Thursday, April 18, 2013

A runner's reaction to the bombs in Boston

The horrible events at this week's Boston Marathon broke my heart, for reasons obvious and not so obvious.

The obvious stuff is readily apparent (as obvious stuff tends to be). Three people killed and more than 100 wounded, some whose limbs had to be amputated. Sickening, maddening, wildly unacceptable stuff. I hate the fact that it even happened.

But there's an added dimension to the whole thing if you've ever competed in a long-distance running event, particularly the 26.2-mile marathon.

I don't claim to be an expert on this subject, as I've only ever run one full marathon. And that was nearly 12 years ago. I've also done one half marathon of 13.1 miles and countless local races of shorter distances ranging from 5K to 10 miles.

I've heard the process of training for and running a long-distance race described as "spiritual," and in many ways that is spot on. You put your heart and soul into preparing not only your body but also your mind and spirit for what is often a grueling but deeply fulfilling experience.

I've been there and done that myself many times. Not at anything resembling world-class levels of performance, of course, but I've been there.

Which is why my thoughts turned to the runners who were nearest to the two explosions as they happened.

Being near the explosions meant they were near the finish line. Within yards of it, in fact.

Over the course of the nine months I spent training for the 2001 Towpath Marathon, I often envisioned what it would be like as I approached that finish line. Just the thought of it (without having yet experienced it) gave me chills.

Then, when it actually happened, I felt overwhelmed. I can hardly describe it. When you set yourself a goal like that and work so hard to attain it (through literal blood, sweat and tears), you feel almost every emotion possible when the moment finally arrives.

So here these people were, yards away from completing the most prestigious marathon there is, and then the whole world turned upside down for several minutes.

Please understand, failing to finish a race is nothing compared with the tragedy and loss of human life that occurred on Copley Square. It's inconsequential, at best.

But I couldn't help but feel sorry for those people who came so close and then had the whole thing go wrong.

These were not the people whose stories you would know. These weren't the fleet-footed Kenyans and other supremely talented athletes who log sub-6-minute miles and finish marathon courses in just over two hours.

These people were...well, they were me. My time in my one and only marathon was 3 hours, 46 minutes, 22 seconds. (You don't EVER forget your first marathon time. The numbers are burned into your brain.) The bombs in Boston went off about 4 hours and 9 minutes into the race.

Given that the Boston course is markedly more difficult than the Towpath, and given that I'm a little older and slower now, 4 hours and 9 minutes is probably just about where I would have been finishing had I achieved one of my life goals and run this year's Boston Marathon.

Not that this has anything to do with me, but I can relate to these people. I'm sure every one of them is more grateful to be safe and sound than to have run the last several feet of a race they had essentially completed anyway.

It's just that for those who pull on running tights and get out on the roads day after day to log their miles, there's an added degree of empathy for what happened that goes beyond even the anguish felt by the American public at large (and that's saying something, given how deeply this seems to have affected the average person).

So God bless my running friends who were in Boston that day − fast, slow, or in between. I'm glad you're OK physically, and I hope you're all OK inside, as well. Keep on keepin' on, as they say.

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