I typically just use this blog for posting thoughts related to my work, but in the wake of the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, I’ve felt compelled to write on a more personal subject.
I’ve run Boston twice, and the events of earlier this week were deeply saddening to hear. Boston is like no other marathon that I’ve run (I’ve completed 10). Qualifying to run the race is hard. It’s something that many runners set as a major goal to achieve, and it was the same for me. With about a half mile to go in the 2006 Chicago marathon, I choked up and nearly cried when I knew that I was going to qualify.
I recall noticing while flying to Boston in 2007 for my first running of it that there was just an amazing, unique vibe to it, and amongst the fellow runners you meet. While settling in for our flight from DC to Boston, as fellow passengers discovered fellow runners, our excitement grew. First time runners were welcomed and congratulated. Returning runners were energized to be back. The same can be said for the locals and spectators. The towns, fans, even the race expo light up for this race like nowhere else. I had already celebrated having qualified, but I remember walking around before the race thinking “I am here, this is real, and this is awesome.” That weekend was made even more special because my wife, Heather, my parents, and my sister and her husband were there to watch, and Heather and I decided to use that weekend to share in person that we were expecting our first child. On top of that a good friend from college who had qualified with me in Chicago was also there to run his first Boston.
The race itself was great. The threatened nor’easter calmed down for the start of the race and I ran a great race and had a great time. Our celebration was muted though due to another tragic event. As we sat in a bar eating lunch and beginning our recovery, we watched as the massacre at Virginia Tech, our alma mater, unfolded. Although I didn’t experience it first hand, seeing my school, which had brought so much joy into my life (my wife, great lifelong friends, 4 wonderful years, and a solid education) the victim of such a horrible event brought great sadness and anger. I was sad that Virginia Tech, and more broadly Blacksburg, VA, which had always felt like a bit of an island, were so brutally attacked. I was angry that so many people’s first (and perhaps only) knowledge of the school was due to this event. Since then, Boston Marathon weekend has always brought back this combination of feelings. The joy and elation about the race, and the sadness of the anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre.
5 years, and lots of life transpired before I would return to run Boston again last year. I had two kids, had changed jobs, and graduated from business school, and so was mentally in a different place for the race. I went to business school while also working full time and starting a family, and running simply got crowded out. After graduating though, I needed to get back in shape (a classmate told me I had aged like a president) and in the back of my mind I wanted to qualify for Boston again if for no other reason than to assure myself that I hadn’t lost too much speed during my hiatus. In reality, I lost a step or two, but was still able to qualify, and went into the race happy to be back but thinking it could be my last Boston, at least for a while. I’d re-qualified and returned, so felt like I had accomplished what I needed to.
This past weekend, I thought of my many friends who were running or watching the race this year, and I put on one of my Boston Marathon t-shirts as a long-distance show of support for them. The weather was shaping up to be perfect running weather…I commented to Heather that it was a perfect day for a race.
After hearing of the bombings I went through a range of emotions. Shock. Concern for all of my friends in Boston (all were fine fortunately). Sadness. I cried when thinking of the 8 year old boy who died watching the race, and thought of the times we’ve brought our own kids to watch races. I had echoes of the feelings I felt during my first Boston when watching the Virginia Tech tragedy happen. Something dear to me was being robbed of its innocence.
For the past two days though, I’ve been thinking more and more about last year’s race. It was unseasonably warm; temperatures climbed above 90 degrees, making the hilly Boston course a hot, sweaty, dehydrating slog. But it made for a great day for spectators, the unknown masses who make those 26.2 miles go by just a bit quicker. What has stuck with me from that day though are the signs that were posted in each town. Full credit to Adidas for so perfectly tapping the essence of the best of marathons, the spectators, and especially Boston. As those who are familiar with the Boston Marathon know, the course is a point-to-point race that begins in Hopkinton, MA and travels through 6 other towns (Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, and Brookline) on the way to Boston.
Last year, as you entered into each town, you were greeted by a massive banner proclaiming the town’s support for the race, for the Boston Marathon, for you. One by one, they appeared to rise up.
Hopkinton is all in.
Ashland is all in.
Framingham is all in.
Natick is all in.
Wellesley is all in.
Newton is all in.
Brookline is all in.
Boston is all in.
They were simple, but powerful, drawing upon the poker phrase that says I am putting everything on the line for just this one thing. It felt a bit like a soldier volunteering to fight for something he believes in.
To me, the banners said, “You’re running the world’s greatest marathon. You’ve worked and struggled physically, mentally, emotionally to get here. You’ve laid it all out to make it to our town. And we’re here, to fully support the runners, the race, the history, you. Our town is all in.”
These banners carried me during that race. 26.2 miles is a long time, and there’s a lot of time and distance between each town, but they appeared and uplifted me.
But they’ve taken on a different, much bigger meaning since Monday’s attack. I remember them as larger than they probably were. They now seem to stand for pride, and community, and defiance, and redemption.
While I’ve read that some are mourning the lost feeling of innocence that the Boston Marathon has suffered, I’m feeling different. I know the race will come back, and and it will be stronger. More determined. Resilient.
These towns, and their residents, will be there, and they will cheer, and they will be loud. They will ensure that their history and their race will not displaced by the radical few. They will go all in.
And I want to be there. I ran Boston once to prove that I could. I ran it a second time to prove that I could come back. I felt content. But now, I want to go back. Not for me. Not because I feel I have anything to prove. I just want to go back. I want to go all in.
“Natick is all in” photo by natasciarmitage