When news broke last Monday of the Boston Marthon bombings, my initial thoughts centered around a core theme: ‘Why would anyone specifically want to target runners?’
In the wake of last November’s ING New York City Marathon cancelation, runners were branded by some media outlets as selfish and short-sighted and out of touch, but in my experience, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, we spend an unnatural amount of time thinking about ourselves – about our gaits, about our nutrition, about our injuries – but we also fundraise for research and race for charities and volunteer at packet pick-ups and water stations and finish lines, keeping us intimately involved in both our local neighborhoods and our larger communities.
To be fair, every group features its fair share of braggarts and bad sports, and the running community is no different. But in my two-year tenure as a member of the pack, the vast majority of runners I’ve met are friendly, passionate and engaged individuals. Runners by nature must be disciplined and focused yet appreciative and flexible, and as a result, I think it’s no coincidence that some of the nicest people I know wake up early every morning to lace up, stretch out and pound the pavement.
My reaction to Monday’s events was raw and multifaceted and complicated – I was sad, I was angry, I was frightened, I was shocked – but above all, I was confused: why would the Tsarnaev brothers allegedly look to target a group as positive and good natured as runners?
But as more details trickled in and the 24-hour news cycle began subbing misinformation with facts, it became painstakingly clear that the bombing suspects hadn’t been specifically targeting runners after all. They were seeking mass collateral damage. They were targeting spectators.
Five days out, news reports are still murky at best, but consensus reporting seems to suggest friends and family waiting at the finish line bore the brunt of the casualties on Marathon Monday. Indeed, it appears it was not runners themselves – but runners’ support systems – that suffered the worst physical impacts in Boston last week.
Suddenly, I’m not just angry. I’m furious.
As anyone who’s ever planned a weekend around a 20-mile long run knows, marathon training is only possible with the unwavering support of one’s family and friends. How many times have you made a friend plan a mealtime around your multi-hour workouts or had your parents meet you at the finish line so you could skip the crowded subway or suggested your boyfriend forgo a Friday night on the town to stay in and eat pre-race pasta with you instead? And let’s not forget those friends and family who wake up alongside us before the sun, bundle up, and make their way all the way to the race course just to momentarily wave a sign or shout a word of encouragement as we registered runners sprint past. Sure, they might be rewarded with a sweaty hug or an invitation to brunch, but us runners undeniably get far more out of the deal: motivation, support and the promise of a familiar face in those final few miles when it would be easier to simply throw in the towel and step off the marathon race course unnoticed.
I’ve been fortunate to have support in the form of spectators at a number of my races, but none more so than at the Marine Corps Marathon in October. I knew my father, brother and a handful of cousins were planning to stake out spots somewhere between miles 16 and 18, and as a result, that stretch flew by as I scanned the crowd for their faces. I finally spotted them in front of the National Gallery – and again when they sprinted across the mall to catch me on the south side of the loop – but for all the excitement they instilled in me, what did they get? A 90-minute commute to Washington, three hours under chilly October cloud cover and thirty seconds of my sweaty face. And only I walked away with a medal. For all the encouragement and patience and support they offer us, spectators clearly get the short end of the stick.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way trying to suggest the injured marathoners now being treated in Massachusetts hospitals are any easier to come to grips with. They had worked so hard to qualify and train for the most elite marathon out there – Boston – and everyone wearing a bib that day – from the front runners to the injured to those unable to finish – will undoubtedly bear heinous physical or emotional scars from that day forward.
But many of the runners – both those in intensive care and those fortunate enough to walk away unscathed – would not have been able to compete in the first place had they not had the support of their husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends and partners and friends and children during 20 weeks of training and along the race course itself.
It’s for that reason that the hundreds of spectator casualties recorded in Boston are so difficult to come to grips with. We as marthoners are only able to do what we do because of those standing behind us – or more accurately, alongside us – every mile of the way.
So I’d like to use this space today to thank those of you who have come out in the past to support the runners in your life – be it me or someone close to you or perhaps a race full of strangers fortunate enough to have you in the crowd. We couldn’t train or race without you, and as we all begin to heal from Monday’s tragic events, I apologize in advance: I fear we are going to lean on you more than ever.
At the same time, know that when you sign up for your first race, I’ll be waiting at the finish line to welcome you home. Cheering on friends is one of life’s great pleasures, and no one is going to take that away from us.
How has your support group been instrumental in your training?