Ward: Mixed memories of marathon

Sarah Ward of Rangely (pink shirt with sunglasses) crosses the finish line with an unofficial time of 4:03.16 and an official time of 3:57.46. She finished the race several minutes before two bombs detonated near the finish. She was five blocks away at the time and described “booms” that sounded like thunder.

Sarah Ward of Rangely (pink shirt with sunglasses) crosses the finish line with an unofficial time of 4:03.16 and an official time of 3:57.46. She finished the race several minutes before two bombs detonated near the finish. She was five blocks away at the time and described “booms” that sounded like thunder.
Sarah Ward of Rangely (pink shirt with sunglasses) crosses the finish line with an unofficial time of 4:03.16 and an official time of 3:57.46. She finished the race several minutes before two bombs detonated near the finish. She was five blocks away at the time and described “booms” that sounded like thunder.
RANGELY I At 2:23 p.m. on April 15, Colorado Northwestern Community College anatomy and nutrition instructor Sarah Ward was on top of the world. Months of training had just culminated in her finishing the Boston Marathon with a time of 3:57.46.
Sarah Ward of Rangely finished the Boston Marathon before the bombs exploded.
Sarah Ward of Rangely finished the Boston Marathon before the bombs exploded.
Ward’s heat left the starting line at 10:20 a.m., 50 minutes after the elite waves began. It was a picture-perfect spring morning filled with impressions that would become a part of her: the waves of people, runners from all over the world, flowing around and next to her. The celebratory mood among athletes and spectators alike, people she would never meet cheering her on like they knew her. The supporters along the route holding crazy signs: Kiss Me, I’m a Zombie. Fifteen Miles to Wine.
“It was like a big street party from beginning to end,” Ward said.
As she ran, Ward sometimes satisfied the urge to laugh in delight of it all, not worrying whether anyone thought she was crazy because everyone felt it, everyone knew this was something unifying and magical.
She kept up a good pace, aiming to run nine-minute miles. It was a bit slower than her body was capable of, but that was on purpose. She ran to savor the experience and for the sheer pleasure of soaking it all in.
phRGwardvertical1Sarah’s husband, Todd, took the subway to the Mile 16 marker, arriving in time to see Sarah run by. He took a few pictures, even ran with her a little while, before jumping back on the subway to meet her at the family meeting area past the finish line.
It wasn’t until Mile 22 that Ward’s legs began to protest, much later than the walls she’d hit in past marathons—at Mile 13 or Mile 18. A quick stop at Mile 23 for water and an energy gel gave her a coveted second wind.
Then a few more miles and there was the finish line, everything and everyone else fading around her as she completed this leg of a journey she’d begun years before, when she ran her first 26.2 miles. Running the Boston Marathon couldn’t have gone any better, and though Sarah spoke humbly about her success, Todd will say what she failed to mention.
“If she didn’t brag about it, I will,” Todd said. “She ran the second half of the marathon nine minutes faster than the first half.”
The Wards had arrived in Boston on the evening of April 13, then picked up Sarah’s marathon packet at the event’s race expo the next morning. They’d done some sightseeing in the afternoon and enjoyed a pasta dinner before settling in for an early night.
Sarah’s parents had driven up from Grand Junction to stay with the Wards’ two girls, 10-year-old Megan and 7-year-old Lauren. The trip was about the race, but it was also about a couple of days away together, a break in the midst of the busyness of the spring semester.
Sunday had been hats-and-coats weather. A little anxious about how the race would go if the chilly weather carried into Monday, Sarah tried to think ahead, to imagine herself easing into a comfortable rhythm as the course wound through wooded residential areas, past rail yards and majestic colonial homes, and under towering brownstone apartments and high-rises.
Fewer than 24 hours later, everything Ward had envisioned had come to pass — only it was better. A blue sky spanned the stretch of blocks past the finish line. There was the medic’s tent, the food vendors and tables laden with medals and heat sheets and space blankets. Sarah followed the flow of people through and past the tables, found her baggage bus to pick up her gear, then wound her way back toward Todd.
When the booms sounded, one after the other, she brushed aside her initial thought: those sounded like bombs. No, certainly not. But the rumbling of thunder didn’t match the blue of the sky.
Sarah rounded a corner, halted, then spoke to a woman beside her, “What the heck was that?”
Todd’s incoming call confirmed that something was wrong and that he was coming to meet her.
Only two blocks from the explosions, he’d heard what he described as cannon shots, then watched as an emergency responder listened to her radio, flipped on the ambulance lights, threw her vehicle into gear, then tore around the street corner. Golf carts carrying stretchers began flying past. Todd pushed his way past the increasing flow of people toward Sarah, ignoring those who told him to turn back the other way.
“People had moved the barricades,” Todd said. “Police motorcycles were going 60 or 70 miles per hour down a street that, a few minutes earlier, had had thousands of people on it.”
He found Sarah, thankful to see her and reveling in the race with her for a moment. They started moving northeast toward the subway station, passing people crying or speaking urgently into cell phones.
The Arlington subway stop provided the first inkling of an answer.
“The station’s closed,” said the traffic officer waiting there. “We’ve had a possible terrorist bomb.”
The next stop, across Boston Commons to the Park Street station, was also closed.
“As we got to that station, a police car came screaming up,” Sarah said. “Two SWAT officers got out with machine guns. We were hoping what they were saying was happening wasn’t what was happening.”
The experience was completely surreal, Todd said.
“We heard it and we still didn’t really know what was going on,” he said. “People were still walking the Freedom Trail, taking pictures with the people dressed up in their costumes. It was a normal tourist day in Boston, except for the thousands of people trying to get out.”
The third subway station was open. A runner sitting across from the Wards in the mostly-empty subway said he’d heard from a friend who had watched the news that two bombs had gone off and that the aftermath looked bad. Once back at the hotel, the Wards turned on the news for a few moments only to turn it off again. Sitting in the silence of the room seemed the only appropriate response. Back in Colorado, dozens of friends and family left messages on the Wards’ machine or posted on Facebook, anxious to know whether Todd and Sarah were OK.
“I never wanted to be home so badly,” Sarah said. “It was scary. I was really afraid to try to go home because we didn’t know if it was over … The next morning, on the subway, officers were checking seats. Once we got to Chicago, I felt better.”
Driving through a blizzard over Douglas Pass added to the urgency to just get home, Sarah said. They came through the door to Megan and Laurie waiting up for them.
“The door opened, my mom said, and four ears perked up that weren’t the dogs’.” Sarah said.
Now, the shine of the Boston Marathon remains. But for the Wards, comprehending what happened to the people around them and what could have happened to them continues to be a struggle.
“We didn’t know until we got home how bad it was,” Sarah said. “It’s really difficult …As wonderful as my race experience was, I am heartbroken for the victims, their families, and the witnesses to the tragedies that occurred later, at the finish line and throughout the ensuing manhunt. My prayers go out to all involved.”
The Wards added that they’ve been amazed at and touched by the support from friends, family and the Rangely community as people reached out during and after the marathon.