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Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Updated: April 17, 10:06 AM ET
Summer Sanders relives Boston Marathon

By Summer Sanders

Summer Sanders went to Boston to run the marathon she'd always dreamt about -- and finished it in 3 hours, 33 minutes, 13 seconds -- all before bomb blasts shook the city and changed everything. Here are her thoughts and feelings about that experience.

I always say that the Olympic Games, and my moment in 1992 in Barcelona, was the culmination of all the emotions an athlete can feel. This experience at the Boston Marathon has brought out those emotions 100 times more.

Leading up to this race, I blogged about how beautiful it is -- every part of it. In Hopkinton, where the race starts, people open up their homes and set up stands to give free sunscreen, Vaseline and safety pins to runners. These people get it. They celebrate the marathon in every way.

The best way I can tell you about the Boston Marathon is by taking you through the heart of my day. Here goes:

I remember the start well, including all the people volunteering and helping runners and the children handing out water in Dixie cups. These were the people who got me started on my journey to 26.2.

I saw some spectators multiple times throughout the race. They were holding the same signs. It was as though they were traveling with me -- I loved it.

My people were cheering for me at Mile 17. I had a tear in my eye when I ran by my mom and my cousin.

The last 6 miles were not pretty. I kept thinking, "You can do this," but my legs were so tired, and they were cramping up. My friends had told me about the Citgo sign (runners get a big view of the Citgo sign between Miles 24 and 25), so I got excited when I finally saw it. The same thing happened as I turned onto Boylston Street, which is where my hotel was.

Summer Sanders
Summer Sanders had no way of knowing that the 26.2 miles of the marathon would be the easiest part of her day on Monday.

As I pushed toward the finish, I saw my mom at the very top of the stands with her neon green sign, so I could spot her. I crossed the finish, and I had no idea what time it was. The race clock said 3:37. I had a quick interview with Universal Sports almost immediately, and they asked me to send a message to my kids, Skye and Spider. Here's what I said: "This is a reminder from Mom that you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it. I love you more than you'll ever know."

I could barely walk due to the cramping in my legs, so I was taken to the medical tent. I had been digging as deep as I could, mentally and physically, to finish, so I had nothing left. I was crying because I was so grateful to be there and to get medical attention.

I didn't stay in the medical tent long because I wanted to meet my family at my hotel, the Lenox. It's right there on the corner of Boylston and Exeter streets. Every time a runner walked into the lobby, the crowd would erupt in a cheer. It felt wonderful.

My family and I went up to my room. That's when we heard the first blast. We felt it, too. The second blast was louder and felt stronger; I screamed because it was so frightening. We looked out our window and saw the scene below as people started reacting.

My first thought was to leave. But almost immediately an alarm sounded throughout the hotel and there was an announcement that we were in lockdown. We couldn't go anywhere. We were also told to turn off our phones.

It was a blessing that I was with my family. My mom sent an email to everyone to tell them that we were OK. The first thing I thought of was my kids. I went into survival mode. If I couldn't do anything to help, I needed to get home to my kids.

The next alarm and announcement was about 20 minutes later. It said that we all needed to evacuate. We were walking as fast as we could -- marathoners who'd just finished the race, trying to go down nine flights of stairs. It was hard to hold it together. My mom's words -- "This isn't our time" -- helped me.

When we got outside, we were a massive group of people who didn't know what to do or where to go. Many runners hadn't even seen the news yet. We just started walking. We saw military trucks arriving -- reinforcements in full gear. Somehow we found our way to the car that would take us to Logan. I just kept thinking about my 5:15 p.m. flight and how I needed to get home to my kids. There were a lot of other marathoners on my flight.

Summer Sanders
The mood in Summer Sanders' hotel was jubilant when she walked in. That didn't last long.

My husband, Erik, was worried about me, so he turned on the news. The kids heard some of it, and Dad had to explain that there was a bomb. He told them that we didn't know who caused it, but it was definitely a bad person.

Spider's first question to me was so telling: "Do you have any scrapes or scratches, Mom?" And then, "Why would that bad man do that?" I said I didn't know. My 5-year-old son was worried about me, my scrapes and scratches, but I had none.

I was so touched by all the friends and family who reached out to make sure I was safe, and I'm grateful to everyone who responded with help or aid or encouragement during that awful time. I know that I'm not alone. Our running community will be even bigger now. Runners are my family, and I will have even more family to run with now.

It's important for me to remember that I accomplished something Monday, in the spirit of the 117th Boston Marathon. Boston is a strong, resilient city. I'm forever connected to it.

This isn't what the Boston Marathon stands for. Boston put its arms around me every step of the way. All I want to do is give back -- to put my arms around it. I'll start by getting out there to run again today, in honor of everyone who was injured and those who died.