“Bombs can’t keep us away. We will be back to Boston in 2014.”
It was a Monday when nearly 23,000 runners gathered for this year’s Boston Marathon. Just under five hours into the event, shouts of mid-race jubilation turned to cries of terror as explosions ransacked the finish line area. The blasts killed three people and injured over 170 others.
Jennifer Murray, owner of CrossFit Justice in Milford, Mich., was half-a-block away from the site of the first explosion.
The 43-year-old finished this year’s Open in 240th place, eight days before she set out to run her first-ever Boston Marathon.
For months, she combined CrossFit workouts, endurance training and sprint work to prepare for the 26.2-mile run. The hours before the starting gun sounded were filled with excitement and anticipation as she celebrated with friends and fellow racers, Julie Cauvin and Therese Gronbin.
“We were like school kids on the first day of school,” Murray says. “Taking pictures of ourselves on the bus with our eyes huge and mouths hanging open, being goofy and giddy.”
Beneath shimmering banners and blaring speakers, within an ocean of runners, she crossed the start line.
“There was so much energy, and everyone was so excited and pumped up,” she says.
For Murray, things got tough around mile 22. About that time she says she spotted another racer wearing CrossFit gear.
“It helped me get my head back in the Game,” she says. “It reminded me that this doesn’t hurt as bad as Karen.”
She crossed the finish line three hours and 32 minutes later. She made for the medic’s tent to recover from over-hydration, and had less than half-an-hour to celebrate her accomplishment before she heard a loud bang.
She thought the first explosion was part of the Boston tradition — a victory celebration.
“I looked up at the medic and said, ‘Do you guys do that every year?’” she remembers. “He said, ‘Nope. Never heard that before.’”
After the second blast, another medic ran into the tent ordering anyone not in need of a bed to vacate. Murray scrambled down and stepped outside.
“As soon as I walked out, all these ambulances came through and they were not going slow,” she says. “The police on the corner were screaming, ‘Everybody back, everybody back!’”
She asked a nearby volunteer what was going on, and the news shocked her.
“There’s been two explosions,” he said.
Her first thought was of her husband, Rob, waiting for her somewhere near the finish line.
“Shivers went up my spine,” she says. “I got tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.”
As volunteers corralled the athletes off the street, she whipped out her phone and dialed Rob’s number. She was never more relieved to hear his voice on the other end.
He was fine and so were their friends. They made plans to meet in a hotel lobby not far from the disaster. The gravity of the situation finally began to set in when their watery eyes finally met in that crowded hotel lobby.
“I got through the crowd and he gave me the biggest hug,” she says. “I always take my (wedding) ring off when I work out, and as soon as we let go he slipped it back on my finger and we both just cried.”
Quickly, reports began to flood media outlets with what little facts were known at the time. But to the Murrays and their friends, those loose messages were more than enough.
“That’s when I knew we had to get the hell out of there,” she says.
When they stepped outside, all they heard were sirens.
“Everybody was quiet,” she says. “It was surreal.”
It took them nearly an hour to escape the city in the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Afterward, she was struck with just how lucky she was to have made it out unscathed.
“If I would have been 25 minutes slower, it could have been me,” she says.
As it happened, this was the first of the dozens of marathons Murray had run in which her husband hadn’t stood waiting for her at the finish line.
“Every single race I cross the line and hug him over the fence, so for him to not have been there was a Godsend,” she says.
With the tragedy still recent, Murray is still processing the events of the day that should have been a joyous celebration of life and health.
“It’s been so overwhelming,” she says. “You’re almost numb to it. You’re excited that you did well at the Boston Marathon, but heartbroken from what happened.”
Upon her return to CrossFit Justice, she made plans to honor the fallen, scheduling Martin, the memorial WOD in honor of 8-year-old victim Martin Richard, for the weekend after the race. The week after that, CrossFit Justice will join local running stores in a race to raise money for the Martin family.
“I really tried to take away that this is so much bigger than me,” she says.
Despite the senseless act of violence that turned a day of tradition and celebration into one of tragedy, Murray says her spirit won’t be stamped out.
“It’s such a disappointment that someone would ruin such a great event with such a cowardly act,” she says. “But we’d go back in a heartbeat.”
And indeed, she’ s already made reservations for her rental house next year, posting on her Facebook page the day after the race: “Bombs can’t keep us away. We will be back to Boston in 2014.”