the day we took back that finish line.

Bob Babbitt: What I noticed on race day was that the crowds along the way were bigger than ever before and the bond between the runners, the spectators and the entire city of Boston was stronger than ever before. Terrorists had tried to scare us away from living our lives to the fullest and, as Dave McGillivray said so eloquently at a Saturday night party two nights before the race, "they messed with the wrong group of people."

Our Challenged Athletes Foundation, which is based in San Diego, had a huge impact as well. After the bombings, CAF immediately reached out to the families of those affected and offered to help. Seven of those people injured joined us in October at our CAF Running Clinic at Harvard, five were flown to San Diego for last year's San Diego Triathlon Challenge weekend and Celeste Corcoran, who lost both legs in the explosion, was at the finish line this year with two CAF supplied prosthetic legs so that she could run the last few yards with her sister.

Heather Abbott, who also lost a leg in the explosion and was at the CAF running clinics, as well, and jogged to the finish.

For me, there is nothing better than running as Elvis, eating donuts and ribs, drinking beer, high fiving until your palms are sore and stopping for photos along the way. When you add in the impact CAF had on the survivors and the awesome job Dave McGillivray and his team did with the whole world watching, it was the most incredible 26.2 mile journey of my life.

Tracy Cohen-Peranteau:  Every moment of being in Boston this year, was magical. I ran Boston in 2006. My experience that year doesn't even begin to compare to my 2014 experience in Boston.

Monday morning. April 21st. Race Day. Patriot's Day. I have never felt anything else like it. Ever. From the moment I crossed the start line, this race was not about me. It was about Boston. Thousands and thousands of spectators, for the entire 26.2 miles, were thanking us for "giving them their city back." Thanking me? I'm "just a runner." Thank YOU for supporting us - through thick and thin. Through tragedy and adversity. For taking a risk to be here - for us! It's the support of the screaming and the cheering that keeps us running. It was a sea of blue and yellow Boston Strong shirts, and banners, and flags. Every moment of the marathon I felt like I was running down the red carpet in Hollywood. Not once did I fear for my safety. People wanted to spectate as much as we wanted to run - to give Boston their city back. And to give the marathon runners their race back.

As I neared the finish line, I stopped to acknowledge the two memorials which were set up at each of the two bombing spots on Boylston Street. Through my tears, I said a prayer for the four lives lost (please do not forget the police officer who was shot), the 280+ victims who were physically injured, and the thousands of victims who endured emotional and mental injury, due to this tragedy.

Boston Marathon 2014 wasn't a race for me. It was a historical event in our running community, which I feel blessed and honored to have experienced. Meb winning was the icing on the cake. I couldn't be more proud.

Kye Gilder - The spectators and the runners -- they were incredible! It was 26.2 miles of non-stop energy, encouragement, and sportsmanship. A truly memorable day for runners, Boston, and United States! Despite not feeling well during the race and having the single worse run of my life I'm tempted to run again.

Brannen Henn: I was there for 5 days with friends and family and the entire time was filled with smiles and a "buzz" that ran through me. I enjoyed everything about the weekend and being able to be a part of it. I don't think you could ask for a better experience...surrounded by people who love me, racing one of the most historical, elite marathons, paying tribute to those who were affected by the tragic events of 2013, being cheered on by over a million spectators, having an American win the race and crossing the finish with a huge smile on my face. I don't think there is one specific lasting memory since the entire 5 days was filled with memories I will never forget.

Laurie Kearney: Boston is always an amazing experience, from the flight from LAX (always filled with runners, usually a mention from the pilot) to the people on the T who always comment about our Boston jackets with all the years we've run, to most of all the thousands of spectators who line the course giving out everything from kisses (Craig!) to hi-fives, to Twizzlers & Popsicles. Although my cousin who lives in a Boston suburb said she is afraid to bring her kids into the city on Marathon weekend, thousands of other parents were obviously more courageous, as I saw hundreds of strollers and little kids along the route. The high point was Meb winning the race. Being a San Diegan, and "old" for an elite runner, his winning felt like one of our friends had won the race.

