At this stage they don’t know who is responsible. Some are pointing to anti-U.S. fundamentalists, and some suggest domestic terrorists. A suspect believed to be a foreign national who was carrying a mysterious backpack was implicated. But the fact that the bombings took place in Boston on Patriots Day, and on the day Americans’ taxes are due, has some people blaming U.S. right-wing extremists. There’s just not enough evidence yet, so it could be none of the above.
The Boston Marathon brings citizens together from across the globe in a non-competitive athletic pursuit (“non-competitive” in the sense that the runners are testing themselves more than trying to outdo their opponents). Even though world-class runners are involved, the 26.2 is special because it’s open to everyone. You don’t have to be exceptionally skilled or selected to an elite team, as in most other sports. You just need to be reasonably healthy and put in the work. The Boston Marathon is the oldest and most prestigious race, and extremely popular worldwide, so qualifying times are needed to limit the field. For those who reach the starting line – never mind finish line – it is a special moment.
I did the race back in 1999. Truthfully, it wasn’t one of my favorite marathons. Thousands of us were corralled in a large field in nearby Hopkinton for several hours before the start, and the long wait was frustrating. After the gun went off, I was hoping to run a certain time, but I surrendered this idea when I realized my pace was compromised by the huge pack. Although the crowd support was phenomenal, the mass of spectators and narrow streets created a claustrophobic sensation. Forget infamous Heartbreak Hill; I felt like peanut butter smeared between two slices of bread the whole race! My finish time is still a personal best. But I couldn’t wait to grab my banana and bagel and get over to Walden Pond.
But maybe I missed the point. The Boston Marathon, and in fact all distance races, are about feeling good about yourself, celebrating your health and life, and making contact with others: runners, volunteers, spectators…being human together in a community. The runners all have separate stories, and live in vastly different places and under different circumstances, but we all have a similar, small achievement to be proud of. The barriers are broken down. The university kid from Ukraine is on equal terms with the fruit stand clerk from Brooklyn. It’s a democracy. In the “corral,” I met a guy from Germany who shared his background with me. And I shared mine with him. I didn’t see him after the race, but I later saw his name in the results brochure and circled it. He may have done the same with me.
The finish on Boylston Street was extraordinary. Here, the road widened out. On either side were hundreds of spectators and family members, seemingly ten feet deep. The cheering was tremendous. I knew my wife was there somewhere, but didn’t know the exact spot. She saw me and took a couple pictures of an exhausted old man (at least that’s how I looked when I later saw the photos). She’d also made the acquaintance of a couple from Holland, who were there to cheer on their loved one. I remember stopping to stretch my calves about a hundred yards from the finish line. I wasn’t pooping out, just wanted to stretch. But these two big guys came up from behind, lifted me up under my arms, and literally carried me to the finish. I tried to tell them “It’s ok fellas, I just want to stretch,” but they didn’t hear me due to the eruption from the spectators, who were affected by the scene.
I’ll never understand how humans can be so hateful as to want to take innocent lives.