For Mark Dean there were two Boston Marathons, the one that he trained for and the one he ran.
Although he ran qualifying marathons in the flatlands, he trained in the mountains. The low atmospheric pressure and the highs he experienced running in the mountains sustained him well during the first 20 miles of the Boston race. He was upbeat, positive and had kept an eight-minute mile pace. To him, it seemed that nothing could go wrong, until it did.
The last miles of the race and the moments after crossing the finish line transformed Dean’s ideal race to a painful reality and added an honored promise he intends to keep.
Heartbreak Hill is famously the last significant obstacle to finishing the Boston Marathon, a final punishing ascent after over 20 miles, with a lot of downhill to the finish line. As Dean recalls, “I made it up Heartbreak Hill in good shape, everything felt normal, but within 100 yards after the crest cramps hit my right hamstring. It was instant. I stopped and lay down in the grass. I thought, ‘How will I ever finish?’”
Dean said after five minutes on the grass he began stretching. He eased the cramp, got up, started walking tentatively, and then began a slow jog. He soon moved into the fastest jog he could do at that point. “My race was over,” he said, “not my run, but the race I had hoped to run.
“It was a downhill run to downtown and I was on a nine-minute pace. It was like running on eggshells. I didn’t know how the leg would hold up.” Dean remembered he had been told that when you see the giant Citgo sign you have only a mile to go, and he could see the sign. “That becomes your target,” he said.
But at mile 24, cramps hit his left hamstring. “I had to stop again and take another couple minutes to try to stretch it out. “Seeing the finish line was bittersweet. I thought, ‘Maybe I set my bar too high.’”
Coming to the finish line with the lane narrowing and crowds cheering on both sides was an incredible experience, Dean said. “It was like being in a stadium at the Super Bowl.”
But even with delays forced by cramps, Dean finished well below the time needed to qualify for next year’s Boston race. At that point, at the finish line, running again next year was not his plan.
But the tragic events that happened after he had completed his race acted to change Dean’s plan in ways he could not have predicted.
He recounted rejoining his wife Margie after picking up his race medal. They were several blocks from the bombsite, and didn’t actually hear the explosion very well. “Then we started hearing sirens,” he remembered.
Soon people were discussing what had occurred, and Mark and Margie began trying to get to their train out of Boston. There were no buses or subways running, taxis had been ordered not to pick up new fares, and the train station was over a mile away. “I just ran 26 miles, I guess I can walk another 10 minutes,” Dean remembered telling a hotel doorman who he had asked for directions to the train station.
The Deans returned to Pine Cove and almost immediately Mark accompanied his coach John Hajovsky to Houston, where Hajovsky would be completing some doctoral degree clinics. “We drove to Galveston for a sightseeing overnight,” Dean, a former soccer player, recounted. “We made a last-minute decision to attend a soccer game. We had no idea it was to be a ‘First Responder’s Day.’”
One of the three Boston police officers, who stopped to protect a fallen runner at the blast sight, was being honored. The three were featured on the April 22 cover of Sports Illustrated. Late in the soccer game Dean decided he had to meet the female officer. Security officials said they would try to help. “I didn’t think it would happen. Everyone was already leaving the stadium. Then I was on the field and saw her and her entourage moving toward us.
“Standing there with her I said, ‘How can I not go back after all that has happened?’ She replied, ‘I’ll see you at the finish line.’ The promise was made. There are no accidents,” Dean said.
Dean is already beginning to run again in town. The 2014 Boston Marathon is a year away, but already he is preparing to keep his promise.
“It’s good to be home. Every familiar face I see now that I’m back is like a cool breeze,” Dean said happily.