My friend Amy was crying outside a train station in Boston a couple months ago.
People walking by thought she was crying because she’d just finished the Boston Marathon. They congratulated her.
They were right that she'd just finished, but wrong about why she was crying. She was crying because she had learned the news that they hadn’t yet heard.
“I saw runners getting on the train and I thought it was weird because they didn’t have their stuff and they seemed really agitated,” she said. “I must have been staring, because they were like ‘there were explosions at the finish line.’ And the guy said ‘hopefully it’s not terrorism, but obviously that’s probably what it is.’”
What would you do? Would you break the awful news they'd never forget?
“I was in this weird place where I didn’t want to tell them because I didn’t want to take that space for them,” she said.
Every journalism teacher I ever had taught me to avoid interviewing your friends. It's great advice. I'm now going to totally disregard it.
I hatched the idea for this blog in the days following that marathon.
A great time to have a bad sense of direction
Amy - or, Ms. Hiebert to her students at Claggett Creek Middle School in Keizer - ran it.
She's the first to point out she's one of 25,000 people who ran that day, and a good deal of those people had a much, much worse day than she did.
I was living in Beijing. You'll remember how fast and unpredictable news was flying in the immediate aftermath.
Thanks to the time difference, I woke up mid-mess. I worried my friend might be hurt, or worse.
So did her parents. They’d been tracking her online, so they knew she’d finished. She had, in 3 hours, 38 minutes, 29 seconds.
A self portrait, before the explosion. "It probably took another 15 minutes to get my gear from the bus and put it on," before heading away from the finish-line area, Hiebert said.
But communication was limited – police were worried somebody might detonate another device remotely - and they also knew she’d wander back to watch the finish because she finds it inspirational to watch people finish marathons.
“My parents were watching TV, looking for people who were wearing shoes like mine on stretchers,” she said.
Lucky for her, she got lost instead.
After wandering around for a while, she finally gave up and headed back to the bed and breakfast she was staying at. She had to break the news to one of the owners, too.
“That turned out to be a really good thing because I had someone to freak out with,” she said. “I had someone to feed me and take care of make me instead of just sitting there watching TV.”
They sat and watched together, even as they heard sirens screaming to and from the scene. They wondered if all that red stuff at the place she’d just ran past was really blood.
Like everybody else, they tried to figure out what was going on.
“(The bed and breakfast owner) was more angry, like ‘What did they do to my city?’” she said. “Then one of the TV stations got it wrong and said they were evacuating the city and he was like ‘We don’t even have a car. There’s nowhere for us to go.’”
'It was strange how normal it was'
It’s easy to forget now, but several days elapsed between the bombing and the full-scale man-hunt because nobody knew whom to hunt for. For those few days in Boston, there was more anger than fear.
Harvard Square, the day after the marathon. The bombers also reportedly stopped there in the aftermath.
Amy still had a day in the city, so she went sightseeing. She even went to Harvard Square – one of the places suspected bombers Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnaey reportedly went during their attempted escape.
There were National Guardsmen in fatigues on the streets – “It was really strange to see that in the U.S.” she said – but most people didn’t seem to be talking about it.
“It was strange how normal it was,” she said. "It's funny because people who do these awful things - it never seems to have the desired effect.
“I made sure to look at the police and thank them when I saw them. The rest of us were just trying to recover and move on, but they have a very different job.”
While she was wandering around Boston, her students were wondering where she was. They thought she’d be back in school on Tuesday. Finally, the school had to make a P.A. announcement.
“They told me ‘Even your naughtiest kids were pacing in front of your door waiting for you to come back,’” she said. “Most of them were really genuine in their concern, but I had to teach them how to talk about it. One of them was like ‘Hey, did you get hit by the bomb?’
“Sometimes, even a month later, one of them would say ‘This reminds me of when we were worried about you.’”
The road to 'less weaknesses'
I know the feeling. Trying to keep up with that disaster as it unfolded from umpteen-thousand miles away was awful. I saw the pictures, and what video I could.
I thought about how Amy had spent years training to be able to qualify just for the opportunity to run in the Boston Marathon, only to have those years overshadowed by an unknown number of anonymous terrorists.
The local papers in Cambridge, Mass., the day after the bombing.
Then I thought about the thousands of other people who had spent years training for that same opportunity.
Then I thought about how there are millions of others who have put in the effort to at least complete a marathon. Their times might not have been good enough to qualify for Boston, but they damn well did the work.
Then I thought, if those people can do it, so can I. And from that, the idea for this blog was born.
My favorite memory of Amy is set in a college dorm room in the spring of 1997.
I started spouting off an opinion on something stupid. Amy got out of her chair. She walked over slowly. She got in my face and strongly encouraged my silence on the matter.
By which I mean yelled.
"I have less weaknesses than you," she said.
Now THAT is an awesome quote (even if the English teacher in her wishes she would’ve said “fewer weaknesses").
You know what? I shut up, because I knew she was right. And until I do something as difficult as run the Boston Marathon and beat her time (or, for that matter, deal with classes full of hormonal middle-schoolers every day for seven years), she always will be.
Now I'd like to write about some runners who aren't my friends.
I’d love it if you’d help me out with ideas. I don't care if it's you or someone you know, or someone you know about. I don't care if it's someone who's just getting started, or someone who's only got a few minutes to talk between ultra-marathons. I’m just looking for interesting stories and interesting people