Showing posts with label hal higdon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hal higdon. Show all posts

Monday, April 13, 2015

Taking the Long Way Home Book Club Book Review: 4:09:43 Boston Through the Eyes of the Runners by Hal Higdon

"These were moments when their lives, or the lives of all people through the world, changed. December 7, 1941: when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. November 22, 1963; when Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy. January 28, 1986: when the space shuttle Challenger carrying Teacher-in-Space Christa McAuliffe exploded. September 11, 2001: when planes crashed into the World Trade Center taking both towers down and killing 3,000 people". -from 4:09:43 Boston Through the Eyes of the Runners.
 Where were you on 4/15/2013 when the bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon?

I was at work. I remember it clearly. It was the middle of the afternoon, and I had just finished seeing a patient and came out of a room, when my medical assistant told me that there was a story that a bomb went off at a marathon. It was a Monday in April, and I didn't know of any other marathons that day except Boston. I checked the internet and saw the breaking news. I was stunned and I finished my clinic in a daze.

As time passed and we learned more, the gravity of the situation continued to hit me. I couldn't help but personalize it. When I ran Chicago for the first time, in 2011, my family, including my husband and boys, my mom and one of my sisters and her family were all at mile 26, cheering me on. What if?

What if, indeed? For the next couple of days, my Facebook feed exploded with stories and updates. Several bloggers that I follow shared their take on the events. Some of them were at the race. I became almost obsessed with the story. And I've never run Boston.

In his book, 4:09:43 Boston Through the Eyes of the Runners, veteran marathoner, coach, and author Hal Higdon culls the stories of bloggers and Facebookers, and presents those stories to tell the story of the Boston Marathon bombings. He learned about the bombings while he was at his home in Indiana, and like so many of us, watched the story explode via social media.

And as one of the runners profiled in the book, Diane DeStefano, so poignantly puts it:
"the Boston Marathon is the Holy Grail of Running. Some people spend years trying to achieve their Boston Qualifying time. Then, once you qualify, you spend months training in cold weather, paying careful attention to do the specific workouts that will help you attack the tough miles the come towards the end of the marathon".

Amby Burfoot, crossing the iconic finish line in first place many years ago
Higdon features the stories of 75 runners throughout the book. In a chapter titled Diaspora, veteran marathoner Amby Burfoot shares his reaction. Burfoot has run Boston over 20 times, winning the race in 1968. At this Boston marathon, he was running to celebrate his 45th anniversary of the victory. Running in the 3rd wave of runners, he was stopped less than a mile from the finish. His first thought?
"Who's ruining my party?"
Then, like so many of the other runners who were stopped from finishing the race, he learned why the race was over, he started feeling guilty for having those thoughts.

Higdon calls the period of time immediately after the bombings the runners' "diaspora". Diaspora was a new word for me, and basically it means, "to scatter about". The word is used to describe a large migration of people from one place to another. When the runners were told the race was over, that is exactly what happened. They began wandering, with no place to go. No one knew what was going on, said Erica Greene, who was at mile 19 when the race was stopped.

2014! Boston is back!
For me, a runner who is considered "middle of the pack", the story of the bombings hit hard. The runners affected most by the bombing were the middle of the packers, and I couldn't help but think about "what if?". Janeen Bergstrom was at mile 25.85 when the bombs went off.
"Everyone would tell me later that I finished, because I was so close, but a marathon is 26.2 miles, not 25.85 miles."
"Everything you do is for that moment, the moment of stepping on the mat. But the lack of accomplishment and the emptiness I feel is compounded by guilt."
There's something about crossing that finish line. I'd feel mad, and guilty, and sad all at once. I would. Because that's how we runners roll.

Overall, Higdon does an excellent job sharing the runners' stories and coordinating them along a timeline of events. As a runner, I really enjoyed hearing the runners' perspective of the events as opposed to what I read in the news. This is a quick read, and one that will stay with you long after you finish the book. The runners' stories really made this book relatable to me. Every time I cross the starting line of a race now I am so grateful for our freedom and that we can continue to enjoy events like a race. Last year, as I joyfully ran the Chicago marathon, I scanned the crowds that lined the entire 26.2 miles of the route. There was so much goodwill and happiness everywhere I looked. For the life of me, I just don't understand the thoughts of those that want to harm us, simply because we want to enjoy ourselves.

As Amby Burfoot said:
"This was not just an attack against the Boston Marathon. It was an attack against the American public and our democratic use of the streets. We use our public roadways for annual parades, protest marches, presidential inaugurations, and yes, marathons. We cannot cover our eyes and ears and pretend violent acts do not threaten our great institutions. Our institutions did not become great by following a path of timidity and cowardice. We can only hope that the Boston Marathon, though pummeled, will rise again stronger than before. "

I believe that it has!

