Why Endurance Runners Endure – A Reflection on Boston
It is 48 hours after I finished the 117th Boston Marathon. My legs still hurt, as is typical. As I stand to collect the lunch I ordered, I take note of how my muscles are mending. Do they hurt more today than yesterday? Kind of. My quads ache with each step. But not as much as when I sit down. Or walk down steps. These everyday actions serve as the most vivid reminders of what I did two days ago. Every marathoner is familiar with this ‘joyful pain’. I think we all have a love-love relationship with it.
Normally, the post-marathon aches put a smile on my face. Not because I enjoy pain, but rather, because they serve as a reminder of what I have recently accomplished. A personalized reminder designed specifically for me, that only I receive. But today–not so much. As I return to my table with my lunch, and slowly sit into my chair, my personal reminder tells me to be thankful. Thankful that not only could I complete a marathon on my legs just two days before, but that I will be able to again, and that they are, simply and rather morbidly, still there.
Waiting to Start
It is 51 hours earlier. One hour before the start of the 117th Boston Marathon. 27,000 plus runners are waiting in the athlete’s village in Hopkinton for the race to start. We are about to begin shuffling in to our starting corrals. It is silent. I hear no voices. No rustling of race bags. No slamming of porta-jon doors. No footsteps, or music, not even the sound of distant cars. None of the typical pre-race sounds. I hear only birds chirping in the early spring morning. It is just before 9:00 a.m. and the emcee has called for a moment of silence to remember the victims of the Sandy-Hook tragedy. An appropriate tribute, I think, at this race, and for the many Massachusetts runners that are here. I wonder how many. Do they make up the majority? Undoubtedly they do, I affirm.
When the silence breaks, the emcee continues his normal announcements while applause rises and falls from small pockets of the crowd. It feels odd to clap and cheer so I don’t. I think many others felt the same. The emcee calls out, for what seems like the 100th time, for runners to write an emergency contact on the back of their racing bibs. I contemplate it but decide not to as the ‘system’ has my emergency contact and I don’t have a pen.
Approaching the Finish Line
4 hours later. I am running down Boylston Street in the last stretch of the 117th Boston Marathon. The race clock reads 3:00:10. I am about 3 minutes behind gun time. I’m excited. I’m going to run a new personal record at the marathon of all marathons. Many runners dream and try many times over to make it to this event. I’m proud of my accomplishment, but haven’t earned it yet. I develop tunnel vision and push hard to kick out the last stretch. I see the blur of the crowd, but I don’t hear them. I am so focused on finishing, and stopping the pain, that I miss one of the best parts of any marathon– the finish line fans.
I fly across the finish line, dodge runners who stop abruptly, and push my way further into the finisher’s chute. I don’t like bottling up near the finish line. I know other runners are still giving their all to finish and will be right on my heels. I move on to give them room. I collect some water. And then I see the fans. They are pressed up against the metal dividers shouting, ringing bells, waving flags and congratulating people they don’t know.
A woman stands, beaming, behind three elementary aged children. They are the vision of innocence. I presume they are the woman’s children. They stand on the bottom bar of the divider, with one arm over the top to keep their balance. The other is stretched out as far as they can to give and receive high-fives. Their faces light up when I see them and smile at them. I walk over and give them high-fives. Their reaction leads me to believe they haven’t received any yet. I don’t know them, but I instantly love them. Their energy is invigorating and uplifting. I feel like I made them happy. I know they made me happy.
Endurance Runners Endure
It is 371 days later. I imagine I am sitting in athlete’s village at the 118th Boston Marathon. It is loud. Ear deafening loud. A moment of silence has just ended for the victims of the tragedy at the 117th Boston Marathon. Runners and volunteers from around the world cheer in celebration of resilience and defiance against threats to our community. A community full of people strong in mind, body and will. A community of people who volunteer to put their own bodies through pain and torture, week in, week out, day after day, for months or years in preparation to just be here.
And here we are and here we will continue to be. We stand, shoulder-to-shoulder, ready to take up and carry on a tradition that has existed longer than any of us have been alive. A tradition of personal triumph and community cohesion. A tradition that will not falter in the face of horrible, senseless acts. A tradition that will continue because more people and communities come together to keep it alive, than anything one individual or hate group can do to try and stop it.
We are endurance runners and their enduring supporters. Ain’t nothing gonna break our stride. Ain’t nothing gonna slow us down.