The spirit of the marathon lives on in Boston

Credit to roanzone @ Instagram

I usually don’t write when I am exhausted and crying because I feel as though the blog – and you, the readers – deserve better than that, but the fact is that I cannot think about anything but what happened yesterday in Boston.  And when I try to write, the words just feel so small and inconsequential compared to the enormity of what happened.  But I’m going to try.

For those of you who don’t know, my day job is working as a web editor and producer for a 24/7 cable news network in Florida.  Normally my job means writing quippy news pieces about idiot criminals – which, like sunshine and alligators, is one of my state’s most plentiful resources – and copy-editing to ensure all commas are in the correct place and that everything meets the standards of the almighty AP Stylebook.

For the most part I handle myself with the emotional distance that is characteristic of people who work in news, but sometimes a story penetrates my carefully-constructed defenses and I’ll find myself with tears streaming down my face as I write.  Newtown was one of those days.  So was the day we learned a 14-year-old girl had allegedly given birth to a baby boy in her bathroom, and then strangled the infant and hid its body in a box in her room.

Yesterday was another one of those days. I cried when I saw photos of the wounded.  I cried when I realized that the clock showed 4:09, and that I am a 4:08 marathoner.  I cried when I learned people had lost their legs.  I cried when I learned an 8-year-old boy had died while waiting for his father to finish.  By the time my shift ended after a long 14-hour day, my tear ducts were burned out and my ears felt numb to the sounds of the screams and explosions coming from the television I keep on my desk at work, but that numbness didn’t keep me from dreaming about smoke and blood last night.

Perhaps it affected me even more than most of the worst stories I deal with for the simple fact that the bombers, whoever they are, hit right at the heart of one of the things that I, as a marathoner, hold most dear in my life, that inchoate jumble of pride, suffering, triumph, exhaustion and exhilaration that comes in the last mile of a marathon.  That place is sacred to me.  It is in that last mile that I have experienced one of the most transformative moments of my life, the moment at which I ceased to see myself as a puddle of a human being, a mess of weakness and flaw, and instead began to regard myself as something much more powerful, as someone who could tackle damn near anything and find a way to come out on top

Strength, resilience, courage: that’s what the final mile of a marathon means to me.

The marathon – the 26.2 miles between the start and the finish lines – offers us who run it a safe space to test ourselves, to see if it is true, that we are made of stronger steel than we ever could have thought possible.  We are given a place to embark on this quest where we are supported by volunteers and cheering crowds and also the ghosts and memories of all those who have run before us.  But in Boston, that safe space was obliterated in the space of twenty seconds.

It makes me sick with anger and grief that some cowardly individuals, whatever their motivations, whoever they are, chose the final mile of the Boston Marathon as the place to play out their twisted little petty drama.  I take it as a deeply personal affront, not just as a human being, but as a marathoner.

I am choosing not to dwell on that, because in the midst of all the blood, smoke and terror, the reality is that the bombs could not annihilate the humanity that makes the final mile of the marathon so special.  Indeed, in the midst of the tragedy, the best of humanity could be seen everywhere: in the first responders and spectators who ran toward the explosions to help, in those who helped pull people to safety with little regard for their own safety, in the medical staff who clicked into emergency gear with astonishing efficiency, in the thousands of Bostonians who offered their couches and beds to marathoners in need.   It was not difficult to do as Mr. Rogers suggested, to look for the helpers, because they were everywhere.

Certainly this will not bring back those who died.  Nor will it restore lost limbs or make people psychically whole again.  I, like everyone else, would have rather yesterday’s marathon been a peaceful, uneventful one, that the human dramas that played out be constrained to the artificial limits of the race course, that the worst injury a person could have expected was a lost toenail or a pulled IT band.  That is what should have happened, and what did not.

So instead, today I will think about the heroes of the Boston Marathon, not just the Kathrine Switzers and the Dick Beardsleys and the Alberto Salazars, but the Carlos Arredondos, the Joe Andruzzis, the countless first responders and medical professionals, the thousands of people who added their names to that Google spreadsheet, the runners who finished their marathon and kept on running to Mass General on legs that were most assuredly so tired they felt like marble, just so they could donate blood.  I will think about them whenever I feel despair, and I will not allow the courage and selflessness of thousands be overshadowed by the evil of a few.

The marathon may have been disrupted in a violent, gruesome way, but the spirit of the marathon lives on in the hearts of every Bostonian today.  I hope one day I will be fast enough and good enough so I can run the streets of Boston, and when I do so, it will be an homage to all of those who exhibited such magnificence in the midst of such horror.

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21 responses to “The spirit of the marathon lives on in Boston

  1. Well-said. As a runner, this attack really does feel personal, but I am comforted by the many acts of bravery and compassion I saw yesterday.

  2. Your thoughts on the final mile of a marathon are spot on. I cannot even imagine being in that crazy mental state and having to deal with things like bombs exploding and people fleeing. Really very scary.

    • RIGHT? I am always a total psychological mess by the time I make it to the finish line. To have that added to the chaos is just unimaginable to me.

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  6. Not even a runner, myself, I can’t tear my mind away from the coverage. I work on runners (none of whom ran Boston this year — which is unusual). My sweetheart’s *father* ran his first Boston just a few years ago. It’s like learning that someone tried to slaughter swans, or violinists, or the people who gather to marvel at them. No human flesh should be so assailed, but I think we can be forgiven for taking it personally.

    • “It’s like learning that someone tried to slaughter swans, or violinists, or the people who gather to marvel at them.”

      *sob*

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  8. Thanks Caitlin. I am a Bostonian, and it’s probably safe to say that everyone in Boston knows at least one person who is running the marathon every year, so you’re correct that it’s personal. It’s hitting us hard.

    But… I was out and about yesterday on my lunch time running route which goes across the river from Cambridge and then down the esplanade a few blocks from Boylston. It was a beautiful day and there were lots of marathoners walking around in their Boston Marathon jackets. I couldn’t help but think that as tragic as all of this is I don’t think it’s going to phase us much; the Boston Marathon will go on as planned next year, and the year after, and every year after that, and it will be just as great as ever. If not better.

    We Bostonians are a hearty bunch.

      • I hope so! The desire to make Boston happen is stronger in me than ever, and I was already pretty focused on it as it was.

        Also, I lived in Boston for a couple of years, and as much as I admired the city and its inhabitants, my Midwestern self always had a bit of difficulty with how stoic and taciturn many of the people I met were, and I never really felt like I fit in there. Now, ironically, it is those very qualities that are helping Bostonians kick so much ass in the wake of all this. It makes me love you guys and your city more than I ever thought possible.

        Oh I almost forgot – have you read this? http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/17/opinion/messing-with-the-wrong-city.html?_r=0

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  10. I have never been so obsessed with any tragic incident before. Boston was my home for the last 7 years. My friends worked right near the finish line of the Marathon and most had off of work to go see the race. I’ve never texted so frantically in my life.

    I still today don’t know how to react. I can’t even describe my feelings.

    While the marathon will go on, I have a hard time believing it will be exactly the same. Not that it won’t be wonderful but events like this do change things unfortunately.

    I HATE running as you know but for the first time ever want to do my first marathon next year in Boston.

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