In the spring of 1996, I was finishing up my freshman year at Boston College. It was also the 100th running of the Boston Marathon that year. I made my way down to the finish to see it, and I can tell you, it was quite an event.
Usually someone has to qualify to participate in the Boston Marathon, but for the 100th running, they let more runners in, if they raised a certain amount of sponsorship. These additional people weren’t all in the same condition that Boston Marathon runners may more typically exhibit. In other words, not everyone finished in under four hours. Or five. Or six, and I think some were still out there at seven and eight hours.
I saw the first runners come into Copley Square, those elite bodies, practically jogging down Boylston street as if they’d just started a mile ago. We all cheered for them, and were so impressed with their accomplishment. I watched for a little while and then walked back around through the Boston Common to take in some of the sights. A few hours later, I had circled back to the finish line again - to see the folks coming in several hours after the winners.
I remember their facial expressions and body language being very different from what I had seen just a few hours ago. Far from relaxed and nonchalant, these folks were in pain. They looked utterly depleted. I imagine many of them headed straight for the medical tent after crossing that beautiful blue and yellow, 4’ wide finish line that was painted across Boylston St.; but in addition to the pain they must’ve felt, they also showed incredible relief, pride, and joy at just having completed the Boston Marathon, regardless of their time.
Yesterday as I watched the scenes after the bombings in Boston, I had a lot of thoughts going through my head. Some of my earliest thoughts were for the runners - for those I knew had trained months, if not years for the chance to cross that line, and how many of them didn't get the chance to do that yesterday.
Of course my love and prayers go to everyone who was affected, and their families, along with the whole city of Boston. But I think it’s important that we especially remember the runners.
To be honest, I think it’s a very strange desire to want to run 26.2 miles. But these men and women push the human body to its limits, and they remind us of just how much we can accomplish if we just work hard and pour ourselves into something. Marathon runners remind us of the rewards of long-term commitment, sticking through something for the long haul, not just instant gratification. I don’t know if I could ever run a marathon, but marathon runners will always inspire me with their irrepressible spirit.
May all of us, in the wake of this tragedy, be inspired by that marathon spirit, and may we persevere against hatred, resist vengeance, and remember that the struggle against fear and intolerance is a marathon - it’s going to take a while. It might be painful and exhausting. But no matter what our time is in the end, imagine the incredible relief, pride, and joy at just having completed the effort.