Lynn Brennan: A war zone on Boylston Street

Lynn Brennan%%More Content Now
Lynn Brennan

Marathon Monday is a day unlike any other in Boston. You can feel the excitement and the electricity in the air.

Patriots Day (or Marathon Monday) isn't celebrated outside the New England states, but in Boston, the holiday might as well be Fourth of July.

That is the day the history-rich city celebrates the anniversary of the first battles of the Revolutionary War.

It's the day tens of thousands of people descend on the Town of Hopkinton, lace up their sneakers and run the 26.2 miles to Boylston Street in Boston — the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Adding to the excitement is the annual 11 a.m. home game played by the Red Sox.

When I lived in Massachusetts, my friends and I would head to a Boston bar near the end of the route to watch the Red Sox play their morning game. Toward the end of the game the bar would empty out onto the street, joining hundreds of thousands of others along the marathon route, and we would cheer, scream and chant for the runners as they passed. We may not have known any of the runners, but it didn’t matter. We were proud of them.

We were proud of the first groups of runners that passed for their ability to finish the race quickly, outrunning their peers, finishing the 26.2 miles in blazing fast time.

I was always more proud of the slower runners, those who came one, two, three, sometimes four hours after the first group of runners passed by. Generally, these aren’t the runners that were fast enough to earn the right to run the marathon based on their times. Instead they raised thousands of dollars for various charities to earn the privilege of participating in one of the most prestigious marathons in the world.

Many of these athletes don’t care how fast they finish the race, they just want to finish. They wear shirts with the names of the charities prominently displayed. Others had their own names on the front of their shirts, allowing us to pick them out of the crowd and cheer for them individually.

It’s a unique experience to be a part of. We stood, cheering, about a mile from the finish line. By that point the runners are drained, their legs are exhausted, their bodies screaming for them to stop. We could tell by the looks on their faces and the increased pace of their strides, that our cheers were helping them make their way to the finish line.

I wanted to be in Boston Monday to cheer on three friends who ran for their respective charities. Instead, I tracked them by their bib numbers from my office as they made thier way along the race route, getting text messages at the 10K, half-marathon, and 30K marks. Each time my phone went off with an update, I became more and more proud of these three people running toward their goal.

At 2:15 p.m., Marissa Stephenson posted on the Rolla Daily News Facebook page that there had been an explosion in at the marathon’s finish line. My heart sank.

I instantly looked at my phone to try to pinpoint where my friends were on the route. They had all passed the 30km mark, but none of them had crossed the finish line. Looking at their times, I did the math and knew at least one of them had to be close — very close — to the finish line when the bombs went off.

My mind was instantly filled with worst-case scenarios as I watched the live coverage unfold at the finish line. I was afraid not only for the runners, but for friends I knew would be out there, cheering the runners along. How many bombs were there? How many more explosions will there be?

It was heartbreaking to watch the aftermath of a truly cowardly act. The finish line of the Boston Marathon is supposed to be a place of celebration where athletes from across the globe can celebrate their monumental accomplishment. Monday it was a war zone.

Slowly over the course of the next few hours, text messages came and Facebook statuses were updated from Boston friends saying they were OK. Everyone was shaken up, but they were all OK.

The friend I?was most worried about later updated her status to read “I was a 1/4 mile from the finish. The cops acted fast and had us run back under the bridge where there was grass. I am so grateful that I wasn't a minute faster. It was horrific but Boston is resilient. There were so many acts of generosity and kindness. There was no mass hysteria. We were scared but didn't know the full magnitude of the situation. People were coming from their homes to give us water and sweatshirts and trash bags, anything to keep us warm. People were passing around their cell phones, though not working well, we could reach out to our families. In this great tragedy I saw such acts of heroism and goodness.”

She’s right. Boston is a resilient city. I am confident Bostonians along with the rest of the country will band together to support the victims of this terrible tragedy.

I am confident the person who did this act of terrorism will be found and brought to justice.

Most of all, I am confident the city will rebound from this. The 2014 marathon will be better and bigger than ever. Crowds won’t be scared off. They will multiply. They will line the marathon route cheering louder than ever before — not only for that year’s runners, for the 2013 runners who never got to finish, and for those who were injured or lost their lives.

Lynn Brennan, editor of the Rolla (Mo.) Daily News, went to high school and college in Massachusetts. She can be reached at