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A moment that changed me: I survived the Boston Marathon bombing, but broke down when I ran again

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A moment that changed me: I survived the Boston Marathon bombing, but broke down when I ran again

IIt was late 2013, six months after I ran the Boston Marathon — the year two men detonated two bombs near the finish line, killing three people and injuring hundreds. Back in Germany, my home country, I had been struggling with my mental health for months, but I was determined to complete another marathon and maybe return to Boston. I had signed up for the Frankfurt marathon that month, but I hadn’t told anyone except Christina, my therapist.

I arrived at the starting line just a few minutes before the start of the race. For about the first half I felt good. The sun was shining. My mind was blank and I ran faster than ever. Then I felt a depression coming on. I couldn’t run anymore. I walked the rest of the way crying. People kept stopping to ask if I needed help or to comfort me. I knew their intentions were good, but I felt like I was in a different world. All I thought was, why am I here, running, when others have been killed and many others have been injured and will never be able to run again?

About a mile before the finish line, I started running again, but I didn’t feel like celebrating when I crossed it. I went to get my medal, then stood outside alone, waiting for about 10 minutes. I expected something bad to happen. When I realized I had nothing to fear, my world changed.

I I started running about 15 years ago and loved it. I really wanted to run the New York City Marathon, which I did in 2010, and then I wanted to check off some other big cities, so I signed up to run in Boston. I went there with a friend, Inga, who was there to support me. Marathon day was incredible – the weather was beautiful and the atmosphere was amazing.

A few minutes after crossing the finish line, there was a deafening noise I had never heard before, then complete silence – no more cheering. Then I saw smoke coming out. My first feeling was that it wasn’t an accident. Then the second bomb exploded.

The aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon explosions. Photo: Boston Globe/Getty Images

I was desperately trying to find Inga, who was waiting near the family and friends area. Then I spotted her, running towards me. Everyone looked stunned or was in tears. The police were shouting at everyone to leave the scene. Our hotel was a block south, so for the next three hours we sat silently in our hotel room, watching the news. When I learned that an eight-year-old boy had been killed, my heart sank. Later, we learned that two more people were killed in the explosion, a police officer was shot and killed, and more than 200 people were injured. (Another police officer died in 2014 injuries related to the attack.)

The next morning, I began to feel a sense of depersonalization: in the bathroom, while shaving and showering, it was as if I was watching myself doing this. I later learned it was a stress reaction. At first I felt like I had to leave Boston immediately, but then it seemed important to stay. I had a marathon brand jacket; people on the street would come up to us and we would talk and cry together. It was like we were part of a big family.

Back in Berlin a few days later, I felt like I was landing on another planet. I know life goes on, but it was strange that everyone seemed happy. It was hard. I met Christina and we talked for three hours.

For the next few months she worked with me. I had returned to my job as a sales manager in a hotel group, which was good because it meant I wasn’t thinking about Boston all the time, but it still affected my daily life. If someone walked towards me with a backpack, I crossed the road; I would avoid trash cans in the street. I could no longer run; even after a short distance, it felt like my muscles had given up. I remember going for a jog and then sitting in the street and crying.

Most of the time, I couldn’t stop my thoughts: Why had I survived when others didn’t? I had run faster than usual, which meant I wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, but why had I done that? And would something bad happen again?

Boston Marathon organizers held a global video conference with therapists. I learned that I wasn’t the only one struggling to come to terms with what had happened. Hundreds of us were struggling.

Participate in the New York Marathon in 2023 Photography: Christine M McCann

It was important for me to be able to start running again. Christina helped me, coming with me on her bike several times a week, talking the whole time. The next step in my recovery was to run another marathon. A friend told me that Frankfurt was probably the most important race of my life; I think he was right.

Since then I have done several more races and am looking forward to running London Landmark Half Marathon next month.

In 2015, I returned to run the Boston Marathon. When I got my bib, the young woman asked me: “Is this your first time running Boston?” I told him I had directed it two years before. She came around the table and hugged me. We were both in tears.

The day of this marathon was rainy, but it was the same amazing atmosphere as before, with lots of people cheering us on. For me, it was about telling the bombers that they didn’t win.

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