It’s 6 a.m. and Women’s Basketball Assistant Coach Katie Loosvelt’s phone belts out Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” The snow may be calf-deep, but a 16-mile run sits at the top of her to-do list on yet another blustery March morning in Valparaiso.
Before The Boss makes it to the second verse, Coach Loosvelt, bundled in layers, is poised to tackle the next step in her training for the Bayshore Marathon in May.
The 2014 Bayshore Marathon through Traverse City, Michigan, is expected to be much more low-key than her last 26.2-mile expedition — the 2013 Boston Marathon.
What began as a sublime morning on Beantown’s biggest civic holiday of the year concluded in tragedy and chaos. Soon after famed long-distance runner Lelisa Desisa Benti completed the race, a pair of pressure-cooker bombs detonated near the finish line. The sights and sounds remain hauntingly fresh in the minds of those who were present. Uneasiness lingers in the memory of those who watched, fixated on their televisions, hoping — praying — that the runners, the spectators, and the Bostonians who lived nearby were safe.
Like the majority of the long-distance running community, Coach Loosvelt considers the Boston Marathon to be the Super Bowl of all races. Because of the downhill terrain, Boston represents one of the most demanding marathon courses in the nation. For those who believe 26.2 miles is best traveled by plane, train, or automobile, a downhill track would seem ideal for running, perhaps enjoyable. But the toll it takes on one’s legs is actually inflated.
So when she and her longtime friend, Erin Miller, crossed the line at 3 hours and 35 minutes, the feeling on Boylston Street was pure jubilation.
“It’s almost impossible to describe the moment when we finished. I’ve never experienced an emotional high like that ever in my life,” she said.
Coach Loosvelt loitered near the finish line for a few minutes afterward, letting it all sink in and cheering for fellow racers. She eventually made her way back to her hotel where the mood was merry as she watched live coverage of the event from the Boston Park Plaza.
The first bomb exploded.
Coach Loosvelt heard a blast. At first she was confused why there were fireworks so late in the race.
The second bomb detonated.
She knew something tragic had occurred.
“People in the lobby started talking and said it was explosives, not fireworks. Immediately, we thought we were under attack,” Coach Loosvelt said.
Rumors included a report that bombs were going off in the subway. A fire at a local library only added to the confusion.
In a matter of minutes, a celebratory day on Boylston Street turned into the overwhelming fear after being thrust into the middle of a terrorist attack.
“It was such an odd feeling. I was in an incredible, euphoric state of mind, so I could not get my brain to process the panic,” Coach Loosvelt said.
Immediately, the Boston Park Plaza — and much of the city — transformed into a military zone. Police and hotel employees told guests they were forbidden to leave.
“I had never seen a tank or a machine gun before, and then I looked out the window of my hotel, and there was a tank on Boylston Street and about 40 machine guns. It looked like a war broke out in the downtown of a major city,” she said.
Survival instincts kicked in. Coach Loosvelt and her friend provided what little they could to those who took shelter in the lobby: a helping hand, words of support, a cell phone for those to call concerned family members and friends.
The days that followed the Boston Marathon created a captivating hide-and-seek plotline. The grainy images of the suspects were plastered on every newspaper, television, and post office in the country. The story unfolded for next three days.
It was after that time that she was able to reflect on her experience.
She recalled the complete exhaustion felt after making it through Heartbreak Hill, which is situated between miles 20 and 21 and greets runners with a steady ascent, a wicked departure from the course’s downward tilt. The agony became unavoidable.
“As hard as I trained and as big of a stage as the Boston Marathon is, I wanted to give up so badly. I’ve never experienced that kind of pain. I thought my quads were going to tear,” Coach Loosvelt said. “But something in me just kept going.”
The arithmetic doesn’t lie: had she walked the final five miles, she most likely would’ve crossed the finish line in the path of the destruction.
“Every split-second decision can literally be life or death. I never thought I would learn that running a race,” she said.
Coach Loosvelt recalls that day in Boston frequently. She mourns the three who lost their lives. She laments the hundreds injured and maimed. She counts her blessings but also concedes — albeit selfishly by her own admission — that a bit of anger still resides within her. What was to be one of the more rewarding days of her life spiraled into the most catastrophic.
On April 21, 2014, she watched in awe of Meb Keflezighi and Rita Jeptoo, the 2014 Boston Marathon champions. Jeptoo set a course record by nearly two minutes.
Coach Loosvelt hopes to get back to Boston one day – possibly the 2015 Boston Marathon.
“It’s every runner’s dream to qualify and run in the Boston Marathon,” she said. “I feel like part of my dream was taken away that day. I want to make that final turn down Boylston and get those goose bumps again.
“And this time I want that joy to last.”