Posted by: Joe English | April 15, 2013

Commentary – Lost Dreams at the Boston Marathon

running-advice-bugI realize tonight that as something of a thought leader in the world of running, I’m expected to say something about today’s tragic events at the 2013 Boston Marathon. It’s hard to find a place to start writing about something that left me absolutely speechless. I’ve seen the video of the bombing over and over again. I finally had to turn it off. As the evening draws to a close, I wish to share with you some of my thoughts on this horrible day for the running community.

First, this is a day of lost dreams. Foremost among them for those that were killed or injured, but for thousands of runners this was “their” Boston Marathon experience and that experience will forever be marred. As my friend Steve Harper once told me, Boston is unique in that it is the one time that regular people can compete in an athletic event on par with the Olympics or the World Series. It’s the chance for the mere mortals among us to walk onto a world stage and be welcomed as conquering heroes. Only a handful of people will play in the World Series, but if you work hard enough and keep trying, Steve told me, you can go to Boston. This is the dream. Today, those that worked so hard to get there have had their dream stolen from them.

Second, I have stood on that finish line in Boston. I have photographed it. I know what it feels like, looks like and even smells like. It is surreal for me to watch the bombs exploding just a few yards shy of the end of the race. Whether we realize it or not, the finish line of the Boston Marathon is an enduring historical landmark. In its 117th running, the Boston Marathon is one of the more enduring sporting events in America. Countless thousands have crossed that line and countless more have stood by to cheer on their friends, loved ones or colleagues as they finish their race. That landmark is now forever changed. It is stained with the blood of those that were in the stands today. We can never look at it in the same way again.

With that said, the timing of the bombing tells us something about the motives of the attackers. The race clock showed 4:09:50 on it when the first bomb went off. For the greatest media spectacle, the bomb would have needed to have gone off two hours earlier when the race was being covered live around the world and the winners were finishing. (The winning time this year was just over 2:10:00). From the timing, we could suppose that this attack was directed at the spectators and the middle of the pack runners.

Third, the feeling in the final mile of a marathon is something that I have on my mind tonight. After running for such a long time, the body finally goes through this amazing and joyful release. It is a letting go of the pain and doubt when the runner realizes that they are indeed going to finish the race. This happens to runners at every level and it is something different from what you may think of as the “Runners High.” It is a moment of euphoric mental fist-pumping that every runner does when they’ve “made it.” My heart sinks to think of those runners today making the turn onto Boylston Street or being diverted or hearing the news from spectators. Those hundreds or thousands of runners that hadn’t yet finished must have felt such despair and confusion. They didn’t reach that release point and tonight I pray that they are not forever stuck in a terrible state of limbo between where they were going and where they ended up. Embroiled in a news story that they didn’t ask to become a part of rather than having their moment of triumph.

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