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Ellen London Headshot

From New York to Boston: One Foot in Front of the Other

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When the two explosions went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon yesterday, I didn't even hear the blasts.

They went off just as I had popped out of the finish corrals, race bag in hand, and reunited with my family in front of the restaurant we had set as a meeting place two blocks up from the finish line. In my post-run delirium, I scrambled to put on more layers to warm my chilled muscles and gobbled a nutrition bar to start tackling the calorie deficit. My family ordered me a celebratory Blue Moon, a race day tradition.

But before the cup hit my lips all of the televisions in the restaurant, usually trained on the Red Sox, switched on to breaking news. And there it was: my fellow runners and a throng of spectators, breaking through the barriers and fleeing the smoky scene.

It wasn't long before the actuality of the event caught up with the television reports before me; out the window, people were running up the street toward the Common. Frantic phone calls all around checking in on friends and family. My own cell phone began vibrating off the table with concerned calls and texts, many of them from people with whom I hadn't heard from in years.

In a daze, we paid the bill and left the restaurant, joining the wave of people headed away from the scene on Boylston Street. Runners wrapped in white and silver mylar blankets like myself waddled around haphazardly, confused about the next step, confused about where to go, what to do.

Back at my friends' apartment on Tremont Street where I had been staying for the weekend, we surveyed the scene in the Common. Police cars and media vehicles gathered in clusters around the southwest corner of the park, and a line of police officers swept across the area, clearing people away.

My family and I worked quickly, throwing our things into the nearest suitcase and devising a plan to walk to the train station (the T in the area had already been shut down). Quick hugs goodbye and then we were off, my family to North Station to catch their 5:00 pm train home to Maine and myself to South Station to board the 5:35 pm home to New York City. It was less than three hours after the blast -- less time than it had taken me to run the entire course.

It was only after I was seated on the train, after showing my boarding pass twice to police officers with large German Shepherds in tow, that the weight of what had just happened hit me. As the train pulled away, I looked out on Boston disappearing outside, still wearing my blue and yellow Boston Marathon jacket and my medal clanging against the windowsill, and wept.

I was overcome by an incredible wave of guilt: for finishing before the blast when others weren't so fortunate; for being reunited with friends and family and able to see them off to safety; for abandoning a city that I love dearly just hours after it was brought to its knees. For not hearing the blasts. When I got back to Manhattan, I didn't feel happy or even relieved. I felt like a foreigner. Wanting to be away from it all; feeling guilty that I was there away from it all.

There are no answers to what happened yesterday at 2:50 pm on Boylston Street. Only questions and an acute longing to make sense of it all. I racked my brain all night and all day trying to think of some way to help the people of Boston from afar, but the truth is that even if I were still right there in the midst of it my words and actions would fall short of assuaging the myriad of pains inflicted by this tragedy.

When my friends and family were signing my jersey before the race, my dad contributed a simple but profound message. "One foot in front of the other," he wrote in black Sharpie.

And so tonight I will do the only thing that feels right. Like so many other days in recent months, I will go home from work. I will zip up that same blue and yellow jacket. I will lace up my sneakers. And I will limp my way around Central Park. Because in times like these, that's all we can do. One foot in front of the other.

Runners of New York, and Bostonians at heart: I hope you will join me.