When I crossed the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, the first thing I said audibly and to no one in particular was "that's enough of that for a while."
Then, as I do at the conclusion of every marathon, I began thinking about how I would summarize the most important race of the year. It's a thought process that for me, traditionally continues through the post-race Epsom salt or ice bath, through the beers and burgers, through the train or plane ride home and culminates in a long, often rambling recap the next day.
I thought I would talk about my time; a new personal best, but not my goal. I thought I would talk about the health hurdles I had to attempt to clear to get to the starting line. I thought I would talk about how Pandora's Sleep and Relaxation Station still has ads every two to three songs that will jolt you out of a trance just as your mind begins to surrender to sleep the night before the big race. I thought I would talk about being fortunate enough to toe the line and run most of the race with one of my best friends and the guy who's running I admired so much, I decided to try it myself some 12 years ago. I thought about splits. I thought about Heartbreak Hill. I thought about the next race.
I won't be elaborating on any of that.
In the days since the explosions, I've been trying in vain to articulate how this terrorist attack has impacted me emotionally. I've struggled to describe my thoughts to friends, family, fellow runners and even my wife. I've spent almost every hour of this week writing about the facts of the case for my job as a journalist covering the latest developments, but I can't quite capture the feelings in words for myself. I'm mad. I'm sad. I'm angry. I'm confused. I'm still in disbelief. But it's more than that. A lot more.
As runners, we hold the Boston Marathon on a pedestal. It's our Super Bowl. It's our Christmas and it's our Holy Land. Even runners who aren't in the race come to experience the oldest, most prestigious marathon in the world. We, like everyone else who hold things so sacred, don't expect or mentally prepare for someone to come along and shake the pedestal in an attempt to scar our innocence. Even a cynical, slightly paranoid person like myself lets their guard down on race day. There are other things to worry about and focus on over the course of 26.2 miles.
Five days later what happened is still very surreal. It's been surreal since I got that phone call alerting me to the news and it remained surreal during the violent standoff that ended in the death and capture of the men believed to be responsible for what will forever be a dark chapter in tens of thousands of lives. This happened at the Boston Marathon?
After running across it early Monday afternoon, the next time I actually saw the finish line was Wednesday morning when some of the barricades and police tape had been removed from the crime scene. People had already begun leaving flowers and writing messages on poster board that was probably originally intended for inspirational signs along the race course. Some left their finisher's medals behind. I will never forget the overwhelming power of that sight. Here is a line that runners prepare for years to cross. We train for separate marathons just to qualify, many of us having to make multiple attempts. For those outside the sport, the term "BQ" is something you will hear a lot of runners say. "I finally BQ'ed!" And when we do, we spend months getting ready for the Big One. So, to see something that represents so much hard work, so much accomplishment and so many tears of joy turned into something that represents so much pain, so much shock and so many tears of sadness....well, that's just...it's just. I don't know.
I am going to stop trying to make sense of it now. I never will comprehend what happened and why and that's a good thing. I've moved on to trying to process it. This stream-of-consciousness blog post is the beginning of that journey for me. I went for a long walk today with no destination other than a good coffee shop. When I got home, something started to happen as I approached the front door of my building. It's something I have been wanting to happen since Monday afternoon at 2:51. I started to sob. The pain this race week left in my hamstrings, my quads and my calves will soon subside and I'll start running again, but my heart is going to hurt for a long time.
Jason Holder is a producer for Eyewitness News. This was his third time running in the Boston Marathon.