|April 17, 2013||Posted by Emily under Uncategorized|
I was supposed to be in Boston on Monday. Cheering at the finish of the marathon for friends, with friends. But chaos at work on top of several other running trips in the next few months forced me to cancel my trip at the last minute.
This would have been my first year as a spectator at the race. I’ve run the Boston Marathon twice before. Until last week I would have told you that I’d probably run it again. Now I know that I definitely will.
I’ve kissed that finish line. I’ve stumbled across it, overcome with the fatigue and joy that only the challenge of the course and the support from the city can deliver. I’ve hugged family and friends at the very spot the bombs went off. The images on the news are horrifically real to me because that scene, on a much more peaceful day, has been my reality.
But not once over the last 36 hours have I thought what if that was me. I don’t feel fortunate that I wasn’t there. And I won’t be scared to toe another start line or to cross another finish. That I’ll be doing both of these things is as certain as the fact that I’ll be on a bus back to Hopkinton next year.
But I can’t stop thinking about the number of friends I had in Boston-so many that it was terrifying in the wake of the bombs because I had trouble remembering everyone I needed to check in on. And I can’t stop thinking about the loved ones who have been waiting for me at the finish every year that I’ve turned the corner and run into Copley Square. These are the what ifs that have haunted me since I saw the news on Monday afternoon. These are the what ifs that make me so angry and so sad and so hopeful that justice will be served to the person or people who attacked my friends and my family.
My heart is so heavy for the victims that did not escape this senseless act of violence. I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of people who have reached out to me and my family to make sure I’m okay. I haven’t known how to answer their calls and texts, because while I’m physically fine and wasn’t even in Boston, I am most definitely not okay. Several people are hurt, critically injured and dead, and they’re all runners and the people who took time off from work, traveled great distances, and stood for hours yesterday to selflessly support our community and the people they love.
One of my friends asked why I seem so much more affected by this than our other friends in DC. “I can’t stop thinking about horrible this is,” she said, “but the way you’re reacting seems like someone attacked your friends and family.”
The reason that I haven’t been able to control my emotions since Monday is because someone did attack my friends and family. And even though I am grateful that everyone I know personally is safe and survived that attack, it makes me sick that they were attacked. And the victims, who I’ve never met and don’t know the names of, seem like friends and family because they are part of our incredible community. This tragedy feels so personal but so global because Boston is an event that touches everyone. No matter how far away you live from the city, I bet you knew someone at the marathon. And even if you fall into the large camp of people who can’t tell you if there is a marathon in their hometown, I bet you know about Boston.
It’s not an accident that we so often shorten the name of this race to simply “Boston”, because this event is as much about the city and the people who pour out to celebrate the marathon as it is about the race and the runners.
A number that I can’t get out of my head this week: 500,000.
500,000 is the number of people who swarm to the sidelines every Marathon Monday to lose their voices and clap their hands raw cheering on a bunch of strangers as we run from Hopkinton to Boston. Boston is not special because the 26.2 miles into the city are so spectacularly beautiful. Or because the aid stations are so well stocked. It is an unbeatable, unforgettable, must-run marathon because of the 500,000 people who line our 26.2 mile journey into the city. Ask anyone who has ever run Boston to tell you about the marathon, and they will answer with stories about the people. And what gets me the most and absolutely crushes my soul, is that these spectators were the targets. Spectators like my mom and brother and best childhood friend, who woke up when I woke up to get on a bus to the start, and took turns running into a coffee shop to stay warm, so they could have a front row spot when I crossed my first Boston finish line nine and a half hours later. Spectators like my dad, who drove 16 hours in one day to watch me run for 30 seconds to complete my first 50 miler. Runners can be selfish with the amount of training and racing we demand to run. But the people who are on the sidelines and waiting at the finish, are there for no other reason than because they love us. There are no words that convey how fucked up it is that someone would intentionally hurt these people.
The last time a national tragedy hit so close to home was when Gabby Giffords was shot. At the time, I was working for a Congressman and frequently traveled with him to the type of events in his district that were similar to the scene of the tragedy in Tucson. Hearing the news about the Congresswoman devastated everyone who worked on the Hill, whether or not we knew Gabby and her staff. These were our people, our family, and all of a sudden our world was shattered and everything felt much more unsafe.
But at the risk of sounding callous, as tragic as that was, the fact that it happened was not shocking. It was horrific. And terrible. But we expect that these unforgiveable acts of violence will be driven by politics and ideology and religion because we see it happening across the world every day.
We don’t yet know why this attack happened. But at face value, this tragedy is so shocking and so disturbing because it was a senseless attack on an event that is not inherently divisive. The beauty of our sport is that it is one of positivity, strength, perseverance and shared accomplishment. Running offers something different to everyone but it is always something that is fueled by good. People use miles to achieve goals they once thought impossible, to reach personal bests, for good health, to help overcome or cope with life-threatening illness, to celebrate the lives of loved ones lost, to raise funds for countless charities close to their hearts, or for the pure joy of spending time with friends who also love lacing up and hitting the road. Running is a sport where competitors are friends and respect one another. Just think about one of the many beautiful moments that got muffled by this tragedy: when Kara Goucher crossed the finish and immediately asked “how did Shalane do?” No one has an enemy in a marathon. Just like everyone in every remote corner of the globe knows someone who was in Boston, everyone knows someone who has become a better person because of running, and that is why so many people are on the sidelines to cheer us on.
One of the things that’s made coping with this so hard is that I feel completely helpless. I want to do something, other than continuing to be sad and angry and grieve for Boston. The only things I can think of that even begin to honor the people hurt by this tragedy, are to spread the good of this sport, to find ways to be as generous and selfless and loving as the spectators who come to race after race for us, and to show up in Boston next year.
So much love and so many hugs to Boston and to our entire running community.