Sunday, April 21, 2013
Six weeks ago, I received my official Boston Marathon "Runner Passport," complete with my race number. I registered for 2013 edition of the world's oldest annual marathon last September, at the time thinking I would run. I had qualified for the fourth year in a row, and you can never be sure if or when you'll qualify again, so I thought I should take advantage of it.
But as fall turned into winter, I realized that I was burned out on running marathons, and I decided to skip Boston '13. I needed a break--I had run 10 marathons since I took up the sport in 2007, and I had run five in the previous 14 months. To say I was lacking motivation would be a huge understatement. To keep myself in some kind of running shape, I ran a couple of days each week, but nothing long, and all of it unstructured. After six straight years of constantly being on a training program, I started running only when I felt like it, and always without a watch--and I was so unmotivated to run, it was hard to even do that.
But when I got my race packet in the mail in March, I was hit by a huge wave of desire. Just seeing my bib number--7496--and reading the runner's race bible, I got all fired up to run Boston again. I planned a four week crash-training program, and was ready to go to Beantown on limited training, just to keep my modest streak (I had run the last three) alive. I wanted to again be a part of the greatest race in the world.
My enthusiasm was short-lived, however, as later that week my plan was snuffed out. At work, we weren't sure if we were going to be able to pull off our "Musers Tour of Texas" road trip due to a number of logistical issues. But near the end of March, we got word that our trip was all-systems go, and we would be departing Dallas on April 15th, the morning of the running of the 117th Boston Marathon. Oh well, maybe next year, I thought. I wasn't properly trained anyway, so it probably would have been ugly. It was just as well that I couldn't go.
I had no idea how lucky I was that work had interfered with play.
During day one of our road trip, we stopped in Dublin, TX. We were touring the quaint Ben Hogan Museum, when Gordon got a news alert on his phone. He interrupted our tour guide by delivering the chilling line "there have been two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon." My heart stopped for a second, and I got sick to my stomach. I first thought about how close I came to running this year--thank God I was in a small town in Central Texas instead. Then I immediately thought about all of my friends that were running Boston. My stomach got a little worse. I tried to do the math, wondering about each one of them, hoping that they had finished ahead of the blasts, or hoping that they were still out on course negotiating the Newton Hills.
Right away, I called my friend Matt, whose wife Melissa was running her first Boston. He said they were fine, but that they had been at the exact site of the explosions five minutes before the bombs went off. He was waiting for his wife at the finish line, holding their two year old daughter and standing with his brother and sister-in-law. If Melissa had been five minutes slower...
One by one, I called and texted everyone I could think of who was running Boston that day. One by one, I got good news in return. After a while, only one of my friends was unaccounted for, and he remained so for several hours. Finally, his son called me tell me that pops was OK--what a relief.
Then I thought back to last year, and my wife's attempt to qualify for Boston. She missed by just a few minutes--at the time we were both disappointed, but in hindsight, that miss may have turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to either of us. Had she qualified, she certainly would have run this year, and I certainly would have gone to support her. I've gone to watch her in other marathons before, and I like to jump all over the course and see her as many times as I can. Knowing myself, I would have certainly tried to be right at the finish to see her cross the line. I would have positioned myself on the west side of the street, where the bombs went off, because it's less congested than the east side. It's very possible that she would have been finishing right around the time of the blasts. It's possible that I would have been standing right where those monsters placed those backpacks.
The finish line. That familiar blue and yellow paint job on Boylston Street is perhaps the most iconic spot in the running world. Every runner dreams of qualifying for Boston, and every runner dreams of crossing that line. For many, that moment, that spot, is the fulfillment of a life-long ambition. I've experienced such joy at that finish line, from my own when I completed my first Boston in 2010, to the tears of joy streaming down the cheeks of strangers around me as they embraced their loved ones. To see that finish line splattered with blood and shrapnel didn't make any sense.
The finish line at Boston is a symbol of human sacrifice and achievement. It's crowded with family and friends of runners, waiting to share the moment--family and friends who understand the sacrifice and achievement. It's crowded with volunteers who spend 10 hours standing there, putting medals around the necks and blankets around the shoulders of weary finishers--volunteers who understand the sacrifice and the achievement. Family, friends, and volunteers who suddenly found themselves targeted by two brothers who thought that mass-murder was somehow their calling.
After watching the moving images from Boston last week, from the heroic efforts at the finish line of those helping to save lives, to the incredibly moving singing of the National Anthem at the Bruins game, it's made me want to be a part of that great race again. One of the many wonderful things about the endurance sports community is the sense of charity and comradery within its ranks. Untold millions (maybe billions?) have been raised by runners and cyclists and swimmers to help a myriad of charitable causes. The running world has pledged to help the victims of the bombings, and pledged to make next year's 118th running of Boston a statement event.
Patriots' Day in Boston is a true celebration of this country. 25,000 run the marathon, another million cheer from the roadside, another million cram the local bars and parks, and it seems like another million cram Fenway for the annual Red Sox day game. It's a special day to be a part of. But to race again, I'll have to qualify again, which is part of the beauty of the Boston Marathon. And next year's race promises to be the most beautiful of them all. So, excuse me while I go for a run. Lack of motivation is no longer a problem.