Alumna shares her 2013 Boston Marathon story

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Penn State Behrend alumna Ellen Goldberg ’89 was running the Boston marathon on Monday, April 15 and was stopped at 24.8 miles after two bombs exploded near the finish line.

It was Goldberg’s eighth marathon and her fourth time running Boston, a race for which she raised money for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired .

“This was the first year I raised over $10K ($10,150) in one season, for a four-year total of $27,334! People are generous,” she said.

Goldberg graduated from Behrend in 1989 with a BA in psychology and a minor in English. She attended the Ph.D. program in clinical psychology at Clark University for several years, but ultimately went on to earn an MBA from the High Technology program at Northeastern University in Boston.

She currently manages operations at a non-profit in Boston called Clean Production Action, which works to get toxic chemicals out of products and the supply chain (cleanproduction.org).  She is also a freelance photographer who crafts seaglass and beach stone jewelry, and lives in Nahant, Mass., with her husband Michael, and their two children, Ben and Sarah, ages 10 and 6.

Here is Goldberg’s personal account of her experience at this year’s Boston Marathon:

What do I want to tell you?  This was a race I could not finish.  And not because I was struggling, shuffling, cramped, slow, sunburned, and wondering why the sidelines had thinned, but because, at mile 24.8, the metal gates crossed Park Street at the intersection of Beacon, and I was physically stopped, told the race was over, and that there was no finish line.

The day dawned bright and blue; logistics to the start were perfect. I think over the supportive emails I got in the closing days, make us proud, believe in yourself the whole way.  I cross the start, wiping tears I will not allow to come.  Crossing the start of the Boston Marathon means you did something really good to get there.

If all goes well, I could hope for a 4:30 today.

Mile 1:  10:14  Ok

Mile 2:  10:13   Fine

Mile 3:  10:21  This is the pace I need to maintain.  I feel ok.

Mile 4:  10:04  A little faster than pace but not enough to kill me.  Ok.

Mile 5:  10:21

Mile 6:  10:13

Mile 7:  10:14  I’m really pleased! I’m keeping my pace.  It doesn’t feel hard.  It feels normal.

Mile 8 & 9:  Something happens in my calf.  I feel a twinge, the beginnings of a cramp, and my mind flies back to Boston 2010, when debilitating leg cramps overcame me.  I run to the side of the road and take a salt pill.

Mile 10:  11:11, I stop to stretch out a calf.  I’m fearful.  I can still feel it.  It’s subsided, but hasn’t completely gone away.  It’s also warmer than I thought it was going to be.  I pour water on my head.

Mile 11:  11:31.  I keep it dialed back.  I am afraid to try to go faster.  I am afraid I’ll lose myself to calf cramps completely.

I start to think, 15 more miles is a long way to run with leg cramps.

Mile 12:  I really doubt I can do this.  I don’t think I can.  And then, Wellesley.  The women are here for me, again, reaching over the barriers, yelling, Ellen, you can do this, Ellen you’ve got this, Ellen you kick ass, go Ellen, go Ellen Go, Go!  

I wish I could explain to them, listen, it’s a long way to go, I’m not cut out for this, not with cramps, not the rest of the way and instead I run as close to them as I can, bow my head, hold out my arm, touch their outstretched hands, maybe next year I’ll be brave enough to kiss one of them myself. They make me run this mile.  I don’t do it for me, because I’m nothing now; I do it for them and their belief in me.

Mile 13:  12:48   I pass the half in 2:20.  A little over pace, but maybe there’s still a chance to pull off something respectable.

Mile 14:  11:41

Mile 15:  14:13  A cramp really hurts now, and I actually cry out.  I walk through a water stop, stretch, take another salt pill.  Keep the calf cramps just under the surface.

I think, I’m not having a good race day.  I think, at mile 16.5 I get to see my kids.  Karen will be there with Ben and Sarah and the turquoise lobster umbrella.

Mile 16:  11:36

And there they are – I throw my arms in the air, hear the joyful There she is!  I run to the side of the road. I am wet from pouring water on myself and even too sweaty and disgusting for my kids to touch.  They give me more GU, pour water on me.  I stay there longer that I should.  I tell Karen I’m never doing this again.  I take my inhaler out of the back of my bra, take two precautionary puffs, and warily face the road again.

What do I have to look forward to next?  Arnie at the Mile 18 clock.  I can shuffle that far.

Mile 17: 18:34, including however many minutes I refused to get back on the course after seeing Karen & the kids.

There he is, and I throw my arms up and yell, “ARNIE!!!” and I come full force at him, somehow I find the energy. I don’t even slow down, just throw myself around him, push him backwards, almost knock him down, and I am as gross as ever, wet from Gu and water and salt. He tries to separate himself from me, takes a picture at the Mile 18 clock, shows me his wife, and starts to walk me further up the course.

I tell him I’m struggling, it’s not a great day for me, and he keeps walking me towards the water stop.  I think, why are you moving me forward? Why am I running this race? Why must I finish?  And he says, it’s all downhill after mile 21. And I’m off again, a mixture of walk breaks and determined angry thoughts.  I forget to hit my lap button at Mile 18.

Mile 18 and 19: 27:30. I say to a woman looking about as good as I do, Nobody quits at Mile 20.

What else do I have to look forward to?

Why do you run? Why do you do anything? Examine your motives.  I snarl to myself.

