Running Into Cancer – My Running Life – Part 3 – World Marathon Majors – Boston and Bombs

Boston marathon is a truly iconic race. Established in 1897 so it’s one of the oldest road marathons in the world and every marathoner dreams of one day bagging a Boston QT and taking part in this amazing race. My lovely friend Claire had also managed a QT and was on the trail of the WMM as well so off we went to Boston with our other half’s Tracey and Richard. Tracey and I were staying on after the race and making a holiday out of the trip.

Boston is very special. A true runners race. Whilst London is a lot about charity and fun runners, Boston is about runners who’ve got that QT and are fulfilling their dream.

It’s also about the blue and gold colours and Claire and I couldn’t resist buying the race jacket. Problem is that hers still fits whilst mine is a “challenge”.

Claire and I rocking the Boston Colours

It’s a very early start to get out to the race start at Hopkinton on the US’s yellow school busses. This was going to end up the second scariest bus ride of all time but at the time I didn’t know about the Comrades bus ride! Those busses are very cramped. They’re meant for school children and there isn’t much leg room. Thankfully Claire and I are both short arses so we coped but we both went paler and paler as we travelled out to the start. It felt a very long way back to Boston 26.2 miles away!

The race went like a dream. It’s a very challenging undulating course with some killer hills including Heartbreak Hill, a brutal half mile climb at mile 20 before the descent into the City.

The last half mile or is well known as right onto Hereford, left onto Boylston and it’s on Boyslton where the finish lies, a long straight run in watching the finish clock tick away in the distance. With a few hundred yards to go I realised that if I put a last big effort in I might get sub 3:25 and so I pushed hard crossing the line with 1 second to spare and also bagging a Boston QT in the process. I’m very proud of that, only about 30% of the field bag a Boston QT whilst running Boston. The finish time was an average mile pace of 7:45 per mile and not too shabby on a tough course.

Finished. Classic Boston medal

Claire followed in soon after. She’s a lovely elegant runner, great style, landing on her forefoot and making it look easy. She crossed the line in 3:34:52 and we found Tracey and Richard in the family reunion zone, quickly changed into warm gear and started walking back to the hotel and then all hell broke loose. We heard sirens all over the City but had no idea what was going on until we got back to the hotel and my mobile started going ballistic with text messages asking if we were okay. We received over 200 messages! Of course we had no idea why we were getting so many messages until we turned on the TV to hear the devastating news of the Boston bombings on the same Boylston that Claire and I had run along only an hour earlier.

The 4 of us were deeply shocked and upset as well as relieved that we’d got through the finish earlier than the bombs. In reality, if they’d set the bombs off in the family reunion zone it would have been utter carnage.

For once we’d completed a marathon but didn’t want to celebrate. We walked across the road to an Irish bar to get something to eat and it was incredibly, but not unsurprisingly, subdued. When the Mayor of Boston and the President of the USA came on the TV screens and told us to stay in our hotels as they couldn’t guarantee our safety our anxiety levels certainly ramped up. The next couple of days in the City was utterly terrifying with armed militia on every street corner and the drama of the chase to apprehend the perpetrators of this horrendous bombing unfolding on the TV. The airport was closed for a while but opened in time for Tracey and I to leave the City and head off for our holiday in the Florida Keys where we continued to watch the search for the bombers unfold. It’s definitely worth watching the film Patriots Day (ironically Boston always takes place on a Monday on patriots day) to understand the drama of the situation.

One thing that stuck in our minds was the amazing courage of the Boston marathon volunteers running into the bombing area to help people, all the time not knowing if more explosions would follow. So courageous. So fearless.

At the time I ran Boston I was Chairman of Altrincham and Sale Chamber of Commerce and involved, in a small way, with the unfolding rejuvenation of the town so I was quite well known in the local business community. When I woke up the day after the race I was asked by our local newspaper for an interview which I did on the phone sat on the hotel bed wearing just my knickers. Oh, I know, what a horrible image. Little was I to know that it would be plastered all over the front page of that weeks edition with the headline “Relief as Chairman of Altrincham and Sale Chamber of Commerce escapes Boston bombings”. I’ve never been shy of the press if I can use it for good but I really didn’t expect front page headlines. However, good did come out of it as I was raising funds for an amazing local children’s charity, The Children’s Adventure
Farm Trust and the article brought lots of donations in! It was also the first of lots of media coverage that would follow in my post cancer diagnosis life and lead to me winning a media whore award but that’s a different story for another day.

As I write I’m reminded that the Doctors think I’d had cancer for 10 years when I was diagnosed in May 2017 and I’d run 3 of the WMM in that timeframe. A classic reason why men need to get themselves tested. Even an ultra fit marathon runner can ultimately be diagnosed despite being completely free of symptoms for 10 years!

The final 3 WMM’s weren’t as dramatic but some funny things happened along the way and we made friends for life at a picnic in Central Park on a sultry Saturday in November 2013 and experienced some amazing examples of international friendship with one particularly amazing experience in Tokyo but I’ll save those stories for part 4 of my running life.

Published by Tony Collier

Diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer in May 2017 when I went from training for an ultra marathon to terminally ill in 36 hours. It was a pretty bad runners "groin strain"

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