Body Strong. Heart Strong. Boston Strong: My Journey to the Boston Marathon

By: Laura Layne | Physical Health | Personal Stories

April 15, 2013 will always be one of those days I will remember with detail; where I was, what I was wearing, what the weather was like outside, etc.  It was a Monday that was not only a stressful day for last minute tax filers, but it was also the day of the 117th Boston Marathon.  I was up early so I could catch the start of the race for elite runners who start the running portion of the race. Both male and female winners had crossed the finish line by 9 am Pacific Standard Time.  I left the race on television as I started my day of laundry and cleaning, and stopped periodically to watch and listen about the amazing people running the most beloved marathon in the world. 

It was almost noon my time when the bombs exploded and all the confusion set in.  I still cannot believe what I witnessed as I stood in shock and horror.  My heart ached and I cried so much that afternoon, it felt like an attack on my family, my running family.

I have been a runner for over twenty-five years and have participated in many races, 5Ks, 10Ks, half-marathons and a few full marathons.  I have run races all over California, ran the New York City half-marathon and, most recently, my most treasured race, the 2014 Boston Marathon.  This is the story of how I got there.

Prior to the 2014 Boston Marathon I had run two other full marathons, the Los Angeles Marathon in 1997 and the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon in 2000.  After San Diego I said “never again!”  26.2 miles was just too hard on my body, the training was long, and the practice runs consumed too much time.  A couple of weeks went by after the Boston bombings and all the stories of pain, suffering, courage, hope, love, etc. were emerging.  I knew strongly in my heart that I had to run the Boston Marathon in 2014.  It was an overwhelming feeling that I cannot really explain but I knew I had to go and show my support by running.  

There were over 5000 runners who were unable to finish the race in 2013 and they were given an automatic entry for 2014.  I wanted to run with them.  There were people who would be running in honor and in memory of the bombing victims.  I wanted to run with them as well.  I wanted to run in that wonderful city and show the world that you cannot scare us runners; we will come back in bigger numbers, stronger and more determined!

So now the tricky part; how in the heck was I going to get in?  The Boston Marathon has tough qualification times and I did not have the time to train, run a qualifying marathon in the time allotted for my age group, and register for the 2014 Boston Marathon by September, 2013.  I turned to the charity organizations that are given spots in the race for people who raise money for them.  I sent emails to every single one of them, but guess what?  So did thousands of others who like me, just had to be there for the same reasons.  The application process was long and some had application fees but I sat at my computer diligently day after day trying to make it happen.  

I received an email from one of the organizations I had applied to,  “Tedy’s Team,” in June 2013 stating that they were going to be starting a new program called the “Trifecta”.  This included three races, Falmouth, a seven-miler in Boston in August; the Las Vegas Half Marathon in November and the Boston Marathon in April, 2014.  The kicker was that you had to commit to raising $10,000 (yes you saw that right, ten thousand dollars!).  As you might imagine people were not knocking down the doors to do this (yet!) because they were still hoping to get on other teams. Since I usually do not leave things to chance and I asked for the application.  Submitting the application meant you gave them approval when you get accepted to charge the amount needed to complete your promised amount if you do not get all the funds donated to your race “cause”.

I had emailed so many organizations and had filled out applications so I wasn’t really paying close attention to what organization it was as I completed the form.  I just wanted to get the chance to run the marathon!  Near the bottom of the Tedy’s Team application I got to a question which asks “Do you have a personal connection to stroke?”  I froze and then I looked at the Tedy’s Team logo where it states “raising awareness, fighting stroke”.  This was a team representing the American Stroke Association!  I suddenly started crying because my father had died of a stroke in 1992.  My purpose to run this marathon just took on another meaning; let’s add running for Dad to my original plan.  My essay (yes, some applications required an essay) was about the pain and suffering I experienced when my father passed away.  I described how I wanted to raise money for this organization in hopes that someone else would not have to go through what I had, ever!  So how bad do you think I wanted to run this marathon for Tedy’s Team?  Yes, real bad and I did everything I could to show them what I am made of. It worked. They selected me.  What a bonus it was to be on Tedy Bruschi’s team. He had played for the Boston hometown favorites New England Patriots and was very involved with this running team.  I know my Dad played a big part in making this happen for me.

I did not go back east to run the Falmouth race in August.  By the time I officially became a member of the team it would have been too costly for me to go run a seven-miler.  I had to start saving for the big trip to Boston.  I did run the Las Vegas Half Marathon in November, 2013, and was able to meet a lot of my Tedy’s Team running mates.  They were all from the Boston area.  I was the only member from California, which was tough because they trained together, did their long runs together, and had access to a sports clinic and trainer who helped them.  

I traveled to Boston at the end of March to do the 21-mile long run with them because I was getting so stressed out about the course and the weather.  I knew it would be very beneficial because the 21 miles were on the actual course!  Such a wonderful, festive day, Tedy Bruschi ran with us, and there were hundreds of other runners besides our team on the course doing the same thing.  Volunteers had tables set out and anyone could grab water, snacks, etc.  The police were out assisting with traffic so we could all run safe.  Boston and the surrounding areas have some amazing and wonderful people.

I arrived in Boston four days before the actual marathon so I could get acclimated to the time difference and the weather.  The vibe in the city was unreal and I heard so many courageous stories from people who were there in 2013.  All the elite runners were there as well which is always very exciting.  After picking up my race packet at race headquarters I was walking back to the hotel and I passed the Old South Church on Boylston.  There were several people outside putting knitted/crocheted scarfs around the necks of all the runners and blessing them.  The scarf’s were handmade with the Boston Marathon colors and came from all over the world through a project called the Marathon Scarf Project 2014.  The blessing was very special.  It was about love and courage for the race, a true highlight and a very special moment.

