As shocking as the Boston Marathon bombings are to the general population they are even more of a sucker punch to the gut for those of us who are runners and especially those of us who have completed marathons.
The finish line of a marathon is already a powerful and emotional experience. For the average person, training for a 26.2 mile race involves a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Getting up at 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning to get that 20 mile run in on already tired legs before it gets too hot or getting up at 4:00 a.m. on a Wednesday to get in that 12 mile run before work. Then having to go to work or mow the lawn or deal with your crazy dogs who now need their exercise and meet all of life's other demands and you're tired. So tired, all the time. You end up cutting out a lot of other activities because over time the training wears you down. You become obsessed with your nutrition and your gear and the weather. But you've set your goal and you know that after all your hard work that finish line and amazing sense of accomplishment are waiting for you.
This is me and my friend on April 24, 1983 finishing our first marathon, the now defunct Lake County Heart Marathon that went from Zion to Highland Park/Ravinia in the the northern suburbs of Chicago. I was 18 years old and running a marathon was not so common as it is now. I felt like if I could do this, I could do anything.
30 years later I can still feel the mix of physical and mental fatigue and joy and anticipation as I approached the finish line of my first marathon. I even remember encouraging another runner on just a mile or two from the finish as she made noises about giving up. And then the incredible feeling of accomplishment and exhaustion and relief and happiness when I crossed that finish line. The emotions you feel at the sight of the finish line of a marathon are something you have to experience first hand to understand completely.
And for many, the Boston Marathon is even more of an emotional event. It's not easy to qualify for Boston. It can take many years of hard training to qualify and some never do despite the hard work. Boston was never one of my goals but for many people I know it's a powerful, intense, life changing event. The finish line there is particularly notorious for its incredible celebratory atmosphere. I find the idea of being greeted by a bomb at the finish line of this or any marathon incomprehensible. How those runners at the finish line of Boston found room for the emotions of a bomb going off and the horrible aftermath in addition to all the other emotions and exhaustion they were already feeling is even more incomprehensible.
Marathon running has grown in popularity over the years but it's still a fringe sport. Most people don't even know Boston is being run until they see it on the evening news. Heck, I didn't even realize it was going on until the NPR program I was listening to was interrupted by news of the bombing. In hindsight I can see how it's a perfect target in so many ways but before yesterday I never in a million years would have expected a marathon to be a terrorism target. How dare the real world intrude on our little community. And perhaps even worse, on the supporters of our little community because the spectators bore the brunt of the blasts and suffered the worst of the injuries. I can't fathom how it must feel as a runner to have such a hard earned accomplishment paired with the death or severe injury of a loved one who had selflessly come to support me.
Finish lines should be about joy and accomplishment and the wonderful feeling of exhaustion from a goal well met. Don't let the terrorists take away your finish line.
Edinburgh Marathon (Scotland), June 2004