Bessy Leszczynski - Meeting with TCSD pre-race to exchange stories and motivate each other for the event. The EXPO was disgustingly crowded and the aisles weren't ready for it, so I wasn't motivated to buy anything. The Athlete Village, since it was just for runners participating, was such a friendly place. On the buses, in the porta-potty line, and walking to the corrals it was easy to start conversations and that helped relax me. Unfortunately, one of my memories is not having a memory photo at the finish line. I'm incredibly disappointed that even at a tiny Women's Running event there's huge photo banners and photographers afterwards, and there were NONE at the Boston Marathon. Ridiculous to me. So Roger & I don't have a finisher photo together for our 2nd year married goal; I guess the swag will have to do.

Roger Leszczynski - The people, who come out for such a long and uneventful race, the support they give you is like no other. I am not sure I have even seen a soccer stadium so full of people. And of course thank to your organized social meet ups, I don’t think this experience could be any more perfect

Bruce Meister:  I felt the race was incredibly well organized; best organized race I have been involved in. I got to watch the 1 mile memorial event, that was pretty touching as some folks who were injured in 2013 ran the last mile of the race.  I passed the Hoyt's at mile 11 and stopped to take their picture. The crowds were great. Shouting in their Boston accidents "you got this", "keep going".  It was just a really great and well organized event.

Daniel Powell: Over the top fantastic!!  My body tingled like listening to the National Anthem, but it tingled for 3 &1/2 straight hours.  I watched the race from Brookline until a CAF athlete named Jeff stopped in front of me, bent over in obvious pain. I jumped in to help him and ran the last 2.2 miles with him, keeping him company, getting him water, leading the crowd in cheers for him. It was fantastic! So much love from the crowd, one big lovefest!!

Laura Sasaki - The entire event will be forever embedded in my mind. The energy from the beginning to the end of the race was over the top. The spectators and volunteers were unbelievable! The event was extremely emotional. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to participate in the race.

I also had a wonderful time exploring Boston with Darrell. We loved the sightseeing! It truly was a memorable trip!

Les Shibata - Lasting memories from the 2014 race include waiting in those extra long lines at the packet pick up and pre race pasta dinner. Getting a hand made scarf in Boston color's from a church in Boston. Watching the survivor one mile run.  Going to the new Nike store and watching people run on a treadmill to raise money for CAF.  The 2013 Boston Marathon exhibit in the Boston library and reading all the stories of the 2013 bombing. Getting together with other members of TCSD for lunch and taking a shuttle to the start with them on race day. Seeing all the residents of Boston out there on race day supporting us as we ran the Marathon and being able to share my passion with my wife.

Mike Stange - My takeaways from this year will be running the first 15 miles with a friend and enjoying the energy of the crowd. So much of the race itself is a blur, but I'll remember making it to the top of Heartbreak Hill feeling surprisingly fresh (then feeling surprisingly unfresh less than one mile later, running down the backside of Heartbreak into Brookline). I'll remember the underpass at Mass. Ave with 1K to go. The right on Hereford. And, of course, the left on Boylston. I'll remember seeing my aunt and uncle on the right-hand side, in that last stretch, with their "Go Mike!" sign that they drag around to races, year after year. Although there was still about a quarter of a mile left to run, that really felt like my finish line.

I was expecting this year to feel different - an emotional journey, perhaps. But for me it wasn't. Maybe it's because I wasn't there last year, but for me it really just felt like a return to normalcy. Closure. It felt like running the Boston Marathon again - just bigger, better. Sure there was added security, but there's always a police presence in Boston. This year, there just seemed to be more of everything - runners, spectators, security. It all felt natural. We were all there for a purpose. I know that there are many still dealing with scars from the events of 2013, but I swear it was almost like we saw a city heal before our own eyes. People were happy, celebrating.

