NORTH LIBERTY– North Liberty chiropractor and runner Dr. Sheri Giese, DC, has already made up her mind.
In 2014, Giese will once again be among the nearly 30,000 people who don bib numbers and beat feet along 26.2 miles of Massachusetts roads that are part of the oldest annual marathon in the world. It’s a traditional event with an international luster that was blackened this year in a matter of seconds by two terrorist-planted bombs that killed three people and left more than 200 injured.
“People have asked me if I’ll run next year,” she said. “Yeah, I’m running next year.”
Giese just completed her fourth Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, with a time of 3 hours, 39 minutes. She intentionally targeted a finish time for herself ahead of the race, knowing she had very little time to catch her plane back to Chicago afterward. With her departing flight in mind, Giese hurried away from the finish line, checked out and was leaving a nearby parking ramp in her vehicle when she heard sirens.
A lot of sirens.
“I didn’t think it was too uncommon,” she said. “I was close to the medical tent and there are always ambulances and fire trucks around there.”
But by the time she reached the rental car return at the airport, Giese began to get a flood of text messages asking if she was safe, frantic to know more information about what had happened.
“I was clueless. I started asking people around me, but nobody knew what was going on. We were all getting texts but nobody could call out, so we knew whatever happened was pretty large,” said Giese.
It was only when she was in the airport terminal that she began to catch details of the bombing on waiting-area televisions.
“From then on I was just busy texting people back to let them know I was okay,” she said. Finally, during a long layover in Chicago, Giese was able to begin processing what had just happened at the Boston Marathon.
When she returned to her North Liberty chiropractic office Tuesday, she found many messages on her answering machine from patients and friends concerned about her safety. Over the next couple days, she watched coverage of the manhunt, shootout and capture of the alleged perpetrators.
“We are so fortunate that everybody was right on it. As much as I don’t like the social media thing, that’s how they got them. Obviously, I’m glad they got them when they did. At least we can begin closing that chapter,” said Giese.
But there remained many other things to sort out in her mind. For one thing, Giese thought about her previous running times in the marathon. Last year, she finished at just over four hours, nearly the same time the bombs exploded this year.
Giese only began running in 2006, when a patient invited her along on a trip to Florida for a marathon there.
“I kind of caught the bug,” she said. Since then, she has run about 28 marathons, though she’s somewhat lost count. In her chiropractic office, dozens of medals hang from brightly-colored ribbons just behind the reception desk. Among them are four very special rectangular sheets of Tyvek®, each bearing a number and a date; her Boston Marathon bibs.
“Running becomes such a mental thing, it adds a layer of who you are as an individual. You come out tougher– especially in marathoning– when you accomplish that,” she said. “When I line up for a marathon, I know I’m not going to come in first, but I still win, just by crossing the finish line. I don’t think you can do that with many other events.”
She also runs marathons as much for the company she gets to keep.
“The people that you meet, the stories that you hear; that’s what keeps me coming back. There has never been a race that I didn’t learn something, either about myself, a group of people, or a culture,” she said.
Giese belongs to a national group called the Marathon Maniacs, a somewhat elite, somewhat comedic organization of over 7,000 runners that has strident criteria for membership, requiring a minimum number of marathons run within a certain time period or specific geographies. Those who have run enough marathons to achieve membership are celebrated as “Insane Asylum” Maniacs, their addictions to running simultaneously a mark of character and a tongue-in-cheek character flaw.
After the race, as Giese waited out her Chicago layover, she began to think about those Maniacs who were also in Boston. Through social media, she was able to discern fairly quickly that those she knew were safe from the blasts.
“It’s a Facebook world,” she said. “I learned that many of the Maniacs were stopped at mile 24, and I just think about how fortunate I was to be able to let my family know I was okay. Here they were, stopped on the course and their families only knowing something bad has happened, but not being able to communicate with them. I couldn’t imagine what that was like.”
She also thought about the woman with whom she began this year’s race.
“She was a Boston local, in her upper-40s, very cool. She started to fall behind, and I lost her about mile 12,” Giese said, because sometimes things happen in a race that can easily set you back 40 or 50 minutes. “I wondered if she was one of those…,” and her voice trailed off. Giese wasn’t able to determine if the woman finished the race unscathed, or finished at all.
No matter how many times a runner qualifies for the Boston Marathon– not an easy feat, and becoming increasingly more rigorous in order to keep the race at manageable numbers– the thrill never diminishes, said Giese. Part of it is the way Bostonians celebrates the event.
“It’s unlike any other big race,” said Giese. “They can’t come close to matching the feeling of getting to Boston.” The race takes place on Patriots’ Day, a city holiday commemorating the battles of Lexington and Concord in the American Revolution.
“That whole city embraces the runners the minute you step off the plane. It’s a huge ordeal.”
Giese said she always enjoys spending time in Boston prior to the event, attending the John Hancock Sports Expo and watching race officials re-paint the finish line on Boylston Street.
This marked the first time that Giese also attended a blessing for the athletes the evening before the race, held at the Old South Church– a landmark building since the 1700s, the place where Samuel Adams signaled the commencement of the Boston Tea Party, its bell tower well-recognized as part of the Boston landscape just 100 feet beyond the marathon’s finish line.
“It was a celebration of accomplishment; a celebration of life, a celebration of a common people,” Giese said. “There were people of all ages, genders, races, religions…it didn’t matter. Everyone was just coming together as one.”
Ironic that the tragic turn of events would evoke similar words from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino at a memorial service for the bombing victims three days after the attack.
“We are one Boston,” Menino told a crowd of about 2,000 people. “No adversity, no challenge, nothing can tear down the resilience in the heart of the city and its people.”
Giese gets that. She feels a part of it. Like so many runners and Bostonians and victims’ loved ones, this attack felt personal to her.
“At first, you are so sad for the people who were hurt, and there’s a little guilt to think, ‘How was I so fortunate?’ especially when a child was killed, or a young girl that was in college,” she said. “Over time, you get angry, and you think, ‘Who was this psycho who came in and destroyed them and took all that innocence away?”
Not only did the bombing take lives and limbs, it has forever changed the way thousands of runners– including Giese herself– will view the end of the 26.2 miles.
“There are very few turns in the marathon,” she explained, “but when you are dying and you don’t think you can go any farther, you make the last left turn onto Boylston Street, and you can see that archway. You still have maybe six blocks to go, but the crowd just starts pulling you in. And then you know you are going to make it. They just… will you to that finish line.
“And now I am wondering, ‘Next year, what’s that going to feel like?’ Because (usually) at that point in the race, it’s just this moment of, ‘I’m here, and I’ve made it to the finish line.’ But now, you’re going to be thinking, ‘That’s where a bomb went off last year.’ That makes me upset. Who are they to come in and take away that moment?”
The experience has made her more mindful of her blessings, she said.
“Next time I go to do a big race, I’m probably going to be a little bit better about taking a few extra minutes to say goodbye to my 16-year-old, say a few more things I probably should say to my husband,” she said. “It makes you appreciate your friends and family a little bit more. It makes you realize…hug your kids, hug your spouse. Because you never know.”
It has also made her more determined.
She will keep on running.
She won’t be running away in fear and intimidation; she won’t satisfy the intent of those who carried out acts of terrorism at the 2013 Boston Marathon. She will be running to show them a new spirit the world now knows as “Boston strong.”
“I’m not going to let them win. They want everybody to be fearful, but you can’t not run again. Even though I’m not from Boston, I’ll be saying that next year, too. I’m Boston Marathon strong.”