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Victory, Chaos, and the Marathon Mindset

Fourth-year violist Marie Daniels poses with her boyfriend, Nate Helgeson (Graduate Diploma ’12, historical performance), after finishing the 2013 Boston Marathon—and just a few minutes before bombs exploded near the finish line. 



April 15, 2013. The date had been saved in my calendar for quite some time, and not just because it’s tax day. In November 2011, I had finished my first marathon (New York City) just a few minutes under the qualifying time for Boston, and it was then that I first set my sights on running in that venerable event.


That Monday morning in Boston dawned with beautiful running weather—cool, a slight breeze, and partly cloudy. A long bus ride and long lines for the portable toilets eventually led to the start of the race. And then I ran. And then I ran some more. The course was fun, passing through the small towns outside of Boston, up and down hills, with cheering spectators lining the road the whole way. Miles 16 to 20 were tough. I began repeating my favorite phrase in my head (inspired by Finding Nemo): Just keep running, just keep running. Once I made it to mile 21, I knew I could do it, the most emotional moment being when I turned the corner onto Boylston Street and could see the finish line. That was at 1:50 p.m.

I hobbled my way through the recovery stations, getting water, food, heat-wrap, and a medal. When I picked up my bag, I was happy to see many excited texts from family members congratulating me. At 2:34p.m., I called my boyfriend from the corner of Fairfield and Boylston Streets. Eventually he found me there among the crowds of people near the finish line and we started to walk back to our friend’s apartment, just a few blocks away. Strangers congratulated me as we walked—shouting, high fives, smiles. We picked up a few free samples of hummus and cheered on the runners as we walked across the overpass where Massachusetts Avenue passes over the race course on Commonwealth Avenue. Then it happened: police running, police biking, police driving, police shouting. The runners stopped running. Nobody knew what was going on, but I realized that if they had just stopped the Boston Marathon, it must be something serious.

The next hours were a bit of a daze. We continued walking back toward the apartment, which was actually toward the explosions, but heard people as they hurried past us: “gunshots,” “explosion.” We were warned by others on the street to turn around and walked down an extra block, but ultimately we had to go in that direction and were actually lucky to make it back before the police locked down our side of Commonwealth Avenue. Once back at the apartment, I immediately searched the Internet and quickly found a picture already uploaded on Twitter. Bombs. Two of them. The daze continued. Texting family, showering, packing, texting, eating, calling, worrying, sirens, texting, sirens, bomb dogs, calling. Suddenly I had so many things to do, but I couldn’t concentrate on any of them. Our main objective was to get out of the city as we’d planned, on a 6:10 p.m. Megabus back to New York. Subways closed and taxis busy, we finally walked to the bus station. Tensions were still high, an eerie feeling hung in the air as SWAT teams were standing in the streets and marathon runners and families wandered to their destinations. We made it to the bus (amazingly it was able to arrive and leave on time)—and I finally sat down for the first time since the morning. I sat and I thought.

As a musician, I struggle with the need to have more objectivity in my life. Art is so subjective, I yearn for something concrete. For me the answer is in running, particularly when training for a race. I have a schedule, I have a goal. I work my way up to the distances and I reach the finish line. Every time we practice our instrument or rehearse our art, we hope to be a little bit better each and every day. The same goes for running, but it usually comes with results that are more quickly visible.

A marathon, in particular, is a race in which there is no competitor but you. A marathon is really about finishing. Months and months of training with careful attention to one’s physical health build up to one race. A cliché that we use for life is applicable here: it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. This journey involves a lot of mental strength. The body must be trained, but it is an incredible mental exercise and challenge that requires the mind to push through pain and drive to the desired goal.

The events that took place in Boston a few weeks ago were terrible and will not be soon forgotten. But here I find that the marathon mindset is what gets us through. When you hit the wall, take a deep breath and then keep going, stronger than before. This perseverance is exactly what characterizes my experience at the 2013 Boston Marathon and what will help shape the recovery of that city. Just keep running.

I will never forget April 15, 2013, neither for what I accomplished nor for the horrible thing that happened that day. Rather, I’ll remember it because on that day I was greatly touched by the many texts, calls, and messages from my friends and family reaching out to me, asking if I was O.K., and sending their condolences. Great accomplishments are reduced and pushed aside when you recognize the fortune to be alive and full of love from friends and family. May I never forget the most important things in life.

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