Mile 20:  13:07

It’s hilly, now, more so than usual, and that means it must be Newton.  I feel the hills in my quads, I am shuffling, straining, take another Gu, a bystander tells me, this is it, this is the hill, and I ask, Heartbreak?

Four years running this race and I don’t remember where Heartbreak Hill is until I feel it under me, see the huge broken heart drawn in chalk across the road. I stomp right in the middle of it and curse out loud.

And then it’s Boston College, behind the crowd barriers, Ellen! Ellen! If I don’t move to touch them, I will fall down. I need them and whatever they have, because I have nothing.  I talk to them in my head, please, give me what you have, I need you, and every hand I touch gives me something I can hold for later.

Mile 21:  14:00  Some odd behavior on the course.  Runners start talking on their cell phones.  Water station volunteers call out that there was an explosion at the finish.  The race is being diverted.  People are walking, talking on their phones, the bystanders start to back away.

Mile 22:  12:25  Choppers overhead.  Sirens.

Mile 23:  13:26  One more mile and I can see my kids.

Mile 24:  13:10  A half mile more.  But Beacon Street is usually much more crowded.  Spectators are walking on the sidewalk.  Army guys start barking instructions, “Off the road! Off the road!” I assume he means pedestrians?  Police cars zoom past me.

There they are:  Karen, Mike, Ben, Sarah, Cynthia.  I know there’s only a mile and a half to go.  I yell, run over to them, hug Ben and Sarah.  Cynthia is not yelling, and she does not look happy.  She tells me she thinks I should get off the course.

I have no idea why she would say this to me, 24.5 miles into this thing and I don’t care how I get there but I’m finishing this painful race.  “No!” I yell happily, “I’m going to finish! Yeah! I’m going to finish!” I jump back on Beacon Street, and a New Republic reporter hops in next to me, asks if I’ve heard what happened.  I say, “they tell me there’s an explosion and the race is being diverted.”  She asks if I will keep running and I say, “Well, who is going to stop me?”  

You’ve all heard the saying, “You and what army?”  Well, it’s THAT army.  The one at mile 24.8, setting up metal gates, standing in front of them, police cars flashing, a medical tent with chairs and Vaseline, jugs of water, mylar blankets in a box.  The Citgo Sign is in front of us.  We’re at mile 24.8 in a 26.2 mile race, and we’re stopped.

Mile 24:8:  4:59:40.

I sit.  Am I really not going to finish? What happened? Are people hurt? Where do we go? Is there food? I huddle, try to get out of the wind.

I put my head down.  I think, I raised $10,000 and couldn’t finish this race.  I couldn’t even finish the race. I meant to, I tried, and couldn’t.  What is pride? What is determination? What is my side of the deal?  What will I tell people?

A medical volunteer kneels.  “Are you OK?” he asks, and my eyes are big and wet and I say, “What would happen if I went around those gates? Could I keep going? Could I get to the finish myself? Would anybody stop me? I want to finish.”

He says, kindly, “You are finished.  It’s over.”

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Photo by Howie Hecht

What happens next involves five hours of confusion.  On my person I have a leftover salt tablet in a baggie and an albuterol inhaler, both stuck in the back of my bra.  No money, no cell phone, no car key, no food.  I’ve just run 24.8 miles, and I don’t know what to do.

A woman sits next to me, tells me she’s Sarah, and she is a nurse, is there anything she can do?  I repeat my question, “Do you think I can finish? Do you think I can finish the race?”  I am teary and sniffling.  She lets me use her cell phone to try Karen and Mike; nobody has reception.

What’s next?

For two hours, we follow conflicting instructions, walk several miles, try to find a bus to some official place.  Sarah and her boyfriend Howie stay with Matt, another stymied runner at 40K, and me. They help us navigate the streets, wrap mylar around us, and let us use their phones.

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Photo by Howie Hecht

We straggle to a bus that brings us to a secure lockdown on the Boston Common, surrounded by SWAT teams and the National Guard.  A paramedic gives me a yellow marathon jacket, says he doesn’t like the looks of me.  I race Sarah’s dying phone battery to text Karen, who pecks back that Mimi and Lisa are looking for me, and the Public Health people let them in the area.

 I throw my arms around them when I see them at the door of the bus.

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Ellen, left, hugs her sister-in-law, Mimi Quigley.  Photo by Howie Hecht

At Mile 16, when I told Karen I would never do this again, what did I mean?  As of this writing, I’ve raised $10,050 – over ten thousand dollars – for a local organization that provides services to the blind, the visually impaired, the brain injured, the developmentally disabled – those who need help and have no other means of getting it.  Over four years, that is $27,234, all by running this race.

That’s the end of my story.  It’s a strange one that I read aloud as I type; now my voice chokes and I stop to wipe my eyes.  I’m safe.  My family is safe.  I ran 24.8 miles before I couldn’t run anymore.   An eight-year-old boy died.  People lost limbs to a bomb.  I’ve no right to bitch about not finishing a race.

I have a yellow jacket, the phone number of a nurse named Sarah in Brookline who seems destined to be my new friend, a couple of duct-taped mylar blankets, and hundreds of emails from all of you, with one that ends, “It is still a victory.”

I like that.  Victory.  Not for all of us, true, but to think about crossing the start in Hopkinton again, in the memory and honor of those who would cheer us on again, if they could? That’s victory.

I hope I did what you asked.

I hope I made you proud.

— Ellen

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Ellen, her husband, Mike, and their children Ben, 10, and Sarah, 6

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