There exist a great many jokes lampooning the natural desire of marathon runners to talk about their experiences (e.g. “How do you know if someone’s run a marathon?” “Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”). And true to form, there is a pride and an excitement in the running community around this unique accomplishment. I have no plans to run a marathon; given the nature of my body after so many years as an athlete, I know my limits and this distance falls outside of them. But I have tremendous respect for anyone who chooses to take on that feat.
The marathon is noteworthy, significant, and worthy of the seemingly interminable chatter that follows it because it is a transformative experience. All the limits that you thought existed in your mind melt away as you put more and more miles on your body. And like it or not, today’s explosions at the Boston Marathon will prove transformative for an entirely different reason. For those on the course today, there will be an element of fear to future runs that they may never fully shake.
I’ve written previously about the concern that I have with terrorism taking away the sanctity of otherwise safe activities. But seeing such horror and fear ascribed to an activity like running has made this aftermath far more emotional for me than I ever would have expected.
I walked the course this morning for a time, from miles 25 back to mile 22, and passed my apartment to get closer to mile 21. Mile 21 of the Boston Marathon course is known as “Heartbreak Hill”. The people that you see on the other side of the hill are hurting. They’ve been running for such a long time, and through so much of Boston, any hill on the course at this point seems torturous. But Heartbreak Hill is also the last major hill of the course. As I turned around to walk back toward the 22 mile mark, there were numerous shouts of “The worst is over!” and “It can only get better from here!” But as I was able to follow up from a Tweet that Joe Ginese sent me, I quickly realized that this wasn’t the case for those who had not yet reached the finish. The worst wasn’t over. Not even close.
I always take note of what people wear during races- not to serve as the “Fashion Police”, but because it is the easiest way to see what (or who) people run for. Some people race in purple, to signify their involvement with the American Cancer Society’s Team in Training program and their commitment to fighting cancer. Others race in shirts with the pictures of family members they’ve lost. Still others race in fatigue to honor brothers and sisters lost in war. Boston sees a good mix of professional runners, those running for charity, and those who have put in the determination to qualify to compete. But whether they wear their inspiration on the outside or not, all runners on a course run for something. They did a lot of work to get where they were this morning. So many had reached the final stage of a major goal or dream when they hit the course this morning. And that triumph was taken from them this morning. Even for those who finished without incident, today’s attacks will cloud their personal victories.
So what now? How do we recover from something like this? This is the closest that a tragedy such as this has hit me this close to home. I was literally four miles away from the blasts, and that has been hard for me to swallow today.
The best I can do at this point is divert my focus. I don’t know how many people were involved in the plot that created this heinous tragedy. But what I do know is that there were a lot of servicemen running the race that ran toward the explosion. I know there were a lot of people who, fatigued and depleted from such a long race, kept running until they found a place to donate blood. I’ve seen a town typically known for its standoffish and rude persona open its hearts by unlocking wi-fi for guests and opening homes for runners who can’t fly out. In monitoring our campus social media to account for students who either ran or had friends in the race, I was floored by the outpouring of support that existed where I usually have to endure complaints about early morning classes and dining hall food. They were taking care of each other. People all around me are taking care of each other. I can’t focus on the bad. There’s too much good to overshadow it.
In the meantime, it will take everything in me to lace up my sneakers tomorrow and go for a run. I will be carrying the heaviest heart I’ve taken on a run in a while. But I’ll do it. Because the pavement is where I belong. It’s where so many of those affected by today’s events belong. And for those able to run after all of this, now they’ll have one more reason to run: to keep the fear from winning.