I’ve struggled with whether or not it is appropriate to voice my thoughts on the tragedy at the Boston Marathon. It seems like everyone has something to say about it, and with good reason. It would seem tacky to write any other post and pretend like this didn’t happen. Admittedly, this experience has been odd for me. It’s been different than other national tragedies. See, I generally have a hard time connecting with things I see on the news or even with sad events that happen to the people around me. I don’t know why. It makes me feel bad, like I’m not a good person. When I hear about something bad happening to someone I know, it’s not that I don’t care, it’s just that I don’t really feel anything. My thought process is kind of like “well, that sucks, I wish that hadn’t happened,” but then I pretty much forget about it. I don’t know why.
But yesterday was different. As soon as I heard the news, my heart sank.
My heart sank because I know what an amazing feeling it is to cross a marathon finish line. Many of the happiest moments of my life have happened at finish lines. Some of the most frustrating, too. The mix of emotions at the end of every race is complex enough without something like this. To think that this is how some people will remember finish lines forever is devastating to me.
My heart sank because so many of the injured are spectators – families and friends of the runners who came to watch and support their loved ones. As hard as training for a marathon, especially Boston, is, it is not just the runners who make sacrifices along the way. Our family and friends give up spending time with us on weekends while we do our long runs. They (mostly) don’t judge us when we fall asleep at 9pm on a Friday night. They deal with our insanity as we taper. They make signs. They cheer. They hold our Juicy Juice and make sure to be at every single mile marker that they promised they would. The idea that those spectators could have been my family and friends – my mom, who is my biggest fan and the best marathon spectator I’ve ever seen. AJ, who hates running but knows how happy it makes me, so he supports me anyway. The thought cripples me. Their sacrifices along the way are more than enough. They shouldn’t have to risk their lives to watch me run a marathon too. To say that it is tragic that children are among the dead and injured obviously goes without saying.
My heart sank because I understand that Boston is the holy grail of marathons. It is something that many runners devote their lives to training for, in hopes of squeaking in with a qualifying time. I know people who qualified with 1 second to spare. ONE SECOND. To run Boston is a dream that so many of us share. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have the opportunity to go and run there. It is beyond my comprehension. The aura surrounding the city on marathon weekend is said to be magical. Someone tried to take that from people that have devoted everything to achieving their goals, and that’s not fair.
My heart sank because I’ve never met a runner that I didn’t like. Ok, that’s not necessarily true, but I’ve never met a runner that I couldn’t relate to, that I didn’t have something in common with. The running community, and especially the marathon community, is like a slightly-healthier fraternity in a lot of ways – although still with plenty of beer. I am inextricably linked to everyone who has ever run a marathon because we all get “it.” We get what it’s like to do something other people think is crazy, to give up weekend mornings and weekday evenings, to push past pain that we didn’t think we could conquer. As horrible as it sounds, when I saw the news about the Newtown shootings, I was sad, of course, but I couldn’t really relate to what many people were experiencing as parents. I don’t have children, so I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose one. But yesterday, I got it. The whole day seemed to go in slow motion and the world seemed to stop as I waited for news from the 50+ friends I had running there. Watching the news yesterday was like watching my best friends being attacked. I felt like I knew them all. I felt helpless.
My heart sank and swelled as I watched first responders run towards the scene. There are so many powerful images circulating from yesterday, but the ones that have overwhelmed me most are those of first responders running towards the smoke and melee as everyone else ran away. The response was amazing and swift, and I am so grateful for the bravery of the men and women who were there to take care of everyone yesterday. And I’m saddened that they had to in the first place.
My heart sank as I saw pictures of the runners who were stopped on the course so close to the finish line. Those who were just minutes away from achieving what was, for many, probably a lifelong dream. It might seem trivial in the context of lost life, and of course, it is in a way, but terrorism isn’t just about taking lives. It’s about creating fear. It’s about shattering dreams and robbing people of joy. And that’s exactly what happened to so many runners. I knew so many people running their first ever Boston yesterday. To think that that experience was ruined for them is devastating.
My heart sank because it makes no sense. With so many terrorist attacks, there seems to be some kind of motive or some kind of connection that can be made as to why the target was chosen. People hated capitalism and American business, so they attacked the World Trade Center – not cool, but I get it. The Taliban doesn’t want girls to go to school, so they attack schools and pour acid on school girls. People attack different religious buildings as statements against those religions. Alright, I don’t agree with that obviously, but I get it. But attacking the Boston Marathon? WHAT THE HELL? Do the terrorists hate joy? Do they hate achievement? Do they hate goals? Do they hate fitness? You can’t even just say they hate America, because this is truly an international event – runners were there from 90 different countries. I genuinely need to know why this happened. NEED to know.
Of course, in the face of tragedy, there is always triumph, and the running community has pulled together in a huge way. We’re wearing race shirts to work/school/wherever today to show our solidarity with other runners. We’re holding fundraisers. We’re doing memorial runs. Marathon runners crossed the finish line yesterday and kept running until they got to the hospital to donate blood to the victims. God, just writing that makes me tear up. See, what the terrorists/assholes who did this don’t seem to understand is that they really picked the wrong group of people to mess with. Yes, we’re Americans, but we’re also from Kenya and England and Brazil and Australia and China and every country in between. We’re runners. Persevering against the odds is at the core of our sport. Continuing to press forward even when the pain seems too great is what we do every day. Picking up the pieces after a bad run, bad race, or bad day and getting back out there and starting over is second nature. It’s easy to take the joy, spirit, and passion from a lot of people, but not from runners.
So we’re going to keep going, keep running, for the same reason many of us started – because running helps us make sense of things that don’t make sense. Because we get out of running exactly what we put into it, and there is a kind of peace in that. Because running brings us together in a way that no terrorist can tear apart. It brings us closer to our families and friends, too, because they see us struggle through training and are proud of our achievements. They come to our races because they want to, not because they have to. So when you feel like you’re about to lose faith in humanity, as many of us did yesterday,go out and watch a marathon. I don’t know about you, but I’ll never take a finish line for granted again.