Back to Boston

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Editor’s note: Jeff Thomas ran the Boston Marathon on April 18. It was his first time back since he ran in the 2014 race. Thomas finished the race then but more than 5,000 others didn’t after terrorists set off two bombs at the finish line, killing three and injuring dozens. The Press-Tribune asked him to share his experience with us.

April 18 marked the 120th running of the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon and the only major marathon that requires runners to qualify.

The event is held on Patriots’ Day, which commemorates the 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord that kicked off the American Revolutionary War.

Around 30,000 people registered for the race. The 26.2-mile course starts in Hopkinton and passes through Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton and Brookline before reaching the finish line on Boylston Street in Boston. Up to a million spectators lined the streets to watch and cheer.

For all serious marathoners, Boston is THE Goal to qualify for. Everyone wants to BQ (Boston Qualify).

The last time I was in Boston to run the marathon was in 2013. April 15, 2013. A day I will never forget.

At approximately 2:49 that afternoon, with more than 5,600 runners still in the race, two pressure-cooker bombs — packed with shrapnel and other materials and hidden in backpacks —  placed on the ground amidst crowds of spectators exploded within seconds of each other near the finish line along Boylston Street.

Three spectators died: a 23-year-old woman, a 29-year-old woman and an 8-year-old boy, while more than 260 other people were wounded. Sixteen people lost legs; the youngest amputee was a 7-year-old girl.

I had crossed the finish line about 40 minutes before the first bomb went off. My new goal was to return and run it again. Runners are a big close family and evil had ruined the day.
There were several runners from the Shreveport-Bossier City area that trained together for this race.

Wallace Robertson and I had trained together for 2013 and we were both going back for the first time. There were noticeable changes since then. Heavy security, not only during the race but all events leading up to the marathon.

Runners couldn’t carry a change of clothes on the buses to the start in Hopkinton. But one big thing hadn’t changed. The spirit of the runners and spectators. This was still the Boston Marathon. Terrorists couldn’t take that away and never can.

At Hopkinton there were security dogs, helicopters, undercover runners and tons of law enforcement. In fact, there were military along the entire route. And I noticed how appreciative all the runners were to them. They were all thanked by thousands of runners along the 26.2 mile route.

My race wasn’t the best I have had. At the start it was 71 degrees. Hot for a marathon. Around Mile 2 I knew it was not going to be my day but I still had the Boston experience. The crowd is amazing. It is like a 26-mile Mardi Gras parade!

The residents of all eight towns treated us like heroes. And we were running with real heroes. Leading off this year’s marathon were the mobility impaired runners, which included bombing survivor Adrianne Haslet, a professional ballroom dancer, and Patrick Downes, both of whom lost a leg in the 2013 bombings.

In all, 21 survivors competed this year. Haslet finished in around 10 hours. Amazing! Around Mile 16, when I was feeling my worse with cramping, dizziness and dehydration, all I could think about was stopping. But it was about this time that I passed Downes. The crowds were going crazy! That gave me the boost I needed to get over the Hills of Newton and of course the dreaded Heartbreak Hill.

After Heartbreak Hill we ONLY had around 5 miles left.  I was both walking and running and hurting. This was about the time I passed Boston College and the huge crowd of students. These guys and girls were amazing. They wouldn’t let me walk! If they could, I think they would have carried me to the finish. At least their yelling did!!

The greatest part of the race for me was when I finally made the turn on Hereford Street. I knew it was only a few blocks before my final turn on the famous Boylston Street and the finish.

No more walks from this point! Suddenly the pain was gone, at least for a little while. Then the left onto Boylston. You would have to be there to understand the feelings and atmosphere. I could see the finish line about 300 yards (or 10 miles) down the street.
There were thousands of screaming spectators. I actually started sprinting toward the finish. It brought back all the memories and feelings of 2013.

As I ran by both the spots that the bombs went off I remembered the victims and said a quick prayer for them and their families. It was amazing. I was back, the runners were back and Boston was back. Boston Strong!

As a side note, I did get to enjoy the great doctors and nurses at the medical tent. Marathons are tough and you don’t always finish them in the best of shape. But the medical staff and an IV got me back out to celebrate with all the finishers.