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Canadian Triathletes reveal their Boston Marathon experience

Lisa Bentley and Murray Cass provide their post-race thoughts.

Lisa Bentley’s Boston Marathon

Caledon’s Lisa Bentley, 44, ran the Boston Marathon yesterday in 2:49:36. The 11-time Ironman Champion (including 3 at Ironman Canada) completed the race just after 12 noon but returned to the finish line area to meet up with friends. She made these comments in an interview with the CBC.

“We were at the Fairmont Copley across Copley Square which is about 100, 200 metres from the finish line and we just heard this big explosion and then felt the ground shake and then very soon after another big bang and then the ground shake and it reminded me of an earthquake and I started thinking about, well, my husband (David Cracknell) thought maybe it was the grandstand had fallen or the whole infrastructure at the finish line and I thought maybe something in the subway. It was pretty, pretty powerful.”

“We had already finished but we thought that we should get out of here, because everything is barricaded. So we got into the finish line shoot where the runners had finished and started walking through with them to try to get away from the finish line and kept looking back and we could see that the finish line there was and kept moving away and tried to not panic. As we kept moving through some runners that had just finished, now they were starting to run and starting to create panic and we just really tried to stay calm and keep walking.”

“We didn’t know what had happened at all and we started seeing lights and sirens and there were emergency vehicles and we thought we’ve just got to get away from here and so we just kept walking away from the finish line and we had to catch a flight and so we thought we don’t know if the airports will be locked down and if we could get out of the city so we tried to just get a taxi and get out.

A Report from Murray Cass

Markham’s Murray Cass, is a three-time brain tumour survivor and a four- time Ironman finisher. The 58 year old completed the Boston marathon yesterday in a time of 3:37:02. We contacted Murray as he was making his way back home from Boston today. He provides a detailed and compelling account.

“I finished about 30 min before the blasts. My training saved my life in a way as the blasts went off at almost the exact time I finished last year. Ric Kong and I were hanging around dealing with the usual post-marathon issues: cramping calves, collecting loot, meeting up with friends. He was going to meet his wife at the meeting areas (where my wife Debbie was waiting for me). I forgot my cellphone so I couldn’t call her and was going to just head back to the hotel. Walk or Transit?  I was going to walk but the transit didn’t look too packed so I hobbled down to the subway.  While I was down there the bombs went off. Deb saw them. They were apparently really loud.

Some people heard them in the subway. I didn’t. When I got out at Hynes station just up from the finish the place was going nuts. I tried to ask a policeman where the Sheraton was but his radio was buzzing and he eventually told me he could not answer questions – very politely given the situation which no one near me seemed to be aware of yet. So, had I walked back to the hotel I might have ended up near the explosion. I guess in this case transit was the better way.

Another policeman showed me the route to my hotel. I started walking. Within minutes there were sirens and ambulances. Then helicopters and a convoy of about ten police motorcycles zipping by really fast. Then came the police cars. Things unfolded very quickly. At first I thought someone must have had a heart attack at the finish. I quickly realized that that made no sense; one ambulance would have done the job. I never thought of a bomb, which is odd because in the calm months leading up to any big race I do think that they would be perfect terrorist targets. Oddly, now that possibility had escaped me. As I hobbled across the road I had to dodge a speeding police car, not an easy feat for someone who has just completed a marathon.

No one seemed to know what was happening. I searched for hints, eavesdropping on conversations as I walked back to the Sheraton. Then I started to think terror attack. By the progression of response it must have happened just a minute or two before I exited the subway station on Massachusetts Ave. When I got in the hotel dozens of people were gathered around the main TV. All we saw – over and over again – was a video of the explosions. The newscasters were hypothesizing: gas leak? Terror attack? At this point they did not know that anyone had been killed. They did not know that many of the wounds were from shrapnel. There was just quiet shock and fear in the lobby. I headed up to my room to try to locate Deb. Last I saw her was at Heartbreak hill when I ran by. I sent her an email. I tried her cell phone. Busy. I tried again and again. Still busy. I knew the cell networks would be overloaded. Later I learned that they had been shut down to prevent remote triggering of bombs. I spent the next hours fielding emails and facebook postings. I let friends and family know that I was ok. We were trying to check that all our friends and family in Boston were ok. Everyone was worried and scrambling to get info.

Finally my daughter in Ontario sent me an email letting me know that Deb was ok. It turns out that she was in the family meeting area, around a half block from the explosions. She heard a big boom (the first bomb) and saw the second blast.

Meanwhile in the lobby there were people who had witnessed the explosions close up. Some were in tears. One man I spoke with told me he was right at the bomb site and heard a piece of shrapnel whiz by him. He seemed to be in shock. His wife was in tears.

I started to think about all the people who just minutes before had cheered my run to the finish and were now seriously injured or worse. Having shopped in Marathon Sports and eaten in Vloro restaurant (Where one of the blasts went off. Porter sponsors a Boston Tea Party brunch for Canadians at Vloro every year before the race) just the day before, I thought about the people who served us who might also now have totally altered lives. What did they do to deserve this?

Was this an anti-American attack? With people from all over the world, that didn’t make much sense. Some things never will make sense.

