Despite My Fear, I'll Be Cheering at the Boston Marathon Finish Line

4 years ago

Editor's Note, 4/16/14: One suspect is in custody after two backpacks left near this year's finish line yesterday were detonated safely. This post was written before those events were reported.

The marathon is on Monday. We're having the anniversary of last year’s bombing and subsequent days of confusion and unknowing and “shelter-in-place."

The rehashing of all of it has been going on for weeks.

I don’t know what TV and local newspapers are doing. I do know that our local NPR station, WBUR, has had nonstop talk of it, at least in the mornings. I know there are art projects and documentaries and Sports Illustrated did a photo shoot at the finish line last Saturday.

(Image: © Nicolaus Czarnecki/METRO Boston/

I was out of town last year, for better or for worse. I was shaken then in part because I was so far away.

This year, I’m shaken because I’m so close.

I’m not running Boston this year. One of my best friends is. Another friend from high school is flying in from overseas, where she lives now, to spend the weekend at my house and run the marathon. Between my running club, which has several people running it plus an official cheer zone; support station; post-race hotel room; my friends; and the logistics I’ve been dealing with for my overseas pal, I’ve been far more aware than I’ve ever been before about the logistics of the pre-race luggage drop, getting to the starting line, getting to the airport afterward …

… and the next thing you know, I offered to my friend Justine that I’d be at the finish line to welcome her.

So, listen, I’ve never gone to the Boston Marathon before. I’ve never bandited it, I’ve never run it, I’ve never cheered anyone on. The closest I’ve gotten was one year, maybe 12 or 13 years ago, when some friends (and pub buddies) and I had a picnic in the Public Garden and then went to a pub near Fenway, spending the afternoon drinking and shooting pool, laughing that we were spending our day this way while others were running 26.2 miles.

Yeah. And then I qualified for Boston and registered and got excited to run it last year… and blew out my calf early in training. So instead of running the marathon, I was out of town, visiting my father, that whole awful week last year, checking in with friends surreptitiously, so my children didn’t know a thing about it.

Yesterday on the radio they interviewed a counselor who deals with post-trauma symptoms. She has a lot of marathon-related patients: people deeply and adversely affected by last year’s events, either the bombing itself or else residents of Watertown, and everything in between, not physically but emotionally. Listening to them talk, I got shaky again. I thought, “Huh. Why am I so afraid to go near the finish line this year?”

I was going to go to the Somerville Road Runners 30K cheer zone and support stop. I was going to help set up tables, cheer on runners, hand off gels and such to our SRR runners.

But no. I’m delving into the fray. I hate crowds. I hate cities after crisis. I hate wide-sweeping security measures that sound really restrictive but, in fact, are often shot-in-the-dark and miss the C-4. No one could have predicted last year’s bombing and manhunt, and I really don’t think they can prevent any determined destroyer this year.

I’m not actually afraid of a repeat or copycat bombing this year. But I’m afraid, strangely. I wouldn’t be if I were running. But as a spectator, I’m terrified.

Last year I vowed the extremists wouldn’t make me afraid. I swore we wouldn’t cower in the face of the bombings. At the time, I thought I’d be triumphantly running Boston this year.

I won’t be. I’ll be a spectator. And yes, I’ll be honest. I am afraid.

But I will be there. I’ll be there for my friends who have worked so hard to run this. I’ll be there because we can’t be afraid.

Justine and Jody and everyone else, I will be there, for you and for all of us. We’ve got this, and we’ll be fine.

Damn. I found it much easier to qualify for Boston last year than to go to the finish line this year. Really.


Julia Magnusson


Twitter: @notlikeacat

[This post first appeared on on April 15, 2014, as "Bracing Myself for the Boston Marathon".]

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