Every runner has a sentence they carry around with them that includes the word ‘Boston.’ For some, it’s a question, for others it’s a proud declaration, for most it’s an acknowledgement of a goal beyond reach. For every runner, after yesterday’s events, that sentence has forever changed.
As I went for my run this morning, with every step I took I formed new sentences about Boston. That’s what you do out there. There’s not much else to do, as the whole putting one foot in front of another bit does not occupy much brain power. You’ve got lots left over for thinking and forming those thoughts into sentences. Usually it’s what you’ll do when you get home, what you’re going to pick up at the store, how you really need to update your playlist and you probably ought to get a new pair of shoes, and shouldn’t you be training for something? Maybe if you start a new training program that really focuses on speed you could get a lot faster, maybe even fast enough to qualify for Boston.
This morning, I thought about the finish line. With every step echoed those last steps, the hundreds of them, that you take with that beautiful finish line within view. From the moment a marathon runner catches their first glimpse of that line all the pain, fatigue, desperation and uncertainty that has accumulated over not just the last 26 miles, but the hundreds of training miles that preceded them recedes. It doesn’t go away, you’ve got to carry that weight every inch of the way, but it recedes to make room for the rush of joy, of elation, of delirious triumph you feel at the sight of the happy, cheering crowds, the balloons, and that final time pad that you are about to cross. And somehow your load lightens, and your feet grow wings, you find that extra gear, you get that final kick, and then a bombs goes off. And that’s where my capacity to imagine fails me. How do you make room for that? Where do you find the extra gear for that?
But somehow they did. Those runners coming in, according to the time clock, around the 4 hour mark, they did. As the media coverage has made all too clear, those runners still ‘trickling in’ were not the elite heroes of the running world. They’re the every day heroes, the weekend warriors, who have spent months, often years of their lives training to qualify and then training for Boston itself. Qualifying for Boston has always been tough and in recent years became even tougher when qualifying times were tightened due to high demand. I know this all too well having never qualified myself. I got close with my New York City time and toyed with a new sentence about Boston for a while, but I balked at the effort it would take to get fast enough. I wimped out. But they didn’t. Those runners trained, qualified, trained some more and ran the Boston Marathon until the finish line was in sight, and then the bombs went off. And they continued to run, in many cases not away from, but into the mayhem, to the aid of the fallen, and even all the way to Mass General to give blood.
The best thing about a finish line are the spectators. Despite the crowds, there is nothing lonelier than running a marathon. You are absolutely alone in your effort to force your feet to keep placing themselves in front of each other, but within sight of the finish line, you become aware you are not alone in celebrating your accomplishment. All of those friendly faces know you rock, and somewhere amongst the smiling, cheering strangers you know you’ll eventually find your own fan club. Thinking about them and the hugs they’ll greet you with carries you across the line. You know they’ll be there because they’ve been with you all the way. The husbands and wives who accepted that half of every weekend would be devoted to training, and recovering from training, who watched you fall asleep on the couch at 8pm on a Saturday night, who came and picked you up when your hip gave out and you couldn’t run your way back to your car. The kids who rode their bikes with you on training runs, gave you foot rubs, offered you their bath bubbles. All the family and friends who travelled all the miles, and made the signs, and stood in a crowd for hours without ever catching a glimpse of you just to show their support, standing there anyway cheering on strangers because they know some other stranger is cheering on their loved one, smiling and waving, ringing their bells. And then the bombs went off.
In the face of this senseless, brutal act, every runner’s sentence about Boston has forever changed but the meaning hasn’t. Courage. Determination. Triumph over adversity. Community. Love. Hope. Every runner carries these, and a prayer in our hearts for Boston.