I walked out of the Boston Marathon post-race press conferences on Monday afternoon with the intent of hunkering down to write several stories about the elite men’s and women’s races. But then I looked at my watch and realized a few friends and colleagues might be finishing the race soon and decided to head back toward the homestretch on Boylston Street.
Still about a block and a half away on a side street and approaching what I hoped would be a good viewing point in front of the Lenox Hotel on the corner of Boylston and Exeter, I heard something like a loud but muffled clap of thunder. There was nothing remarkable until, moments later, a second blast sent screaming people running in all directions.
You’ve seen and heard the rest on CNN, so there is no point in getting into the horrific details.
It struck me immediately, though, with thousands of runners still out on the course, the sport and recreational activity of marathon running suddenly didn’t matter.
There wasn’t any point in writing more stories about the great running in this year’s race. It didn’t matter if my friends and colleagues had finished, just that they were OK. Everything that happened prior to the blasts — great victories by Rita Jeptoo and Lelisa Desisa, strong efforts from Jason Hartmann and Shalane Flanagan and a new age-group world-record by 55-year-old Joan Benoit Samuelson — was completely and forever insignificant in light of the terror and bloodshed that happened at 2:49 pm Monday afternoon.
Two days later, it’s hard to put it all into perspective. But it is clear now that marathon running, and running in general, still matters. Perhaps more than ever.
For those who ran the race, those who were watching the race and everyone who worked or volunteered behind the scenes, it has to matter. For the previous 116 years of the Boston Marathon and its significance in both the international and recreational running communities, it has to matter. For the 500,000 marathoners and 50 million runners in the U.S. and millions more around the world, it has to matter. And most importantly, for those injured and the families and friends of those who were killed, running absolutely has to matter.
As runners and as a running culture, we must carry on and lead the way through this horrible situation. We can’t erase it, we can’t ignore it and we can’t change the tumultuous state of the world. But running can still help us keep calm and help us carry on. Running doesn’t restrict us, running connects us and it also lets us be free.
By late Monday evening, speculation began about what would become of the Boston Marathon, and for that matter, any marathon or road race anywhere in the world. As runners, we’ve have always known how exposed we can be while training or racing out on the roads, but that vulnerability has become especially acute after Monday’s horror. But that doesn’t mean we should stop running, cancel races or run in fear.
In fact, only running can give us the impetus to heal. Not everyone runs marathons, but running is the world’s most accessible sport and, whether you run everyday or run just a few times every month, you’re still a runner. And as a runner, you know it has a way of building solidarity among people, both in the common fitness goals and work ethic that running instills, but also in the shared values it fosters. That’s not to say that running makes us better people than anyone else, but who would we be without it?
It began in the wake of the tragedy on Monday afternoon. There were many runners and race volunteers among the first-responders at the scene of the horror Monday, hurrying into action to help others in ways they’d never dream of doing. Other runners, some fresh from finishing the marathon, sought out places in Boston to donate blood.
And there was an overwhelming connection among runners, their families and supporters who were stuck in hotel lobbies, restaurants and other areas as the Back Bay area of Boston turned into a surreal lockdown situation. By the end of the night, several memorial runs had been planned for the coming weeks and days, both in Boston and around the country, and the idea to wear a race shirt on Tuesday — as an act of unity and respect for the victims — went viral. Small but meaningful acts, with runners leading the way. That’s how it will have to be, if we’re going to carry on. What else can we do?
As the numbness starts to wear off, we owe it to ourselves, to each other and to the immediate victims of the bombings to get out there and run. Even if you weren’t in Boston, have never run Boston or aren’t a marathoner. Run easy. Run hard. Run short. Run long. Run alone. Run with a group. Just run. The familiar feeling of running — even the fatigue and achiness — will help each of us return to normalcy, even if it is a decidely new normal. Focus on the good, not the bad. Spread the joy and freedom of running and indulge on endorphins.
The Boston Marathon will return in 2014, stronger and more secure than ever. It will remain one of America’s greatest sporting events, but it will forever be stained by these horrible acts and will never ever be the same as it was. This isn’t the end of our innocence; that happened on 9/11. But it is a terrible reminder that nothing in these modern times will ever be as safe and secure as it used to be, not even something we cherish so dearly like running. And yet, that is a reason to be mindful, diligent and relentless in your pursuit of it every chance you get.
The best running stories from Monday turned out to be the acts of courage, bravery and kindness that so many runners contributed. Little will be remembered about the races in this year’s Boston Marathon, but we’ll never be able to forget this. Running will endure and we will, too, because of running.
Running still matters.