Sunday, April 21, 2013

Run On

Life often provides painful juxtapositions. However you chose to label the events of April 15, the bombing of the finish line of the Boston Marathon defy the adjectives for which we grope in an attempt to articulate how deeply these events touch our psyche. Horrific. Terrible. Horrible. Tragic. Painful. Do any of these fully grasp the feeling?

Over 27000 people, brought together for the love of one of the most simplistic and innocent athletic activities, were attacked with selfishness and pain. I was saddened by the loss of life, and by the wanton destruction of body and peace of mind: many injuries resulted in amputations of lower limbs. Runners were targeted body and mind, as were the spectators there for the sole purpose of cheering on loved ones.

I'm a runner. I have never participated in a serious run like that of the Boston Marathon, where the best of the best compete, but I frequent 5K, 10K, and occasionally a 20K (this will be my second time participating in the Emperor's Challenge). The best I can do to describe how I felt when hearing of these events was simultaneously ill and angry because I know some of the motivation of a Runner, and the experience of a group run.

Runners and their support teams are a unique subculture of sport. Running is both a singular and group activity. The Runner competes against not primarily against another runner (although trying to keep pace with someone ahead of you on the trail can be a great motivator when your brain tells you to throw in the towel), but against him or herself. There is little "us" versus "them".

Runners are also one large team: while every runner strives to meet and beat their own records, the collective group of runners support one another. They will run in small packs to motivate each other. There is little pushing, shoving, tripping, body checking, or other such "Me First" actions (although sometimes this happens by accident). If someone gets hurt, invariably another runner will stop and lend assistance. Runners who finish their race hang around until the bitter end, cheering on those that finish behind them. On my first 20K, the last kilometer nearly did me in. All I wanted to do was walk. A fellow runner ran up next to me, cheering me on the rest of the way, offering to take my water or jacket to make my finish easier. This man had already run his own gauntlet, yet was willing to give a little more of himself to motivate a fellow participant to finish strong.

This doesn't even begin to cover the selflessness of the volunteers, race coordinators, medical personnel, and support teams for runners, all who are key to the success of any race. They clear and mark routes. They pass out water and jelly beans. And most importantly, they cheer. They cheer everyone. Even if they are there because of a specific person, they cheer for those that share the race with their loved one. To hear that a race was targeted that embodies, for me, one of the best attributes of personal human achievement and collective camaraderie, saddened me.

Targeting a marathon did nothing to destroy the spirit of the Run. People at the finish line rushed to offer immediate assistance, despite not knowing if there were more immediate dangers. Runners, on crossing the finish line and seeing the chaos, literally ran the extra mile to the nearest hospital to donate blood. Even through the turmoil and terror, people were there for one another. The worst of humanity was countered with the best.

Runners are honoring their targeted comrades the best way they can. They are relentlessly continuing the spirit of the Run. They are running. The Colonial Lake Downtown memorial run. The memorial run in Toronto. The memorial run in San Diego. People are gathering in the same spirit of all running events, and this spirit is nothing but positive. This is healing, body and soul.

Stay strong, and run on.


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