Part of a series of interviews with the people in our Jewish Metrowest community

By Julie Wolf, JFN Newsletter Editor

On April 15, in the uncertain hours immediately following the Boston Marathon Bombings, runner no. 22312 Josh Cheron wrote these words, describing himself as “still probably in some degree of shock”: “As I sit and reflect on today, I have to, want to, compartmentalize what was a great day up until it wasn’t, and how much, much worse I know it could have been. It’s a struggle: my best Boston Marathon juxtaposed with losing at least two lives and the tragic and indelible mark this has left on our city and our running community. We will weather this, but for now I’m just going to be sad.” 

As we all know by now, what began as a picture-perfect day for the 117th running of the Marathon ended in a horrible, unimaginable way. Josh, a systems analyst for the global management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing company Accenture, lives with his wife, Jen, and their two children, Michael (4) and Emma (1 1/2), in Sudbury. In this firsthand account of the day, Josh describes candidly the confusion and fear that consumed an entire city, but especially those who were on the front lines, near the finish line. This interview was conducted on April 23, 2013, eight days after the Boston Marathon Bombings.


Josh at Mile 18

How long have you been running?
I started running in around 1997 and ran my first marathon in 2000 on Long Island. I’ve run about 16 or 17 marathons, including at Boston, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Hartford. I ran my first Boston Marathon in 2006. I’ve run Boston 2006-2009 and 2013. Most of those years I ran and raised money for the American Liver Foundation under the Run for Research banner.

With two young kids at home, how do you manage a training routine?
I “train” throughout the year, and mostly at work, which is only about 20 minutes from the house in Marlborough; I come in early to give myself more gym time. We have a gym with treadmills, lockers, and showers, so I can always get my miles in, and weather isn’t generally a factor. I normally only have a long run on the weekend, and I’ll do it one weekend day, and Jen will go to the gym the other day, so it’s very manageable.

I used quotes for “train” because I don’t keep a strict regimen of workouts. I don’t run trails; I don’t generally do specialized workouts like track or hills. I just run. Running gives me time to think, makes me feel better, and keeps me healthy and more fit than I would be otherwise. I can’t say I excel at it; maybe just better than average, I guess. Running is my passion in that I spend a lot of time doing it, try to do it right, and value that I get out of it what I put into it.

Tell us what happened after you crossed the finish line.
I crossed the finish line this year at 2:20 p.m. after hearing my family cheering out of my left ear. I was so focused I didn’t actually see them. I made my way through the finisher area, collected my bag at the bus, and made my way around to and up Newbury Street in the direction of Mass. Ave. I was elated. I ran my best Boston Marathon ever by six minutes, hit my sub-3:40 goal, and felt like the race went exactly to plan.

When the first blast went off, I knew what it was. I didn’t know what kind of an explosion or whether it was intentional, but the sound was completely unmistakable. The second blast was just a confirmation. 

When the bombs went off, I was in the lobby at 201 Newbury Street shooting the breeze with the doorman. This was Jen’s friend Beth’s building; Jen and Beth and the kids spent the day downtown and then watched me finish the race. I was waiting for Jen and Beth and the four kids to meet me so I could get cleaned up.

I spoke to Jen maybe a minute before the blasts, and she said she was five minutes away. At the time “where” she was five minutes away didn’t matter. Until it did. Until Boston was changed forever and I was as scared as I have ever been in my life. Oh my G-d, where were Jen and the kids? It immediately occurred to me that she could have been on Boylston, on Newbury, on Commonwealth, on a cross street, and I had no clue.

I ran in a panic across Newbury and up Exeter screaming my bloody head off for Jen and the kids. For all I know I passed the Tsarnaevs fleeing the scene. People were running down Exeter. A woman was on the ground bleeding.

