Yesterday was Patriots’ Day, a holiday celebrated in Massachusetts and Maine (formerly part of Massachusetts) to commemorate the Battle of Lexington and Concord which occurred on April 19, 1775, and was the first battle of the Revolutionary War. It has an infamous attachment to its name now, as yesterday’s explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon have been declared the “Patriots’ Day Bombings.” Most of the country had no idea before yesterday that it was Patriots’ Day (I know I didn’t), or that it was the day of the Boston Marathon (for some reason, I had always assumed it was run on a Sunday but knew it was this weekend.) I consider myself a runner with only one marathon under my belt, and I know others who maybe log 2-3 miles at a time who call themselves runners. It doesn’t matter how far you go – just so long as you’re out there: day in and day out; early and late; sun, rain, wind, or snow; uphill and down – in my book, you’re a runner for taking the time and making the effort to just run.
I read a great post “What it Means to be a Runner” which nearly encapsulates my thoughts about yesterday, and I feel like I’ve been grasping since hearing about this for the words to say. I can’t just post a recipe and pretend that nothing happened. On the other hand, I know that no one directly affected by this tragedy is ever going to read my words, so it really is just for myself that I want to express a bit of my mind today before moving on to something a bit gentler in the form of some comfort food tomorrow. (By the way, here’s a GREAT article about the restaurants in Boston which have been so giving of their food, seats, electricity, water, and wi-fi since the bombings: Boston Eateries Show the Real Meaning of Comfort Food.)
Mainly I’ve been pondering the sport of running, and how interconnected all runners seem to feel. I remember when I first started playing the bagpipes, how amazed I was to discover an entire WORLD of piping in which people still won gold medals as adults and spent careers just playing the bagpipes. I guess no one is surprised to hear that a violinist can earn a living by playing with a symphony, teaching lessons, and picking up gigs on the side. But bagpipes? There’s this whole clan of people out there breathing and eating the bagpipes, who wake up and go to sleep singing tunes in their heads (“tunes,” people, not “songs” — took me a few years before pipers stopped making fun of me for accidentally calling them “songs.”) It’s the same way with running – there’s an underground tribe of folks who love, and live for, running. Until the 1970s, not many people just ran for the fun of it, and the fitness cat had yet to be let out of the bag. People were running road races all over
the world, but the non-runners didn’t really notice. Big city marathons were scarce and small (the Boston Marathon didn’t even award cash prizes until 1986), much less, marathons for which people would dish out money for huge entry fees, plane tickets, and hotels. Fast forward a bit, and it’s as if “everyone” is running 5Ks and 10Ks, half-marathons have burst onto the scene as the most popular race distance, and marathons appear to be more within the average runner’s reach. Running seems to be everywhere lately. I used to mock runners as they apparently struggled up the Ford Island Bridge near my home in Hawaii thinking, “Why would anyone willingly suffer like that?” A few years later, I, too, had been bitten by the running bug.
So perhaps you’re one who doesn’t run. Or you don’t live in Boston. The Boston Marathon wasn’t on your radar because you hadn’t pored over the recent issue of Runner’s World chock full of Boston Marathon features getting everyone all pumped up for the big day. Then something explodes, and the first thought you have is, “Why the Boston Marathon? What’s the significance?” My guess, if this was indeed a foreign terrorist’s act, was that it was Patriot’s Day – and the biggest crowds on Patriot’s Day will be in Boston at the Marathon (or at the Baseball stadium – but I am sure security is much tighter there, since locking down 26.2 miles when no threat is suspected is undoable.) As a runner, I really felt sick to my stomach when I heard the news, putting myself in the shoes of those at the finish, both the spectators cheering on loved ones and those striving for a personal record their first time at the Boston Marathon. Realistically, though, most people don’t run, they don’t love a runner, or running is something that literally never affects their daily lives. There’s an amazing feeling that came with finishing my first marathon, with seeing my family along the way (dragged along by my husband and my friend Christine through cold, rainy weather in Washington, DC), and with running together with tens of thousands of people doing it for a cause, doing it for a “PR”, doing it for a “BQ” time (a Boston Qualifying time), or just doing it because they know they can. I found this quote today which aptly describes the marathon experience: “Everything you ever wanted to know about yourself you can learn in 26.2 miles.”
If you’ve cheered someone through a marathon, you’ll understand this one, attributed to Kathrine Switzer (called the “Marathon Woman,” in 1967 Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to officially enter and run the event. From her website: “[Switzer’s] entry [into the Boston Marathon] created an uproar and worldwide notoriety when a race official tried to forcibly remove her from the competition.”):
“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”
There’s just something about that 26.2 miles that particularly inspires. And the Boston 26.2 is the pinnacle of the marathon race year; its screaming crowds of spectators are world-renowned, with the Red Sox game even starting just after 11am in order to enlist the support of baseball fans as the ballpark empties after the (assumed) win. I know this definitely leaves a scar on America, on Boston, on the Marathon, and on runners everywhere. Hopefully it will be one that reminds us of our strength, and brings new resolve and stamina to keep putting one foot in front of the other.