I also did some background reading after I finished Higdon's book, reading Long Mile Home by Scott Helman and Jenna Russell. This book was less personal and more fact based than Higdon's and focused more on the actual events than the stories of the individual runners. But one of the statements that stood out to me as I read this interesting book was that in spite of the terror attacks on the race, interest and participation in running continues to grow; in fact road races are selling out at paces. Many of the bigger races have turned to a lottery system for entries. Clearly, people aren't going to let the threat of terrorism stop them from running.

One Fund at

After the bombings, the Boston Strong campaign was started as a way to raise money for the victims of the bombings. This effort raised millions of dollars, much of it through grassroots endeavors, such as selling t-shirts. I bought a few. It seems that even for non-runners, the attack on Americans, on Patriots Day, who were participating in a sporting event, struck a chord with everyone.

Jury selection. Artwork courtesy of Hal Higdon
In response to the questions I asked Hal Higdon, he also sent me a copy of an article he wrote for the Chicago Tribune, comparing the Tsarnaev brothers to Leopold and Loeb. Higdon was able to attend the jury selection for the trial of Dzhokhar Tsaranaev. And he states:
"Regardless of Judge O'Toole's instructions to prospective jurors about "presumed innocence," no one owning a "Boston Strong" T-shirt has any doubt about Tsarnaev's guilt. His capture was covered live: "Breaking News" on cable TV. Yet if the defense attorneys find even one jurist out of 12 willing to vote against the death penalty, they can match (Clarence )Darrow."
As I publish this blog post, the Boston jury found Dzhokhar Tsaranaev guilty on all 30 counts against him. The sentence has yet to be handed down. Here's what Hal had to say on his Facebook page after the verdict was announced:
"THE JURY HAS SPOKEN: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been found guilty of all 30 charges, 17 of which allow the death penalty. The trial now moves into its final sentencing phase during which the jurors, seven women and five men, must decide whether the convicted terrorist gets death or life in prison. That’s the tough call. We all knew going in that Tsarnaev was guilty. The defense attorneys admitted that on Day 1. Now those same attorneys will try to convince at least one of those 12 jurors to show mercy. Why? “His brother made him do it.” Sorry, I’m not buying. But could I vote death, meaning there will be endless appeals for the next dozen years all covered on CNN and the front page of the New York Times? Sure, many would like to see him hauled out into the Mojave desert and beheaded. That’s what ISIS calls justice. Eye for an eye. Do unto them what they unto us. But could you wield that sword and risk making Tsarnaev a martyr, sending him off to the terrorist version of Paradise? In this context, being forced to spend the rest of his life in prison seems the worst we could do for the man who brought so much sorrow into our lives." -Hal Higdon 
Stay tuned. And keep running.

Dzhokhar Tsarnev at the trial. Artwork courtesy of Hal Higdon
After the bombings, I read stories shared by some bloggers, and I've shared the links to those blogs below:


What did you think? What story stood out to you the most? Where were you when you first heard about the bombings? How did you initially feel? Did the bombings change the way you feel about running road races? Is your preparation for a race any different than before? If you had the opportunity to run this iconic race, would you? Are you? Have you? Share your story! 

Be sure to link your review below! You know the rules...just link back to the original post. The badge is below. Be nice and read the other posts! Sharing is caring after all...and if you don't have a blog, just post your review in the comments. I'm really excited to hear what everyone has to say.

I chose next month's book in honor of Mother's Day. And who better to honor a running mom than the original badass mother runners, Dimity and Sarah! Their new book, Tales From Another Mother Runner is our book of the month for May. I'm hoping with fingers crossed that they'll answer questions, but if they can't, I understand. They're on a book tour after all...

Looking forward to another fun month of book clubbing! Thanks to everyone for your enthusiasm and participation.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Taking the Long Way Home Book Club: Interview with Hal Higdon, author of 4:09:43 Boston Through the Eyes of the Runners

Just in time for the Boston marathon and the book club book review....the interview with the author of this book, Hal Higdon. The legendary runner, who is now 83, was so kind to answer my questions. He also shared some art work with me as well as an article he wrote for the Chicago Tribune on the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I was thrilled to receive his responses to my questions and I think you'll enjoy the interview. Many of us have used his training plans, available on the internet for free, to train for races. If you weren't a fan before, you will be now. What a nice guy!

And here we go....

Me: Your book focuses on the stories of the runners, and it was so well told. I really enjoyed this perspective. But I’m curious about your take on the bombings.

HH: My take on the tragedy was that it was a horrible event that shot an arrow right into the hearts of those of us who love running, particularly those of us who love and respect the Boston Marathon as the keystone event in our sport. That is somewhat a selfish attitude, but the fear I suspect hits runners is that actions like this could drastically change, if not eliminate, the sport of running 26.2 miles in front of large numbers of vulnerable spectators.

Me: Just like any other important event in history—when Kennedy was shot, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded, when the World Trade Center was attacked—people remember where they were and what they were doing. Where were you and what were you doing when you first learned about the Boston Marathon bombings?

