If you had asked me two weeks ago why I was running the 2014 Boston Marathon, I probably would have stuttered through an answer that included a lot of ‘ummms’ and ‘hmmms’. A couple of days ago it hit me like a run-away freight-train: I’m running — we’re all running — because it matters that we are there.
I admit it openly: I’m horribly out of shape at the moment, having been broad-sided by four months of jet lag and international travel that disrupted my training. I’m not in shape to race, but like many I had signed up to run this year’s Boston Marathon because it felt important to do so. I have run Boston before and I didn’t particularly need to go back. I was urged on to qualify and register by some higher duty.
I was shocked and outraged that terrorists had detonated bombs at the 2013 Boston Marathon. We runners were even more hurt than most communities, because it touched so close to home. (Although the City of Boston was hurt immeasurably more and we should never forget that.) Running events are peaceful, non-political, and above-all supposed to be fun both for competitors and spectators.
It was a substantial weight that settled on my shoulders in the days after Boston 2013 that many people who had nothing to do with sport — people who had just come out to cheer and support the runners — had become the targets of terrorists. People had died simply for trying to wish our community well. I hurt for them. I still hurt for them when I think about it.
Over the course of the last year, I have thanked many, many spectators along race routes. I have always thanked course volunteers and police, but this year I added “thanks for being here” to the many people lining the roads where I raced. It became even more important for me to acknowledge their support, because they represented that risk that I now sensed in a post-Boston world. Perhaps they didn’t make the connection, but I did.
The weight that I felt also included a sense of mourning for those who lost family while cheering them on. I tried to picture myself learning of the death of a loved-one after finishing a race who had been their watching me. It made my racing feel horribly small. I couldn’t stand the thought that someone would trade-off their life to support me in my hobby, even if they hadn’t done it knowingly.
As the months passed, we felt some healing of these wounds. It was in this time that I think I forgot what Boston 2014 should be all about. I fell into my pattern of thinking about my own performance and my own goals. As a competitor that’s what I’m trained to do. But the big picture emerged like the sunrise last week. This one is about saying thank you. It’s about telling the world that we understand the risk that they take on to cheer us on. Boston 2014 is about running to show that it matters.
When I toe the starting line on Monday I will have left my watch at home. My mission will be simple: show up, thank as many people as possible and show the world that we see them there. I’m not going to give another thought to my own time or performance, because that doesn’t matter this year. Boston 2014 is our way of together acknowledging that we understand what happened and that see that what we do is not made smaller by the acts of terrorists. This one is about family, community and world. This one is for the people that didn’t come home, or were injured, after simply cheering us on.
And with that I will say my first thank you. THANK YOU.
Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
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