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.
This is beautiful and explains exactly how I feel. Especially these words:
“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.”
Thank you for this. I am running the Pittsburgh Half Marathon on 5/5/13 and will be thinking of Boston.
Thanks, Betsy. Good luck on your upcoming half!
I think if I ran like you did I would probably be overcome (from exhaustion). It’s great though that you have this wonderful outlet &as a results err able to show solidarity after the tragedy.
Faygie, you made me laugh! What a clever play on words!
I have never read anything you have written that I haven’t nodded along and feel inspired. After my half marathon I was sidelined and was supposed to wait 3 weeks to run. Then Boston happened and I had to go out and run. The same way we lower flags to half staff to say we remember and we honor , running was my lowering the flag for all the broken hearts.
My pace isn’t Boston pace and I wasn’t even interested in doing a full marathon until this happened. Now I am devoting the next few months to more strength training so I can make sure that I can be a marathoner and 4:09 is a great goal to shoot for.
Thank you so much, Allie. Your kind words mean a lot to me. I love your analogy of lowering flags to half-staff. That’s exactly how I feel! Hopefully some day we can run together — or at least cover the same ground on the same day. I’d have to do some extra training to keep up with you!
I love this post. You are amazing, I miss our runs!
Thanks, Michelle! You are responsible for my long-distance “career”. Thanks for teaching me so much. We do need a run….or a lunch….or both….
B. R. says
I’m a runner too. I’ve lived in Cambridge, Ma. most of my life. Though I’ve never run the Boston Marathon, I’ve been to it as a spectator and a cheerer-onner dozens of times. I wasn’t able to go this year because of work, but would have been there had that not been the case. When I heard about the bombings, I too was shocked and sickened. And very very sad.
And then on Friday, we heard who was responsible. The object of the manhunt, which happened in my neighborhood, was a boy my son had gone to school with. Someone he considered a friend. What became painfully clear to me as that Friday wore on is that life is not black or white and people are not simply good or evil. We don’t know what happened to this boy or why he did what he did, but to assume sick blind hate is too easy. He was a good hearted kid when my son knew him in high school, peaceful and friendly. Uncomfortably and agonizingly on that Friday, we were able to separate the kid from his crime. As we watched swat teams and tanks from our windows, my son worried that his friend was probably scared and confused himself. When we heard the cheering in the streets, watched his ambulance go by and saw the picture online of this boy on the ground surrounded by police, it made the whole tragedy that much sadder. This was and remains terribly difficult to navigate for both my son and me as person and a parent.
I read your blog often and have passed many a column or the blog itself on to friends or the parents I work with. Your writing is wonderful and your advise is thoughtful and grounded in respect for children and the acknowledgement that parenting can sometimes be difficult and confusing. Though this particular column was more about the the resilient quality of running, I felt the need to share a different aspect of resilience that I am trying to pass on to my son, even as I contend with my own complicated feelings. Here is a very brief version of the conversation we are having. Life doesn’t come with easy answers and now he knows that first hand in a way that is confusing, uncomfortable, and unpopular. I want him to be okay about the conflicting feelings he is experiencing and know that he is not wrong to have them even though many people strongly disapprove. When we think things are black or white, it’s easier, but it is can also be short-sighted. I told him that in a strange way, this is a gift. He will never again be quick to judge and will be so much more open because he has had to push his way through this. It is sad, complicated and difficult and will continue to be. But it is better to experience discomfort and seek to understand than to to simply judge.
B.R. – Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. And thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt. This was, as you said, a post about running, and therefore I was perhaps too quick in choosing my words about the event itself; particularly in making a quick judgment about the motive– something I couldn’t possibly know or understand. Your comments reminded me of a similar situation on a smaller scale in my own community where a young man made poor decisions which resulted in the loss of several lives. I can’t excuse his actions by any means, but knowing him and his family, it was hurtful to hear or read judgmental statements from people more removed. Now I am on the other side of that situation, and I apologize. Your son is lucky to have you thoughtfully guide him through such a difficult situation. Good luck to you both, and to all of us, as we try to more earnestly wrap our heads and our hearts around the totality of this tragedy.