Pilk’s Points: An Editor Looks Ahead To The Boston Marathon

The finish line area at the Boston Marathon next week will be filled with thousands of runners, spectators, and workers. Photo: www.photorun.net

The bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon affected everyone, from the runners and spectators to the marathon staff and journalists covering the race.

I had the privilege of getting a first-hand edit on our Boston Strong feature, which you can find in our March print issue as well as online in an enriched digital version. At first glance, the layout looked solid—pools of blue and yellow were strategically placed throughout the pages, pull-quotes filled available space and added some extra oomph and flair, and original photos graced every page, giving the 9-pager plenty of context. The piece looked solid from a first-glance editorial and design standpoint.

Then I read it in its entirety.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve also read dozens of April 15 recounts, reasons for running the 2014 Boston Marathon and stories from your everyday runner across the nation, in an effort to deliver heartfelt, real accounts of the Faces of Boston. Some have included letters from loved ones, others have included desires to conquer unfinished business when their hard-earned goals were cut short after the bombs went off.

It’s really just supposed to be another edit project to cover another year at the greatest road race in the country—and the world.

My job as an editor is to catch the big and small errors, analyze sentence and paragraph structure, give feedback to the writer, and make sure the thing gets out the door in its cleanest form. Most of the time, my emotional connection to my projects, if any at all, isn’t powerful enough to cloud my squinting red-pen eyes as I edit just another feature or story. But as my eyes fell on the third account from a 2013 Boston Marathon participant, the tears welled, and my gut tightened. I paused and re-read the paragraph. Is this real life? No, that didn’t really happen, did it? I ended up reading the entire thing twice: once for the feelings and a second time to actually get something done.

RELATED: The Boston Marathon Will Never Be The Same

It’s been one year since that day on Boylston Street, a location that has now left a permanent mark in the heart of runners worldwide. I still remember all the emotional jolts I felt for the weeks and months following. I knew it was real when I watched senior editor Mario Fraioli’s eyes well up as he told us he skipped out on covering the event for the first time in years for his honeymoon. I knew it hurt when I stumbled through editor-in-chief Brian Metzler’s intense blog on how the day’s horrific events left all staff on lockdown for hours. I knew it changed the face of my sport when I sat and stared at a blank screen for two hours—the only time running left me feeling too jostled for words, when normally running brings clarity. I watched Shalane Flanagan cross the line earlier that morning—and I stared at CNN as the finish line blew up later that afternoon.

However, as I re-read the feature after reaching for the tissues, I was reminded of a few other moments that are sure to stand out and speak louder than the negative aftermath of April 15, 2013. I watched my little sister run her way to the BQ performance in January; she will be toeing the line at the 2015 event. I remember reading clusters of blogs and the personal accounts regarding April 15—with the common theme of “You will not take our sport.” The influx of Boston Marathon interest spread to all corners of the country, including San Diego—even friends who initially cocked their heads at why I was so hurt by the terrorist attacks were boasting blue and yellow spirit, ready to earn a BQ, knowing it meant something more now. I remember those people, the ones who have never even ran a step in their life, but they embrace the healing process and acknowledge that running is a special way toward healing, closure, and moving on. Sometimes, it is the only way. And I watch and re-watch the first episode of the Kenya Project—not only for the epic African countryside and spectacular coverage of Desi Linden’s Boston training in Iten, but also for the spirit behind her words and the pure happiness behind the smiles of our video producer Steve Godwin and photo editor Scott Draper. They truly captured the spirit of Boston on the other side of the world.

RELATED: Boston, A City Of Runners

Perhaps this is merely a shout-out to my team at Competitor for an ongoing job well done of capturing so much raw emotion and also presenting a flawless picture of Boston’s resilient attitude and community. Or maybe it’s to remind myself that a runner’s spirit is stronger than a victim’s fear. We were all victims on April 15—some drastically more than others—and the tragic events reached everyone and challenged our faith in humanity. But they didn’t kill our spirit. Or maybe it’s just another blog screaming, “You will not take our sport.” All of the above? Perhaps. April 21 will undoubtedly be one of the biggest days in running history, for Boston, for Competitor, and for hundreds of other media outlets, as we cover the Patriot’s Day race on the ground in Beantown and at home in San Diego. We will all go about our jobs, keeping our emotions close and duties closer in order to deliver the greatest coverage of an even greater event. But behind every press pass, Tweet, Instagram photo, and hot-off-the-press web article stands 36,000 runners, and even more without bibs, prepared to lead the Boston Strong running boom straight into the history books.

And there’s certainly no edit needed for that.

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