We cancelled our plans for a celebratory dinner but we still had to eat. So Deb and I headed down to the lobby which was getting really packed now. It seemed people were seeking comfort in company.  Some of the nearby hotels had been evacuated so some of these people in the lobby were hotel “refugees.” We were lucky in that our hotel was just outside the closed off area. There’s a walkway from our lobby to the Prudential Mall so we thought we could walk over and grab a quick bite.  But the hotel manager came running after us telling us the mall was closed. He told us to head over to Mass. Ave where there were some pizza joints. Now there was a heavily armed SWAT team in our hotel lobby. Police and military were everywhere outside, on every street corner.  It looked like a war zone. Helicopters whirred overhead. We were able to walk over to Mass. Ave without too much trouble but the streets were eerily quiet.  Our plan was to get a bottle of wine and a pizza to take back to our room. We ate in our room listening to the non-stop news reports on TV and checking email.  Fellow runners and family were gradually being accounted for. The status of only a couple friends was unknown.

At around 11:00 pm we tried to go to sleep. I was pumped up with caffeine from the gels so sleep did not come easily. Eventually I nodded off but woke at 3:00 AM. I could not get back to sleep.

We then got a letter slipped under our door from the hotel advising us that the hotel had been checked for bombs multiple times and that the blocks near the explosions was a crime zone and therefore closed.

Late at night we started getting emails and phone calls from family on the West Coast asking whether we were ok.

In the morning the hotel lobby was still quite busy but this time it was more normal busy, departing guests. The shock had subsided. The SWAT team was gone but the military were still outside blocking street access. Our hotel was in a secure area so we had to show picture ID while being videotaped as we left and returned to the area. Everyone was very serious but polite.

Deb and I walked over to the river to rent some bikes and enjoy the morning before heading home.  All the bikes were gone so we walked. Helicopters were still buzzing overhead, especially over the downtown area and the bridges. One went up the river quite low.

We then checked out of the hotel and headed thru security again on our way to the subway. In the lobby I overheard a BBC reporter talking on his cell phone saying how he had to come here to get some direct personal stories. Fast trip! The military were at all the subway entrances and in the stations. Oddly the airport was quiet. It was the first time since the bombings when we could not see signs of increased security. Ain’t that odd! We were expecting a big security presence and huge crowds. The place was very quiet. But just as we boarded our plane on the gangway we had to pass thru an additional security check. That was a surprise. Two security personnel asked to see our passports and asked why we were in Boston. When I told one that I had finished before the blasts she asked what my finishing time was. When I told her she did not respond. I think she was just checking that it was reasonable given the time of the blasts.

We’re now on the plane listening to some of the other passengers exchanging stories about their experiences.

I’m also thinking about the poor runners who deferred last year’s run. They were likely mostly slower runners which means they were not able to finish this year’s run either. Then there was the recently retired English prof whom I sat beside on the bus to the start. This was going to be his last Boston.  He was 65 and planned to run without a watch  and just have fun without thinking about pace or time.  He probably didn’t get to finish either. Neither did the elderly German man whom we met in the subway after the pre-race dinner. He told us he was not a fast runner but got into Boston with a tour package. A long way to come, a big expense, for what?

My thoughts on the root causes of terror: Winners vs. Losers.

Why would anyone try to injure spectators at an international running event like the Boston Marathon? Although there’s lots of anti-American sentiment in the world this is much more of an international event then an American event so I started looking for other reasons.  Domestic terrorism? Far Right groups? Why? There are people out there who hate marathoners.  We can be quite obnoxious when we show off our fitness and our colourful expensive running gear. We can run on (with our mouths) about our athletic accomplishments. But enough to get someone to want to kill or injure us? Doesn’t make sense to me. So I started thinking more philosophically.

The world seems to be divided into what I will call Winners and Losers. The Winners don’t always win, but they always try. They set goals and work towards reaching them. When they fail they usually reflect, analyze and try again. They encourage others. Winners can be front runners, mid-pack, back-of-the-pack or even last place finishers. They can also DNF.  Some try again and some pack it in.  But they try and they respect the accomplishments of others. Those are all Winners in my mind. Winners would not bomb spectators.

Losers on the other hand don’t try. They think the world is unfair. The dice are loaded against them.  They think sport is for wealthy, fortunate, self-absorbed assholes. And not just sport; they are envious of anyone who has something they don’t have, anyone who has accomplished something they have not. They don’t want to even try because they are either too afraid of failing or are too attached to their hatreds. It is far easier to blame and hate than to train and risk failure.

Losers don’t see a problem bombing spectators at a marathon because those people are associated with effort, optimism and accomplishment. And they can’t stand that.

Too simplistic? Of course, it’s too simplistic. I just need to attempt to make sense out of this, as feeble as it may be.”

Before leaving Boston, Deb and I had one last thing to do: make hotel reservations for next year.” – Murray Cass

Twitter Support for Boston

Twitter was buzzing with messages of support for the victims and the people of Boston. Here a few selected tweets:

Chrissie Wellington ‏@chrissiesmiles

Sport is supposed to be a place of friendship, joy, celebration, peace & unity. We must keep running.

Shocked and saddened to hear of explosions and casualties at the Boston marathon. Thoughts are with everyone affected by the blasts

Andrew Messick @ WTC ‏@CEOIronman

nightmare. thoughts and prayers with injured & first responders.

We will continue to live our lives and do our jobs. #RunforBoston

ITU Triathlon ‏@ITUonline

All our thoughts go out to the good people at the Boston Marathon today. May sport rise above this sort of terrible incident.

Leanda Cave ‏@leandacave

OMG: can’t believe the explosions at the Boston Marathon. So sad. My heart goes out to the injured victims & runners.

BostonMarathon ‏@_BostonMarathon

One Retweet = One Prayer #PrayForBoston #BostonMarathon

Boston Triathlon ‏@BostonTriathlon

We are going for a run today: we must. #RunForBoston

Make sure to get out for a run today and #RunForBoston.