I first started running consistently in 2011. I’d completed a handful of 5k’s in college, but once we moved to Virginia I had a lot of time on my hands while Clayton worked 490 hours a week. I had the distant goal of running a half marathon, provided I could actually wheeze through the three miles on my initial training schedule.
Distance running is not always fun. It’s physically demanding, yes, but more than anything it’s a mental battle within yourself to simply keep moving. On every long run, whether 5 minutes or 45 minutes in, I’d face that voice that tried to justify stopping. Quitting. Giving in and going home.
Becoming a runner, to me, was the development of a basic but profound ability to shut that voice up and run anyway.
With a lot of sports under my belt, I can say that runners channel a competitive drive in the healthiest way I’ve seen in athletics: to push yourself to do more than you thought possible. “Beating” someone is not the endgame; doing your best is the ultimate goal. Running longer than you thought you could, running farther than you thought you could, running at all when you didn’t think you could. Your opponents are your last run, the clock and your head.
During the six months I spent going from 3 mile runs to 10 mile mornings, I incorporated several races into my training, culminating with the lone half marathon I completed in September 2011.
What did I learn? Runners run because they love it. They want everyone else to love it, too. They are warm, welcoming and supportive to anyone who shows up with a pair of Nike tempo shorts. They are not exclusive or judgmental if you are newer or slower, stick thin or pleasantly round, wearing the latest Brooks or the Reeboks you use for gardening. They give you a ride to the start line when you are walking from a mile away. They get giddy upon learning it’s your first half. That same person, who you just met, waves and encourages you when you pass along the course. And then that person, who you’ve known for mere minutes, is waiting to cheer you on at the finish line.
My stint into running is still new, anything but elite, and far from marathon-capable. But I’ve spent enough time around runners to know that they are a community of decent, dedicated individuals.
Runners just want to run. And they are immediately inspiring to those who show interest in their passion.
When I saw what took place on Monday in Boston, during one the most iconic races that celebrates runners on an international stage, I was heartsick. For the lives lost, for the people injured, for the city. But mostly for runners. There and everywhere. In a group that’s run together for a decade or strangers waiting for the starting gun next to each other, it is a true community. People who are unthinkably tough inside and out, who also use their coveted breaths to motivate someone who has stopped to walk in the middle of a race.
This ugly, darkened shadow has been cast over one of the most wholesome groups of people. Runners who have been working tirelessly to push past the point where their mind said they must stop, for the first time or for the 40th time. Families and friends lit up with pride, the people who facilitated this momentous accomplishment by babysitting, succumbing to pasta four nights a week and hiding water bottles along an 18-mile training route. A city opening its arms and streets and cheers to thousands of strangers.
These are the faces that form my sadness. This was the celebration meant to be incinerated.
Of course—unquestionably–if you have met a runner you know that quote floating around couldn’t be more accurate:
“If you’re trying to defeat the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong group to target.”
Runners are solid and strong. Marathoners most of all. They ran 26.2 miles (still inconceivable to me) and kept running to help.
Those are runners. Those are the people who will prove there are 27,000 more reasons to hope and rejoice in the good of others instead of the one reason that leads us to doubt it. Though for a moment, one act grew louder and threw the dust of evil on this one day, in the seconds, the days and the weeks following I have no doubt the steady rhythm of feet on pavement will deafen the roar of terror. The melodic miles underfoot on roads in Boston, pastures in England, sandy streets in Africa and the sidewalk in my own neighborhood will drown the blasts of hate.
We’ll run. Even when it’s hard. That’s what runners do.