Let’s Put the Pitchforks Down: Thoughts on @Dens & @Chelsa at the Boston Marathon

I ran the Boston Marathon in 2011. Being a slow runner, I will never qualify, and so I ran the race by fundraising for Brigham and Women’s Hospital. I have also run the NYC Marathon eight times – once via the lottery, the other seven times via the “9+1” NYRR program.

I don’t know Chelsa Crowley. I do know Dennis Crowley inasmuch as we’re both active in the NY Tech community and our paths have crossed at various events. Dennis is a well-respected, well-liked, member of the tech “ecosystem” and the leader of one of NYC’s most successful “home-grown” tech start-ups (Foursquare).

I followed closely Dennis’ running of the Boston Marathon last year (2013) on Twitter. Prior to the marathon I exchanged a couple e-mails with him about the race and I was eager to see him do well. I remember very clearly following each of his mile check-ins via Twitter from my desk in New York. It was when there was a long gap from his last check-in at mile 25 that I wondered if maybe he had dropped out of the race or gotten hurt. A moment later a colleague told me about the bombing and soon after this tweet from Dennis appeared followed by a number of others

The circumstances of the bombing are now well known. So too are the circumstances of Dennis and Chelsa’s run last year. Chelsa, the better runner, had just finished the race and was very close to the actual bombing. Dennis was not far behind near the mile 26 marker. 

Dennis is from Boston and was committed to running this year and finishing what he started. Chelsa sought to race with him. Which brings us to what now has its own hashtag, #bibgate.

As we now know, it appears Chelsa did not or was unable to procure a bib but still wanted to run with her husband. She did what many people have done in many marathons – she “bandited” the race. For many reasons, race organizers frown upon this practice (though it’s hardly a mortal sin as was discussed in a Boston Globe opinion piece just this past Sunday, a day before this year’s race). And the photocopy / fake bib is a bit of a new wrinkle. I’m not saying running unregistered, especially in a popular race like Boston, is right. But it happens.

Keep in mind that Chelsa finished last year but Dennis did not. They wanted to finish this year, together, as part of the healing process. That’s a powerful pull to find a way to run together. This is not an excuse, just context, and I get there were probably hundreds of other couples in a similar position.

Some people are wondering why Chelsa didn’t simply do a fundraising bib given she and Dennis are “of means” and could have self-raised the amount themselves. A fair question. 

I’m not looking to make the ends justify the means here. I understand why people are pissed given all that’s transpired. But before the social media maelstrom gets too engorged, let’s give Chelsa and Dennis a moment to make amends. Dennis released a statement this evening on Medium. It sounds like they have something in the works to “make this right.” I’m sure they’ll do something great. Let’s hear what that it is.

So if you want to be angry, especially if you’re a marathon runner like me and know the challenges of getting into popular races, be angry. But maybe we can hold off on the Twitter and Facebook pitchforks for a bit just yet. I am guessing this will turn out to be one of those circumstances where an error in judgement (which this undoubtedly was) could turn into something positive for all. And maybe when that happens we’ll all feel better about ourselves having let the vitriol go un-typed and un-shared, and instead having let a mistake be resolved and made right on its own by the people at the center of this.