-- Marathon Running Information, Coaching and Advice from Coach Joe English

Commentary – Lost Dreams at the Boston Marathon

running-advice-bugI realize tonight that as something of a thought leader in the world of running, I’m expected to say something about today’s tragic events at the 2013 Boston Marathon. It’s hard to find a place to start writing about something that left me absolutely speechless. I’ve seen the video of the bombing over and over again. I finally had to turn it off. As the evening draws to a close, I wish to share with you some of my thoughts on this horrible day for the running community.

First, this is a day of lost dreams. Foremost among them for those that were killed or injured, but for thousands of runners this was “their” Boston Marathon experience and that experience will forever be marred. As my friend Steve Harper once told me, Boston is unique in that it is the one time that regular people can compete in an athletic event on par with the Olympics or the World Series. It’s the chance for the mere mortals among us to walk onto a world stage and be welcomed as conquering heroes. Only a handful of people will play in the World Series, but if you work hard enough and keep trying, Steve told me, you can go to Boston. This is the dream. Today, those that worked so hard to get there have had their dream stolen from them.

Second, I have stood on that finish line in Boston. I have photographed it. I know what it feels like, looks like and even smells like. It is surreal for me to watch the bombs exploding just a few yards shy of the end of the race. Whether we realize it or not, the finish line of the Boston Marathon is an enduring historical landmark. In its 117th running, the Boston Marathon is one of the more enduring sporting events in America. Countless thousands have crossed that line and countless more have stood by to cheer on their friends, loved ones or colleagues as they finish their race. That landmark is now forever changed. It is stained with the blood of those that were in the stands today. We can never look at it in the same way again.

With that said, the timing of the bombing tells us something about the motives of the attackers. The race clock showed 4:09:50 on it when the first bomb went off. For the greatest media spectacle, the bomb would have needed to have gone off two hours earlier when the race was being covered live around the world and the winners were finishing. (The winning time this year was just over 2:10:00). From the timing, we could suppose that this attack was directed at the spectators and the middle of the pack runners.

Third, the feeling in the final mile of a marathon is something that I have on my mind tonight. After running for such a long time, the body finally goes through this amazing and joyful release. It is a letting go of the pain and doubt when the runner realizes that they are indeed going to finish the race. This happens to runners at every level and it is something different from what you may think of as the “Runners High.” It is a moment of euphoric mental fist-pumping that every runner does when they’ve “made it.” My heart sinks to think of those runners today making the turn onto Boylston Street or being diverted or hearing the news from spectators. Those hundreds or thousands of runners that hadn’t yet finished must have felt such despair and confusion. They didn’t reach that release point and tonight I pray that they are not forever stuck in a terrible state of limbo between where they were going and where they ended up. Embroiled in a news story that they didn’t ask to become a part of rather than having their moment of triumph.

I could move to a place where I would fear for the future of our sport. It would be easy to imagine that today’s bombing could send runners fleeing away from the large city marathons, or worse that event organizers could flee in fear of this new risk that has been made all too real for us today. Endurance sports have been practiced on the roads, in public, for hundreds of years, back to the dawn of the marathon itself in ancient Greece. They are public spectacle. The thought of somehow withdrawing them from the public view, perhaps into stadiums or within protected parks, would be to deny the historical place of these competitions and the role of the spectator to witness the greatness of the human struggle on display.

But I don’t live in that fear. Perhaps the most important lesson for me today was to be a witness to the tightly knit community that is the world of runners. I was on a plane at the time of the bombings and when I landed my phone had literally been filled with text messages and e-mails from people asking if I was safe. My large Facebook network of runners was filled with notes like this: “Phillipe is OK, he doesn’t have his phone but he is back at the hotel” and “Me and Chris are safe. We’re OK.” My friend Linda’s husband posted this: “Linda is on the Boston Marathon course still, but fine. She was a couple of miles from the bomb blasts. I was two blocks from the blasts and heard them and saw the smoke. Linda is being held at a Synagogue along the route until it OK for her group to proceed. She would like to thank all of you for your messages of concern.”

There were hundreds of comments back to many of them. I wrote on one a sentiment that is on my mind right now as I write this: “thank God you are safe.”

The running community is strong and will go on. Runners are in many ways defined by their running. We are connected by a desire to feel that euphoric mental fist-bump that we get when we finish a marathon. Once experienced that is something that we crave and we hope to share. No runner will ever forget April 15th, 2013. My hope is that no runner is deterred by it. We must carry on our journey.

Forever forward. Forever forward.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Managing Editor and Head Coach
Running Advice and News


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