HH: I was home at my computer, doing what I normally do each day, which might include managing what I call my Internet Empire: Facebook, Twitter, the TrainingPeaks bulletin boards. I remember a box popping onto the screen for some reason telling me that a “friend” had just finished: Kate Leahy of Kansas City. (I had coached two of her sisters in high school.) I clicked a button to check Kate’s time, which was somewhere in the low 3-hour range, and was immediately confronted by the fact that bombs had exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. For the rest of that day and for a week or more after, we all were caught up by the fact that “Breaking News” had engulfed our sport.

Me: What was your immediate reaction to the bombings?

HH: Horror. Worry. The fear that people I knew might have gotten hurt or killed. And several friends were, indeed, on Boylston Street when the two bombs hit, one of them probably within a hundred meters of the first explosion. She dropped to the ground fearful that another bomb might explode. The second explosion did occur, although further away. She finally accepted shouted advice and ran as fast as she could away from the finish line and into the “safer” area beyond that line.

Me: There are so many stories about the Boston marathon bombings. Of all the stories you shared in the book, which was your favorite story? Which story was the most difficult for you to share?

HH: Tracy McGuire who lives in Portland and whose husband works for Adidas and was in the grandstands waiting for her to finish. She was approaching the finish line when the first bomb exploded in front of her. Tracy did a quick U-Turn only to have the second bomb also explode in front of her. She hopped a fence and ran through a restaurant to escape, shouting to people at the bar to get out. That was like a “sky is falling” moment, because none of them believed what she was shouting. Eventually they did. And the whole world soon was aware of what happened.

And Michele Keane, who I have known for 10-15 years almost from my beginning days on the Internet. We always call her “One-L.” Michele grew up in Natick right on the border near Wellesley. With her mother, she began handing out water to runners at age 2. She eventually went to Wellesley College, ran Boston a couple of times as a lark, but after graduating got her time down to near 3 hours. If she wasn’t running Boston, she was working the race as a volunteer. She stopped at her old water point to hug her mom, wasted a minute or so, then stopped at Mile 25 to hug her daughter who was a student at Boston University. The daughter told Mom to quit wasting time, to get back on the course. The bombs went off just as she was turning the corner into Boylston.

But there were 25,000 stories that day, each one of them amazing. I only found space to fit 75 of them into the book.

Me: There’s been a lot of changes since Boston. For example, last year when I ran Chicago, there were big snowplows parked at the entrance of the area where the runners entered the corrals. Do you think race directors are doing enough to keep their runners safe?

HH: If another terrorist attack occurs, you can never have done enough. I certainly feel that race directors have compared notes and upped their security, which was always there at races like Chicago, but was not yet intrusive. Flying has become incredibly inconvenient since 9/11, yet the enhanced security didn’t prevent a German pilot from diving a plane into the Alps and killing 150 people. The reality of our sport is that we have a 26.2-mile playing field, and you can’t block access as you can in an airport or at a Chicago Bears football game. We just need to keep our fingers crossed and hope that our insurance is paid up.
Me: And on a personal note, you’ve run Boston numerous times. What is your favorite personal memory from the Boston marathon? Your least favorite memory?

HH: Favorite would be 1964 when I got everything right and had the lead through the first two Newton hills before I got passed by several runners who were better than me. I still managed to preserve 5th place, first American, which has provided bragging rights for a half a century. Least favorite would have been Boston five years earlier when I ran with the leaders but failed to make it past 22 miles. At that time I was at the top, or near the top, of the national pyramid, and I couldn’t understand how I could win national championships at 30-K and not keep the pace for a dozen marathons more. This was before we had Runner’s World or to tell us what we were doing wrong. But as I have often said, if you are afraid to fail, you don’t deserve to win. The highs and lows eventually blend together.

Me: What are you training for? Are you done running long distances? What’s next for you?

HH: I am just finishing work on a book to be titled Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Handbook. While doing so, I have added a few more miles running to my weekly exercise routine. I just finished the Gate River Run, a 15-K race in Jacksonville, Florida where we spend winters. I have been pointing toward the Indy Mini, the half marathon in Indianapolis. I’m not sure I’m up to a full 13.1 miles, so I might just run a few token miles, enough so I can write about it in my book.

Me: Finally—what advice would you give a runner who wants to qualify for Boston? Is it worth the hype?

HH: Boston definitely is worth the hype. It is the iconic marathon, which is recognized by runners around the world even more than us Yankees, who sometimes don’t recognize Boston’s total majesty. Immediately after the bombings, I quoted a comment by a Talking Head on CNN that Boston was not an “iconic sporting event.” I posted that comment on Facebook to see if my followers agreed. Obviously they did not, but the outrage was even more from runners who lived in the UK or Hungary or Australia. They knew even more than we did the treasure we have each Patriot’s Day, even if that holiday is only celebrated in three states.

You can follow Hal Higdon on his Facebook page or at All his training plans are available for free download at his website.


Did you read the book? Did I hit the high points in this brief interview? Anything you would have asked him? Have you ever used any of Hal's training plans?

Next up....the book review on 4/13. Are you ready? So many little time...
Here's the badge for your blog: Remember, the link up will be live 4/13-4/30. Plenty of time, actually!