I made it up to Boylston and then back down Exeter again and ran into the building when I heard Jen in the rear of the building with the kids; Beth’s son Alex was crying. They had been safe in the public alley with their strollers. (That’s the elevator-accessible side of the building.) We packed Jen, Beth, and all of the kids into the car with some of Beth’s stuff, drove around to Comm. Ave., dropped Beth and her kids at her car where her husband came to meet us, and collectively left the city. Beth and Jared and the kids stayed with us that night because their building was evacuated.

It was a surreal scene. Boylston was a war zone. Newbury was in a panic. Comm was a mix of as-yet uninformed and confused/shocked people. The Esplanade was just people walking along, completely ignorant of what just happened. You heard sirens from all directions and the helicopters converging overhead. As you drove down the Pike you saw cop after cop hauling ass toward Boston. 

It was only later that night that we realized that Jen and Beth and the kids were standing outside Starbucks, where the second bomb went off only 30 minutes after they left.

What is the day after the Marathon (or after any marathon) usually like for you, and how did this one differ?
I recover quickly from marathons in general. I’m more sore after Boston because of the topography and this year because of the extra effort, but I take a couple of days off, and then I’m back into my normal routine.

This year was different. This year was a mix of soreness, tiredness, anger, fear, and a profound, suffocating sadness. Questions and no answers. Boston’s innocence was torn away from her. Patriots’ Day, the beautiful springtime afternoon, and the Boston Marathon is the city’s purest celebration of all good things, and now that wonderful day was gone. All last week I was on the verge of falling apart at my desk. I cried while I was running and listening to the president’s remarks at the interfaith service in Boston [on Thursday, April 18]. I was just hoping for information to come out that would make some of this make any sense. And where were the bombers? Was there more to come?

Friday was a long day of tense melodrama, and at 9 p.m., when Suspect #2 was captured, I started to feel like I could unclench a little. It’s getting better as time passes, but it really won’t ever be the same. I expect my New York friends and family who were in the city on 9/11 feel like this, maybe much worse given the scope of the death and destruction back then.

Was your 4-year-old aware of what happened? How did you and your wife talk to him about the horrible events of that day, or have you been able to shield him from it?
Michael isn’t old enough to intellectually navigate what happened, and we didn’t talk to him about it directly, but when we got home Monday, he had started to read into Jen and my emotions and needed a serious hug. Thankfully with his friend Alex staying the night, he had a lot of distraction, and he seems fine.

Boston usually rallies around the Red Sox. Sadly, this time Boston came together in mourning. What did you make of the strong feelings of community and oneness on display after the Marathon Bombings?
There’s something hokey-charming in how ferociously and passionately Boston came together after the bombings, given how divisive Boston can sometimes feel. The Boston Marathon is ours, and to assault it offends us. It wounds us. And they killed a child, so there’s that.

The pictures of first responders and everyday folks doing whatever they could at the scene and in the days beyond was very touching. And the picture of the police officer bringing a family milk during the lockdown in Watertown was priceless. But I don’t think Boston is unique to this. I think to some degree it’s how people in a functioning society deal with these overarching stressors in our environment. Hopefully other cities don’t have to find out firsthand. The outpouring of support from all over the world is very touching.

Do you hope to run in the Boston Marathon next year?
I’m planning to run the 118th Boston Marathon, assuming training and life in general fall into place. You might at first blush think that people would react to this by saying they can’t or won’t run these big races or participate in these big events again out of fear, but precisely the opposite has happened. I heard almost immediately people penciling it in for 2014.

Our Greater Framingham Running Club president asked us to try to put something positive on paper for our Club write-up. This is what I said: “I spent the early morning relaxing with the runners, excited for a great day. We’re all anxious but in a good way. The race started cleanly, the crowds were great, the weather was good, and I started to feel like I was on autopilot, running a steady but aggressive pace. Flew down the big downhill and felt great turning at the Fire Station. Crushed it in the hills, blazing out of BC, and in the zone all the way into town. I heard Jen and the kids on Boylston and made it to the finish about 6 minutes faster than 2009, and only 7:08 past my PR. Best Boston run ever.”

And until 2:50 p.m. on April 15, it really was.

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