The 2014 Boston Marathon is a race I’ve been running for over a year — a race I started on April 15, 2013, and will finally finish on April 21, 2014.
I’m running for the One Fund Boston charity team this year. I was invited to join the team after submitting an application and an essay I wrote about my experience with last year’s race. Every one of my teammates has a very unique story to tell, but we’ve all been able to connect through one shared experience. In an effort to connect with more people, I’d like to share my experience here.
As I ran past the "1 MILE TO GO" sign in Kenmore Square, and onto Comm. Ave., I began to envision the last couple turns that I’d practiced so many times during my training — "Right on Hereford, left on Boylston." I could picture the yellow and blue finish line in the distance, surrounded by a tunnel of cheering fans.
But as I approached Mass. Ave., the pack of runners in front of me came to a sudden halt. My first thought was that there was a traffic jam in the underpass we were coming to. As seconds of standing still turned into minutes, though, I realized something was wrong. The race had stopped.
As my leg muscles tightened, the impatient crowd of runners pulled out phones and began making calls. Those who had phones shared with those who didn’t. Most calls weren’t going through. Confusion turned to fear as information began trickling in. Some people were crying. Words like "explosions," "bombs" and "body parts" began to circulate. It was like a bad dream.
I finally reached my girlfriend and father on the phone. They were safe. They had been on their way to meet me at the finish line. We were all separate, and all just moments from Boylston Street. They located me in the crowd of runners and we stood together, waiting for more information. I remember hoping I’d be allowed to run the last 0.7 miles of the race — something that seems so trivial in retrospect. Still without much information, we decided it was best to leave the area and walk home over the Mass. Ave. Bridge.
Walking home was surreal. My phone was lighting up with calls, texts and tweets asking if I was okay. It felt like we were fleeing a warzone. We were being told to avoid trashcans. We all scrambled to let people know we were safe, but we didn’t know if we actually were. Sirens were blaring in every direction.
We finally got to my house in Central Square and turned on the news. For months I had imagined what Boylston Street would look like as I legged out the final stretch of the race. But I never reached it, and all I could see now were the gruesome images and videos on the TV.
I’ll never forget my extreme mix of emotions that day, but I’ll never be able to fully capture that feeling with words. Bad leg cramps slowed my pace and kept me from reaching the finish line right around the time the bombs went off. If I didn’t get those cramps, my family, friends and I might have been on Boylston Street when it happened. I think about that every day.
That was one of the most difficult weeks of my life. And it was capped off that Friday when the FBI identified one of the bombing suspects as Dzhokhar "Jahar" Tsarnaev, a young Cambridge kid I once coached in wrestling at my alma mater, Cambridge Rindge and Latin.
It still doesn’t feel real sometimes.
I decided to run this year’s marathon the moment I learned I wouldn’t be able to finish last year’s. And if last year’s experience was a nightmare, this year’s has been a sweet dream.
I’ve put in hundreds of miles training, raised thousands of dollars for the One Fund and met a lot of great people over the last 4 months. And now there’s just one more thing to do — run on Monday.
It’s such an honor to be representing the One Fund this year. I take great pride knowing that I’ve helped the victims and families who were affected by last year’s tragedy heal in some way. While training, I’ve been very mindful of why and for whom I’m running this year. And I’ve never felt more motivated.
A note that one of my teammates recently received from a donor has really stuck with me and I hope it does with you too: "The victims in Boston deserve our long-term support not our short-term sympathy. Run with pride."
If you’d like to make a donation to the One Fund, please visit peterpaulpayack.com/donate. Thank you in advance! #BostonStrong
Peter Paul Payack is the Chronicle's cartoonist and a life-long Cambridge resident.