Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston

To those denied the opportunity to go right on Hereford, left on Boylston in the 117th Boston Marathon and to those whose lives were irrevocably altered by doing so. This is for you.

It was a Saturday in mid-January, and the snow-lined carriage road on Commonwealth Avenue was alive with runners training for the Boston Marathon. I was with fellow Genzyme runners Kyle and Andrew, excited for our first long run of the training season on the marathon course. It was only my third or fourth run after a three-week running hiatus inflicted on me when I had to get a mole removed from my foot. On my previous shorter runs, I’d felt sluggish and had almost forgotten that I used to love running.

But this run was different. On this run, the magic returned in full force and it felt like my feet barely touched the ground. As Kyle, Andrew, and I took off, we were greeted by dozens of other smiling, hopeful, excited faces. Everyone had that Boston Marathon glow of determination, anticipation, and pure joy. Even on this early winter training run, many runners sported jerseys expressing why they were running, jerseys with logos for Children’s Hospital or the National MS Society, jerseys with phrases handwritten in Sharpie like “Running for Mickey – miss you and love you always!”

Hailing from the close-knit Boston running community, we knew several of the runners we saw that morning. But even those we didn’t personally know felt like friends and teammates, and we acknowledged each other with the understanding that we shared the same goal: to make it to the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Though we were running in the same race, we weren’t competitors. We were all fighting against our own limitations and fighting for the causes we believed in.

And we were fighting fiercely. Many of these runners were first-time marathoners who would have to struggle against pain, exhaustion, crowded schedules, and a host of other barriers to train successfully for the grueling race. In addition, those running for charity would have to appeal to everyone they knew to raise thousands of dollars for their causes. For months – and often even longer – we worked for every mile, every dollar. We got up early, we stayed up late, we went out in the cold, we went out on a limb to ask for support. But always, we had our goal in mind. After putting in the miles, after raising a meaningful sum of money, we would eventually make it from Hopkinton to Copley Square in Boston.

When I first found out I would be able to run in the Boston Marathon, the only piece of related paraphernalia I allowed myself to buy was a magnet that said, “Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston,” indicating the final two turns of the course before the finish line. I put it on my refrigerator so that I would see it every day and be reminded of my goal. If I didn’t feel like going for a six-mile run that day or I wasn’t sure when I’d fit in the time to plan my next fundraiser, I would look at that magnet for inspiration. As in a marathon, every step covered only a minuscule fraction of the distance to the finish line, but every step was necessary to get there.

That phrase and that final part of the course became symbolic, representing the moment of truth when all the hours, emails, sweat, and blood would come to fruition and I would feel the joy of a job well done.

The Boston Marathon is more than a race; it’s a beacon of hope, a personal narrative of overcoming obstacles, a vehicle for giving everything we have for a cause greater than ourselves. There’s a reason the Boston Marathon’s slogan is “all in.” Runners usually take it easy in lesser races if they’re injured; there’s no sense in making it worse and missing crucial weeks of training. Not so for Boston. When we run Boston, we run like nothing matters so long as we reach the finish line.

We run with faces set like flint toward the finish line. Nothing short of the horrific events of this year’s marathon would stop us from pushing through that last mile to make it to Hereford and then to Boylston.

Many runners who were hindered by the explosion continued on to the finish line, such as Bill Iffrig, a 78-year-old man who was knocked to the ground by the bomb but got up and finished his race.

This is what the marathon spirit is: We fight the good fight; we finish the race; we keep the faith. Even now, events such as The Last 5 and The Last Mile are being organized to give the runners who were stopped prematurely an opportunity to finish the course and to allow the city of Boston to stand up and declare that no one can ruin our marathon. We will finish the race we set out to run.

We will finish it together. Though all 27,000 of us had our own reasons for entering the Boston Marathon this year, from now on, we will also have a common cause – remembering those affected by this tragedy and fighting evil not with more violence but with the perseverance and hope that characterize marathon running – and that will be a force to be reckoned with. To everyone affected by these events, every step from here until the finish line of next year’s Boston Marathon and beyond is for you.

To everyone who didn’t get to finish the marathon on Monday, please know that this doesn’t diminish your accomplishments. Wear your marathon jacket with pride and as a statement that no one can take away the significance and beauty of this event. Find your own way to go right on Hereford, left on Boylston, and cross the finish line in victory.

Posted in Running Stories
5 comments on “Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston
  1. Dean Suhr says:

    How about “Right on Boston!” The rest of the country uplifts you all. The last mile might just catch wind across the lands.

    MLD Foundation

  2. Dan Wilkens says:

    Thanks Jessi, I share your sentiments

  3. We had the privledge of hosting Erica, one of the Genzyme patient-partners. Those of us who are seeking treatments for rare diseases have been running a marathon for a very long time and we will continue to run. The spirit & resiliance of Boston in the wake of this tragedy makes us all stronger. See you at the finish line!

  4. Jennifer Thiel says:

    I am Erica’s Mom. Thank you Jessi for running for Erica. Thank you Stuart (and family) for hosting Erica. Somedays when life feels like a marathon, I will think of your spirit and your commitment to helping families with rare diseases. Your smiles make me smile. I will never forget the 2013 Boston Marathon, for many reasons. Let the GOOD stand out above the bad!!! Thank you, thank you, and THANK YOU.

  5. Erica Thiel says:

    Thank you Stuart and Thank you Mom as well as Thank you to the team!
    Nothing beats the times like these, being with others who get it and who understand as Stuart and my Mom put it, truly like running a marathon w/one foot in front of the other. It is good people and friends like all of you who make it possible!

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