Boston, running


Photo Stew Milne/AP (courtesy WBUR)

“I just can’t imagine.”

Anytime there is a collective tragedy, we say it…a shooting, a bombing, an earthquake, a fire. We look at the victims’ photos, we hug our families a little tighter, we watch the news (even when there isn’t anything new to hear), and we say it.

“I can’t even imagine.”

The thing that makes this particular tragedy different, the thing that keeps me turning it over and over in my head is that I can imagine. Maybe some of you can, too. I’ve never run the Boston Marathon. It’s unlikely that I will ever finish a marathon fast enough to qualify for the chance to wear one of those coveted blue and yellow jackets. Still, I have crossed more finish lines than I can count, and I’ve completed 2 marathons. I know what it feels like to have carefully calculated how much fuel you need to save for the end, to be coming into the home stretch, to have the finish line in your sights. I know the pain and exhilaration of having just completed 26 miles and knowing that last .2 still lies ahead before I can stop. I have crossed the line having poured out everything I had on the course…usually elated, but sometimes defeated by the race I’ve just run.

The immediate aftermath of crossing a finish line after such an enormous effort sometimes includes trembling, sometimes nausea, sometimes dizziness…usually a blur of sports drink and bananas and bagels being handed to you as someone puts a medal around your neck…the anxious feeling of scanning crowds of runners and spectators, aching to rest your eyes on the one face you’ve been seeking…a kind of strange disconnectedness as you try to convince your exhausted legs to keep walking through the hectic bustle (best case) or chaotic swarm (worst case) of the finishers’ chute.

Worst case, you throw up.
Worst case, they are out of lemon-lime Gatorade and you have to have orange Gatorade…and then you throw up.
Worst case, you can’t find your running buddy right away and end up stumbling back to the hotel on your own.

Worst case, until now, has never included the possibility of being blown up at the finish line.

And that is why I’m so angry about the bombing at Boston.

Photo Stew Milne/AP (courtesy WBUR)

This race is epic. Most of us will never run it, since runners either need to qualify with a fast time in a previous race or raise a lot of money for charity to get in.  But somehow, Boston belongs to all of us. We’re invested in its outcome. We watch its drama unfolding every year, holding our collective breath to see who will have what it takes to rise to the top. Even if we’ll never be on that bus to Hopkinton, we know someone who is, or has been, or will be, and we’re pulling for her or him. Boston is the race. It’s our race. And now, it will forever be different…and so will every other race in the world.

I know I will never again cross a finish line anywhere without thinking of what happened yesterday.

Most of us who run distances have joked at some point about what would happen in a race if our legs failed, if we couldn’t run across the finish line. We laugh about log-rolling or crawling across the finish line on hands and knees. It’s all about the finish, and we are bound and determined to get there, no matter what. I never considered the possibility of explosions at the finish, but even that wasn’t enough to stop some runners (like 78-year-old Bill Iffrig).

Runners are more motivated than most. We get things done. We donate blood to those in need. We run supplies to communities destroyed by hurricanes. We create electricity with our feet. We are at our best en masse, and we can do amazing things.

To those responsible for the bombing at Boston: Do not underestimate us. Our sport may be solitary in many ways, but the running community is strong and vibrant. Our drive, our determination, and our love for running bond us together…and if you mess with some of us, you should expect the rest of us to come to their aid. We runners take care of each other.

You should also expect us to keep on running. That’s what we do – we lace up our shoes, head out the door, and put one foot in front of the other until we are done. We don’t quit. We move forward. We will protest your act of violence by refusing to let you stop us. Marathoners are the most determined, committed tribe I know. If you were trying to crush someone, you picked the wrong group. We may be shaken, but we are not defeated. We run anyway.

And to our fallen comrades, the runners who were forced to stop and the ones who can no longer go on – we will carry you with us, always, and we’ll be stronger than ever for it.

The London Marathon is next weekend. What will we see? the reporters ask. Beefed-up security? Fearful crowds? Fewer runners? Possibly. What you’ll definitely see, though, is what you see at every marathon…a crowd of strong, fierce runners who are ready to give their best in pursuit of a goal.

No one can take that away from us.
Image courtesy of Another Mother Runner


For ways to support Boston, the injured runners, and the Richard Family (who lost their 8 year old son, Martin), check out this post at Another Mother Runner

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