This race was for the victims and their families, our support crews and the City of Boston. It was for those who weren't able to finish what they started last year. I was just honored to be invited back to do my small part and run the race. It is an experience that I will remember for a very long time.
 
Steve Tally:  We had so many memories from this year that it is hard to even choose just a few. The spirit and feel of the entire city of Boston made the largest impact. They managed to make over 30,000 marathoners all feel like celebrities. Having so many friends from TCSD to share it with also made it very special. One of the finest and most memorable parts about the entire day was the ride out to the start line on the special TCSD shuttle that you and Laurie arranged. What a great way to share the start of a great day with friends. The race itself held so many memorable moments. I have run Boston a couple times previously, and although the cheering along the route is always special, this was a 26.2 mile parade and party. The support and energy from the spectators was incredible. When I crossed the finish, for the first time in my entire athletic career I was actually choked up. And right about then I found out from the announcer that Meb won the men's race. Could it get any better?

Tu Tran - Lasting memories from the race were the people of Boston. They thanked us for coming out this year to run. Their spirit, attitude, and hospitality I'll never forget.

I remember making the observation that the extra security personnel wasn't needed because the people of Boston displayed the attitude that nothing was going to happen this year and that everyone was being vigilant. Truly inspiring.

Lastly, the amazing turnout of people and their cheering was truly epic. Nearly every single mile that could be spectated from was filled with people cheering the entire time. "Marathon Monday" is an event every runner should experience.

Kim Weibel: An injury kept me from crossing the finish line in 2013, and I was excited to be able to return injury free, and ready to race. My experience there was so much more than I expected. The streets of Boston were overflowing with people, They were full of positive energy and ready to celebrate victory at the Boston Marathon 2014. Spectators lined the race course chanting "Boston Strong" and "U-S-A!". They slapped my hands with such enthusiasm as I ran past them, that by mile 14, my arms and shoulders were sore from all their encouragement! When I reached the spot on the road where I was forced to stop last year when the bomb went off, I couldn't help but pick up my pace, just wanting to get past it and closer to that finish line.

Crossing the finish line was incredible that day, But the thing that I will treasure most, even more than my finishers medal, is a scarf that was given to me at The Old South Church during the "Blessing of the Athletes" the day before. The scarf was one of thousands hand made by people across the country. They were knit out of blue and yellow yarn,(the colors of Boston), and made to be given to marathon runners affected by the bombing of 2013, Each scarf had a tag attached to it displaying the name and home town of the person who made it, The tag read, "This scarf is interwoven with love and courage." Mine was made by Dawn Marshfield, of Massachusetts, USA. I thought of who she might be, and why she was inspired to knit that scarf, Walking the streets of Boston, I saw scarves adorning the necks of hundreds of runners, and every scarf still bore its tag. Each one, a symbol of community and strength and courage.

Boston 2013 and 2014. Both, I will never forget.

Craig Zelent: The 2014 race was one of the best days of my life.  I had a good race, but my experience was never going to be about racing fast.  We took back the finish line!  Everyone from the spectators to the volunteers to the runners seemed to have a vested interest in making this race successful. 

The race went by wicked fast.  It seemed to end in the blink of an eye.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day.  God definitely shined His light on Boston on this day.  Some of my favorite memories include passing the Hoyt’s at mile 8 – it’s always so good to see them.  I also had some favorite signs being held up by the Wellesley College women: “Kiss me! I am Sweet Caroline!” and “Kiss me, I’m performance enhancing!”

It was great that Meb won the race.  That seemed to be the icing on the cake.  Meb was so eloquent in all his post race interviews.  He said all the right things.  He understood the moment.  But the best part for me was walking back to my hotel after the race.  I just listened.  It sounded like Boston should sound.  There were no sirens.  It was the best sound I’ve ever heard.  We were back to normal.

Craig Zelent is a USA Triathlon Level 1 Certified Coach.  Craig can be reached at 760-214-0055 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .