It’s time for Running Book Club, with Wendy from Taking The Long Way Home.
April’s selection was Hal Higdon’s 4:09:43: Boston 2013 Through the Eyes of the Runners.
As I’m sure you may have guessed, the pages of this book were nothing short of harrowing.
April 15, 2013 started just like any other Marathon Monday. Hal Higdon, runner, writer and beloved figure in the running community, was not personally covering the event. He reached out to the athletes congregating in Boston prior to the event, wishing them luck and encouragement, engaging with them to share their experiences leading up to the start line.
Monday, I brazenly suggested, would be a “perfect day.” Perfect, because of cool weather predicted, ideal for securing a PR or another BQ. Several dozen runners, beginning with Neil Gottleib of Philadelphia, quickly responded with comments.
Neither I nor any of my Facebook friends imagined how less perfect a day April 15, 2013 would be, how two bombs planted near the finish line on Boylston Street by two misguided youths would turn what had begun as a joyous day into a tragic one. – Hal Higdon
While the world watched the unspeakable acts at the finish line on the news and followed the manhunt in the hours following, there were also other stories playing out, all over the city. Runners in the middle of their races, spectators cheering for family and loved ones, volunteers behind the finish line.
Using 75 firsthand accounts of the day’s events from those people who shared their stories, Higdon weaves an elegant, gutting and tumultuous timeline of the ill-fated 2013 Boston Marathon. He is able to craft a rather seamless outline, from the minute the gun fired at the start through to the aftermath of the two bombs exploding, leaving three dead and injuring at least 264 others.
We start at The Common, where Higdon shares some history of the great city of Boston, and the Marathon itself. Runners arrive in waves, ferried in on 341 busses from all over the city, guided by volunteers. Higdon introduces us to some of the players in retelling, walking us through the early race morning routines of some of the Boston runners as they prepare to make their way to the start line. We feel the tension and the nerves, the hopefulness and the giddiness, the disappointment of running with an injury and the anticipation of earning a spot at the premier race in the world.
From there, we move to different locations along the race course: the hotels on Copley Square, the crowds at Athletes’ Village, the ministrations of Race Director, Dave McGillivray, painstakingly ticking off items on his precisely timed checklist of 146 entries, waiting for that moment in the day when his job is considered done and he can head to the start line to run his own Boston Marathon, hours after everyone else.
Higdon spends time discussing the course. Boston is a downhill race – the first half almost deceptively so. Unprepared and inexperienced runners will soar through the downhills way ahead of schedules, leaving themselves exhausted for the four, brutal Newton hills. Runners try to pace themselves, but the electricity of the crowds and the other athletes sometimes proves to be too much. It was fascinating to get a detailed play-by-play of the 26.2 miles, the good and the bad, as well as to read about the runners’ reactions to the miles as they go.
We traverse the Wellsley Scream Tunnel and Heartbreak Hill with our runners. We enter the city of Boston and finally, blessedly, the end is in sight: “Right on Hereford. Left on Boylston.”
Higdon describes the triumphs of those who crossed the finish line behind the elites in that third hour of the marathon. Some of our narrators complete their journey. McGillvray heads back to Hopkinton to begin his race, and the clock strikes the fateful 4:09:43, when all hell breaks loose.
There are firsthand accounts of what happened at the finish line that day. The scattering of runners and spectators, the confusion and fear and disbelief. Strangers coming together to provide aid in the form of charged cell phones and shelter from the chaos in nearby apartments. It is shattering to read the accounts of people terrified for themselves, their friends and relatives, and the complete strangers around them. Through different voices, stitched together, Higdon gives life to the emotions of those moments.
But there are other stories, too. From the runners who were blocked from the city. From those who, after running 26 miles, were told to turn around and run again in the opposite direction. From those who were already heading back to their hotels and from those who were cleared from the medical tents to make room for the incoming wounded. The ripple effect of those two explosions touched so many lives that day and in time to come.
4:09:43 was a difficult, but important read. Higdon is a master at his craft, assembling the narrative from a perspective he created: as if the day was seen by one runner with 75 pairs of eyes, traveling the route from start to finish and beyond. It was an interesting way to piece together the experiences, but it paid off as an effective way to tell the tales of those along the way.
With the 119th Boston Marathon on Monday, we remember and will be Boston Strong.
For May, we will be reading Tales From Another Mother Runner: Triumphs, Trials, Tips and Tricks From The Road.
Dimity and Sarah are always so down to earth and relatable, so I’m sure this will be a great read.
Want to join in the book club? Please join up with Taking The Long Way Home, by linking up in her comments and linking back to her original review post.
Have you read 4:09:43? What were your thoughts?