(a little rant I wrote on Wednesday about Boston)
Yesterday, looking at pictures of the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon made me cry. Today, it’s making me angry.
No matter how hard you train, no matter how experienced you are, no matter how many marathons you’ve run, the easiest a marathon ever gets is “really difficult.” On a bad day, it’s a long, painful, demoralizing nightmare.
For me, the attack on the Boston Marathon is a dark inversion of the attack on Newtown. We found that act of terrorism so horrifying because Adam Lanza attacked children — the nascent beginning of humanity with nearly infinite potential. The bombing of Boston is horrifying because someone attacked the complete opposite end of the spectrum — the human spirit at its furthest extension, humanity at its most hopeful and evolved, its acme.
A marathon is competition at its best, at once both a very scientific and a very primal contest. Beneath the finicky laboratory calculations of VO2 max and lactate threshold, beneath the calorie-rich superfuels that seem to have nothing in common with real food, beneath the futuristic and flashy footwear, a marathon is based on a concept we understand on a cellular level. The fundamental question is the same now as it was when we fled predators and pursued our prey on the open plains: Who can run the fastest?
Maybe I’m biased, but I think this first sport is also the best one. It’s the most democratic as it requires no license or dedicated field or club membership. It requires no special equipment, no trained pony or parachute. It requires no training– you just run and that’s it, you’re doing it. If you do it enough, it can transform your life.
I ran my first NY marathon in 2010, a year and a half after getting sober. I was injured and could barely run so I was in the back with an Asian man with a white beard down to his chest and a man with one leg. We all finished and we all felt like heroes. Why wouldn’t we? We ran the same course that the world record holder, Haile Gebrselassie, had run earlier. It just took us a little longer.
If you’re lucky enough to run a marathon, you will gain intimate, firsthand knowledge that 26.2 miles tests the very limits of what the human body can do.
At the starting gun, you look around, sizing up the competition: I can beat them. By mile 22, you are united in your suffering. Competition against other runners went out the window long ago — you’re now banding together just to beat the marathon.
In that brief moment between when you first glimpse the finish line and when you finally throw yourself across, you realize that you are about to complete something you swore you couldn’t do. Time doesn’t slow down as much as it stretches like taffy. In those few seconds, suddenly, the potential to be superhuman becomes real. We realize that if we can do this– something which we were previously sure was impossible– then surely we can be a little more patient, a little more forgiving, a little bit nicer.
It seems that desire to do more, to be better is what those bombs were intended to destroy.
Those bombs failed. Hope will always triumph over fear, over despair. Just as New York came roaring back after 9/11, this vile, cowardly act won’t break the city of Boston or the human spirit of competition.
As a friend of mine who ran a personal record at Boston this year put it: “My marathoning days are not over. Far from it. I feel like running every marathon I can find with two middle fingers in the air.”
I’m going out on Saturday to run a Boston Marathon through my town, New York City. I’ll run with anyone who wants to join me or I’ll run it alone. I’ll be running for Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell and their familes. I’ll be running for the other victims injured by the bombs, the first responders, and the everyday heroes who ran towards the blast and not away from it. But I’ll also be running a marathon for the marathon itself.
Cowards tried to destroy this gathering of the globe’s best athletes, a race runners just call “Boston.” Those cowards failed. This year’s Boston Marathon may be the biggest and best ever because it won’t have just taken place on April 15 in Boston. We will be running it all year long, all over the world, to show them that they never got us down, that people who care about people outnumber the cowards, and that we will never give up.