Left the house this morning. Bells ringing filled the air. I was wearin’ the cross of my calling. On wheels of fire I come rollin’ down here.
This line from Bruce Springsteen’s post-9/11 anthem, The Rising, always makes me think of running. Whenever I hear it I imagine leaving at dawn to head to a race. The “cross of my calling” is my club singlet and race number. “On wheels of fire,” I come rolling down to the finish line.
Sometimes, even when you wish it wouldn’t, life just goes ahead and closes the circle.
I wanted to share two thoughts about the Boston Marathon.
The very last moment.
The day for me began early much like it did for those running the race. A group of friends left town at 6am to head to Hopkinton and volunteer at the race start. As a “Corral Monitor” my job was to make sure that no one moved forward in the starting order into a corral that had not earned the right to start in. In reality, we had no issues with corral jumpers. I spent the morning spotting runners that were a corral too far back and letting them know that they could move up if they wanted. After the race started we headed to Newton, to the race’s 30K mark. This is where my running club gathers annually to cheer on and support our team mates in the race. My club is an incredibly diverse group of runners. Our fastest on Monday was less than 2 hours and 40 minutes. The slowest would have finished in well over 6 hours. Those who are not running enjoy being out there and cheering on each and every last runner. This year that runner was Urvi. Urvi was battling an injury and, we knew from the earlier checkpoints, lagging behind quite a bit. I think everyone was excited the see her come by and give that boost of energy that you can only get from such a large group of people cheering just for you. As we waited, someone received a phone call. The initial details were vague and confusing. Words with no context: explosion, bomb, finish line. At regular intervals someone else was sucked into the conversation and said “Wait. What?” The smartphones came out and several sources seemed to corroborate: something had happened. Then Urvi arrived. Suddenly it was all forgotten. Urvi came up the road, clearly in pain and having a rough day. We all cheered as hard as we could. She even managed a smile and a wave as she passed. What came next was slow motion and surreal confusion. Trying to account for all of our friends in the race. Checking in with family and out of town friends that we were OK. Fighting back tears. (Urvi only made it a few hundred more yards before it was clear that the race was over and she stopped and came back). What I keep holding on to is that one last moment. After we knew something wasn’t right but before it became clear just how wrong it was. In that space in between we got one last chance to do what we all came for. We cheered for Urvi.
All the moments after.
It is difficult for me to understand myself, much less enunciate, how personal this is for me. On Monday night, Remlee said that it was a relief to know that all my friends and team mates were OK (She likes to call them “my people”). I admit that it is. The feeling of not knowing, in situations like this, if anyone that you care for is directly involved is excruciating. The feeling when that weight is lifted is undeniable. On the other hand, These are all my people. I have not yet run Boston and I am an out-of-town transplant of not even 8 years yet. But this still my race. All of the people that cross that finish line and all of the people that come down to cheer them on: I’ve never met most of them but I know them. They are my friends. Some of you will understand that, some won’t. I can’t explain it any better.
If you’re trying to defeat the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong group to target.
I always hate to be the one to repeat the common line but the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize. I saw this on quote on Facebook earlier and I was certain that it wouldn’t work. Not this time. You simply can not instill a lasting fear in a group of people who have made a hobby out of seeking out pain and fear and overcoming it. People who leave home so many days in the dark, the rain. the cold, the snow, or the heat just so they can push their minds and bodies to the limit for the chance to come back home and do it again the next day. People who sit in bathtubs full of ice so that they can feel better. People who accept blisters, bleeding nipples, pulled muscles, stress fractures, and all sorts of other discomfort as a way of life and a price worth paying to do what they love. People who put themselves through all of this just for the chance to participate in a sport that they know they have absolutely no chance of ever winning. Runners are only human. Like everyone else we are only too easy to kill for someone whose goal is killing. But to terrorize? Not even close. Battling fear, pain, and the ultimate fragility of our bodies is what we do. You can not break us that easily. We go out every day and and try to break ourselves for fun.
Now that the fog has lifted a little, my friends are accounted for, and I’ve reminded myself to keep letting the people that I care about know it, I am ready to say this:
I don’t know who you are, why you did this, or what you hoped to accomplish. I do know what I am going to do next: 6x1600m @ threshold pace with a 1 minute rest. Go ahead and let me know if that is not what you had in mind.