Runners unite the world after the Boston Marathon tragedy.
Run for Boston.
That message, as simple as it is, has been a galvanizing and powerful rallying cry in the face of the terrorist attacks at this year’s Boston Marathon. Now it might just be the credo for a new surge of running participation in the U.S.
Self-empowering and easy to execute, “Run for Boston” has allowed runners from around the world to individually and collectively pay respects to a suffering city, help the victims of the terrible assaults, uplift a shocked and bewildered running community and help all of us stand strong in the face of terrorism.
First mentioned on social media outlets hours after the bombs went off, the slogan gained momentum in the days that followed and quickly became an international movement. Races, group workouts and spontaneous memorial runs around Boston and around the world have honored the victims and stood in support of Boston and the runners, spectators, volunteers and officials associated with the marathon.
As of mid-May, the One Fund Boston, organized by Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and Boston mayor Tom Menino, had raised more than $30 million for the victims of the bombings.
“The running community is such a tight bond,” says Dan Soleau, the brand development manager of Marathon Sports on Boylston Street in Boston. Soleau was knocked off his feet after the first bomb exploded outside the store on the afternoon of April 15. Uninjured, he and his fellow staffers scrambled to attend to those who were hurt.
Like many Boston-area runners, Soleau went for his first run two days later and found it empowering. He ran along the Charles River feeling defiant and victorious. The simple but meaningful act of running made him feel strong and free. He imagined all the other runners he saw on his route as foot soldiers in an effort to combat evil.
He wasn’t alone in feeling that way. It would be another two weeks before Marathon Sports resumed its weekly group runs from the store. When it did, what had typically been a run of 30 or so runners drew 300. “It was an amazing turnout,” Soleau says. “It really showed the strength and resolve of the running community.”
Initially, some feared the bombings would scare people away from running. But, if anything, the opposite has been true. Not only has there been unprecedented interest in trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon, there has been a huge increase in race registrations across the country — big and small races alike, from 5K to the marathon.
As for Boston, the B.A.A. 10K, scheduled for June 23, sold out in record time on May 8, filling its 6,500-runner field in just 13 hours. “We’re not afraid to come to Boston and run these races, because running is who we are,” says Sherry Betts, a runner from Texas told ESPN.com. “It is me doing my single part to send the message that the running spirit is not deterred and we’re not afraid.”
Amid the pain, suffering, fear and shock, it’s as if a phoenix is rising in the form people pledging to keep running — or, in many cases, to start running — both for personal and collective reasons.
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What makes the “Run for Boston” message special is that it’s earnest and forthright about embracing the Boston community, but it’s not just about Boston, either. It’s a personal call to action, reminding us what the simple act of running can do for each and every one of us and what the genuine spirit of the running community can do for everyone.
Out of darkness and despair, running has brought a renewed sense of hopeful optimism and the notion that it can, as always, help carry us through the challenges of life.
Although there will be changes, the Boston Marathon will return next year, stronger and more secure than ever — only now it will hold even more allure. (The B.A.A. invited the 5,600 runners who weren’t able to finish this year’s race to the 2014 event.) Running Boston, trying to qualify or simply dreaming about it will provide a path for us to keep calm and carry on.
Running for Boston can make us all Boston Strong.
“No act of terror is going to derail our enthusiasm, nor is it going to take away our running freedom,” longtime Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray said in mid-May. “So we will come back stronger than ever. We need everyone’s patience, because it’s not an easy task. But we have everyone’s best interests in mind.”
This piece first appears in the June 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.