Race day was April 21, 2014 and the anniversary of my Dad’s death is April 20.  I cannot begin to explain the emotions running through my body as I walked to that start line.   Tedy Bruschi walked with the team to our starting corral and it was so much fun!  The people in Boston idolize him, people were cheering, shouting and screaming for him.  Tedy suffered a stroke in 2005 at the age of 31.  He already had three Super Bowl rings and had just played in the Pro Bowl a few days prior to his stroke.  Here was a healthy, athletic young man who suffered a stroke, but what Tedy didn’t know was that he had a small hole in his heart that caused a clot and caused a blockage of blood to the brain.  He had an 8 month road to recovery and played football again.  It was during his recovery that he knew he wanted to work with the American Stroke Association in order to raise funds and awareness.  Tedy’s Team was created and as a team we raised over $550,000 in 2014!

The temperature in Boston was perfect for a California girl, low to mid 60’s, but for the Boston people, not so much.  They complained about the heat.  A lot of us started out together but separated from the group.  I personally find my mental strength within myself by myself and I was going to need it this day.  Things started getting rough around mile 15; body fatigue, constant hills, seeing more and more people in the medical tents, just getting tougher.  

At about mile 16 a lady was holding a sign that read “Meb Won!” and I stopped in my tracks and yelled to her “Meb won?” and she said “YES!”  Meb Keflezighi is my favorite elite runner and was not even on the radar when the experts discussed their ”favorites” to win.  Meb was 38 years old and a lot of experts deemed him to be way past his prime but Meb’s real strength is his heart and soul.  He is not only an amazing runner but an exceptional human being.  I encourage any and all people to read his story.  I met him in June, 2013 when I ran the San Diego Half Marathon (he went to high school in San Diego and still lives there with his family).  I told him how much he inspired me and he looked deeply into my eyes and said “we do our best every day to inspire each other”.  I was stunned and amazed, because here was a man who won an Olympic Silver Medal in 2004 for the USA, won the 2009 New York City Marathon, and the list goes on and on.  Meb had the names of the four people killed in Boston as a result of the bombings written on his bib, reflecting the kind of man he is.  He wanted to win that race so badly for the victims and he did it!  Unfortunately I was not able to see any of the elites run as we were being herded like cattle into our corrals and we had quite a wait until we started.  That was one race I really wanted to see but I could not have my cake and eat it too, right?  

That sign at mile 16 propelled so much energy and adrenaline into my body that I just took off.  I was so happy and excited that Meb won.  This was the first time an American had won the Boston Marathon in 31 years!  I was able to finish with a time of 5:06 which was 40 minutes faster than my best marathon time in 2000 (which by the way I was 14 years younger then!).  Running down Boylston Street towards the finish where the bombings took place was surreal.  The images of last year played in my mind and I was grateful to be there and run for those who could not.

Just when you think this journey cannot get any better, guess again!  My husband, daughter and I were at Logan airport the following day to leave for home and we were in line to drop off our bags.  My daughter whispers to me “I think that is Meb’s wife in line ahead of us”.  I look and sure enough it was his wife, Yordanos.  As we coiled around and met up I motioned for her to come closer and I gave her a great big hug and said “please give this to Meb and tell him how proud we all are of him”.  She was extremely nice and assured me she would.  We were flying to LAX and I knew she would be flying to San Diego.  I noticed that our gates were across from each other so I grabbed a napkin from Starbucks and wrote Meb a note.  I walked over to Yordanos and I said “I do not want to bother you but would you please give this to Meb?”  She read it and said “sit down Laura”.  We sat and talked for awhile about the race and I told her how much it meant to me that Meb won.  She reached into her purse and pulled out her cell phone and called him.  When he answered she said “babe, I know you are busy but there is someone here you need to talk to” then she handed me the phone.  That is when all the emotion of running the Boston Marathon, my Dad, the bombing victims, raising over $10,000 for the American Stroke Association, Meb winning, well it all hit me when I heard his voice and I cried as I talked to him trying to explain how much it all meant.  He was so gracious and he congratulated me on my race.  If I could have gathered my thoughts better I would have said “are you kidding me?”  He told me he raced for the victims and that is what fueled his training and race performance.  This man is generated by his selflessness, and his greatness is because he believes in things bigger than himself.  

This is exactly what this Boston Marathon experience was for me.  It was not about setting a personal record (though I did) or where you placed in your age group, it was about giving everything you have and then some.  It was about representing good and what is great about our country and the running community.  This was a life changing experience for me, one that could never be replicated or ever be better.

So here is the icing on the cake; yes this story has an even more amazing finish to it!  On May 10, 2014 there was a homecoming for Meb in San Diego at the high school he attended.  I wanted to go and see if I could get a picture with him and of us wearing our medals together.  I waited patiently until I could see Meb’s wife in hopes she would remember me.  Being the people that they are she did and took me under her wing so I could see him.  I was able to speak to him for awhile, take pictures with him and I even replicated that sign I saw at mile 16 “Meb Won!”, which he signed for me as well. 

People that bust their butt to quality for the marathon kind of look down at those of us who get on through a charity.  I understand how they feel but they really do not know how much time and effort it takes to raise the kind of money we raised.  They also do not know the emotions that come with doing something like that either. We were talking about that at our dinner for Tedy's Team and this is what came out of it: I may not have qualified for the 2014 Boston Marathon with a time, I qualified with my heart.

That was a year-long journey that could not have ended better. My life is forever changed as a result of this remarkable experience.  Some say I am lucky but I say if you can dream it, you can make it happen!