One year ago CWO3 Benjamin E. Barr took on the challenge of competing in the Boston Marathon. In his own words, he recounts the events of that tragic day and how it has affected him.
Just push through to the end.
Why are all these people all over the road?
Hey, we’re still running here.
The race is over.
What do you mean?
There was an explosion at the finish line …
I started training for a marathon because I don’t like to run. Well, I didn’t then. I decided that a marathon training plan would give me some motivation to get out on the road to reach each weekly running goal. You hear a lot about motivation in the Marine Corps. And you hear a lot about running.
The more I ran, the more I began to enjoy it. It’s a great opportunity to be alone in thought. I had more and more time with my thoughts as the weeks went on because the runs kept getting longer. I often thought about how thankful I was just to be able to run. I was thankful to God for my health. I was even thankful to the Marine Corps for making me run all the time.
I hadn’t made any plans to run an actual marathon, and then Boston fell in my lap – again, thanks to the Marine Corps. I saw that Marine Corps Community Services was coordinating a program with the Massachusetts State Police for recently deployed personnel to run the Boston Marathon. And it aligned perfectly with my training plan. I’m a decent runner, but my pace is “a few seconds” off Boston qualifying time, so this was an opportunity I simply couldn’t pass up.
Now I had even more motivation. There it is again. I started to receive all of the race information in the mail. I got more and more excited as the day approached. Then I was in Boston. It was actually happening. The Massachusetts State Police were fantastic. They love Boston and they love the military.
The morning of race day was amazing. I was in Hopkinton surrounded by fellow military personnel. Everyone there had been in Afghanistan less than a year ago, but we were all focused on one thing that day – the finish line. Marathon training and the Marine Corps are very similar in that way. In the Marine Corps we say that we train like we fight. We have a specific goal in mind when we’re training and everything we do is getting us closer to that finish line. There comes a time, however, when the training is over and the real challenge begins. That’s when the rubber meets the road.
The road in this case was lined with the beautiful people of greater Boston. What a fantastic community. There was never a time when someone wasn’t offering something – orange slices; bananas; or, perhaps most important, encouragement. Encouragement is what keeps us going. It’s what motivates us. I needed that motivation around mile 18 when I started to feel sharp pains in my quad muscles.
My goal was to cross the finish line in four hours. I was right on my pace at the half-way point. I was feeling pretty good. Then the pain in my quads slowed me down. As I picked up my pace on Heartbreak Hill, someone in the crowd said, “Way to go, brother! Keep it going!” We often refer to the Marine Corps as a band of brothers. I saw brotherhood in Boston that day.
There was an explosion at the finish line …
Nobody knew what happened. My goal was four hours. My quads slowed me down. The time of the explosion was 4:09.43 on the race clock. The crowd continued to grow as runners approached the stopping point – not the finish line. The emotions grew, as well – confusion, frustration, anger, sadness. As the time grew longer the runners began to shift the focus outward from themselves. “Why is this happening to me?” became “Is everyone okay?” Marines know that we bond in adversity. Runners started turning to one another.
Do you need some water?
Are you cold?
We’ll figure this out.
We’ll get through it.
I hope everyone is okay.
Everyone was not okay. We know that now. Krystle Marie Campbell, 29; Lu Lingzi, 23; and eight-year-old Martin William Richard lost their lives that day. Many more were injured. But the people in Boston came together that day in heroic ways, including Carlos Arredondo – the man in the cowboy hat. Carlos lost his son, Lance Cpl. Alexander Scott Arredondo, during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, another hero.
Motivation may come in many forms.
I’m doing this for my team.
I’m doing this for my brother.
I’m doing this for my son.
I’m doing this for those who can’t.
I’m doing this because it’s the right thing to do.
I could dwell on the fact that I never got to cross the finish line. I was given the opportunity to go back this year and finish what I started. I ran the Heartbreak Ridge 10K here at Camp Pendleton last week and I felt pretty good about it.
I think I’ll stay home this year. I’ll spend Race Day holding my family close, giving thanks, and reflecting on my motivation.
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