The Boston Marathon, the Holy Grail for many runners, has now been marred by tragedy.
Every year after the elite professional runners earn their glory and their prize money at the head of the field, the rest of the finishers are there for personal goals. And just qualifying for the Boston Marathon is a significant achievement since runners must meet strict time standards in another marathon just to be accepted. Being a Boston qualifier is a respected distinction in the running community, and a dozen members of the Oak Park Runners Club were there on April 15.
Oak Parker Doug Walder, 61, had met the qualifying standard for the 2012 race, but opted to wait a year due to 90 degree weather last year. This year he was finally at the Boston starting line, but fatigued due to a lack of sleep and a flare-up of his allergies — He and his wife had stayed with a friend who owned a cat. So he ran at a slower pace, saving strength to be assured of finishing. His wife, Elissa Speizman, was waiting near the finish line.
According to his GPS watch, Walder was less than a half mile from the finish line when Boston police officers ran into the street to force marathon runners to turn around and leave the designated course. What was going on? In the confusion someone said there had been an explosion at the finish area.
Knowing that his wife was waiting for him, Walder desperately tried to get to the finish line area, running down side streets (his fastest pace of the day) to find Elissa. Meanwhile, Elissa was waiting beyond the actual finish line. She heard the two explosions and saw the smoke, but fortunately was away from the actual blast areas.
In a strange stroke of good fortune, United Airlines had shifted their return flight to Chicago from 8 p.m. to 5:05 p.m. Therefore, they agreed to meet at the closest subway stop, a few blocks beyond the marathon finish line, so they could head directly to the Boston airport and catch their flight. And that's where Walder found Elissa amid the chaos, right where she was supposed to be. In another strange twist, had he been fully rested and allergy-free he might well have been at the finish line when the bombs exploded. And in running to find Elissa, Walder ended up completing a total of more than 27 miles (a full marathon is 26.2 miles).
They both didn't know the full story until they were on the plane. And with the flight's rescheduling, they just had sufficient time for Walder to change clothes (no shower until they got home to Oak Park), grab a bite to eat, and board the plane. They were home by about 9 p.m., shaken, but grateful to have been spared from the vicious act of terrorism that marred this legendary annual celebration of personal achievement.
Elissa said she is grateful "that so many wonderful friends e-mailed, texted and tried to call immediately, everyone with the same question 'Are you OK?' And that our answer was, "Yes."
Paul Oppenheim is a member of the Oak Park Runners Club.