It’s been almost two weeks since the Boston Marathon bombing. It’s pretty clear now that the bombers’ motivation had little to nothing do with runners themselves, and everything to do with sick, blind hate.
But to runners, it was very personal. Certainly it shook anyone who heard about it, and it’s clear that those present and their loved ones will forever be changed by it in unimaginable ways. But in a less grave way, it changed the whole world of running.
The Boston Marathon is arguably the heart and hub of our sport. To a runner, a strike at the Boston Marathon would be akin to a strike at the Vatican for a Catholic, at the Statue of Liberty for an American, or the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe for a Frenchman.
We may run as individuals, but runners are part of a community. In a sporting world where trash talking and me-first attitudes are too common, distance running is refreshing in that your competitors alongside you are often your biggest cheerleaders. I’ve never heard a disparaging word as a runner passed me by (and I’ve been passed a lot). More likely, I’ll hear a “You’re doing great!” or “You’re almost there!” or “Dig deep! You’ve got this!”
We are a community. And the bombings took place in our capitol.
When I first saw the news footage of the bombings, even before the explosion hit, I noticed the race clock: 4:09. Just minutes from my own marathon time. Those runners were my runners. In the comradery and community of runners, that was my pack. That was my finish line. Those were my cheerleaders.
It’s all caused me to think more deeply about running. Like a long-suffering friend, it’s the sport that keeps taking me back even after being neglected too long. When I went through messy breakups, when my friend died back home and I was far away, when I struggled with knowing what my life was all about, running has been my therapy. And when life was good and the sun was bright, it has been my celebration.
We runners are a curious bunch.
To paraphrase Steve Colbert (though you can get the full, hilarious, and uncensored bit here), runners spend their day off running until their toenails fall off — for fun!
Sometimes we do run just for fun. Sometimes we run to get healthy, both physically and mentally. Sometimes we run for a good, long, uninterrupted conversation with a friend. Sometimes the long conversation is with our inner selves.
Sometimes we run to overcome. To overcome the miles and the clock, but also to overcome our own inner demons. We run to overcome our addictions, to overcome our fears, to overcome our grief.
Running takes our minds to a place of clarity where we can sort things out. It taps us into an inner strength that reminds us that we are capable of more than we had realized.
When we have big decisions to make, we run. When we suffer loss, we run. When we feel like there’s nothing else we can do, we run.
And when our world is rocked by unfathomable cruelty, we run.
Last Saturday I ran the half marathon portion of the first major marathon after the Boston Marathon bombing. The weather forecast wasn’t good — 40s and rainy. But Boston left everyone with more resolve that we would not back down. In fact, I overheard that in the four days between the Boston Marathon and the Salt Lake City Marathon there was actually a surge in last-minute registrations.
With a moment of silence, followed by Sweet Caroline at the starting line, spirits were high. But the sprinkling rain soon turned to heavy showers. Still we ran. And still, supporters lined the streets.
When running felt hard I thought of Boston. I can do hard things, I reminded myself. Especially when I know there are others doing things that are much harder. So I ran.
When rain drops fell heavy right into my eyes and a freezing mist blurred my vision, I thought better than to curse the rain, and instead reminded myself that there was a raindrop for every tear shed over Boston. “Boston Strong” became my new mantra. I ran to show solidarity.
And when each soggy step felt heavy and slow and the uphill seemed too cruel, I reminded myself that breath is wasted on complaining but is useful when put to work. I ran to show strength.
When I hit the 10 mile mark, my usual mantra is that anyone can get out of bed and run 3 miles. But this time, I remembered that there were so many who could not. How dare I stop, when I still had two good legs to put one step in front of the other? I ran to show gratitude.
Among the thousands of runners on that rainy course was a group from Boston. Runners who had covered the 26.2 miles in Boston on Monday came to run them again on Saturday in Salt Lake City. And while they had finished at different times in Boston, in Salt Lake they finished together, crossing the line at 4:09.