|Ashley and I at the 2012 Cap City Quarter|
When I started running nearly four years ago, I had no plans or goals for being a runner other than I needed to lose a little weight and stay active. After a few months of just solitary running on the local bike path, I signed up for a four-mile charity race to benefit our local hospital. As the result of that race, I was hooked on both racing and interacting with the amazing running community. Along with a couple of friends, we started a local running group, the Mount Vernon Running Buddies, and the running and relationships have just blossomed.
As my running continued, I began to push myself to try longer distance races. I did the 2010 Columbus half marathon. Then, the 2011 Columbus marathon. While my times weren't incredibly fast, they were good enough that I really felt like if I pushed myself, stayed injury-free, and got a little lucky that some day I could earn my way to Boston with a qualifying time (BQ).
The Boston Marathon is the pinnacle for a runner...the holy grail of running. You have to post a pretty fast time based on your age and gender to earn the right to enter or there are also a limited number of spots for people who raise significant money for one of the official charities of the event. Either way, it's not an easy task.
Yesterday was a day that so many runners had been dreaming about...some for their whole running careers. It was their day to run Boston! I personally had six friends running in the race and for four of them it was their first time. For three of them, they had tried and tried and tried to qualify and finally had. All their hard work had paid off and they were set to toe the starting line of the 26.2-mile journey! I signed up to get text alerts on their progress and pulled up the live stream of the race on the internet. I was hundreds of miles away, but I too was caught up in the excitement that is the Boston Marathon.
The push cart/wheelchair division started and then the elite women's race followed around 9:30 a.m. Then, the men's elite runners were off at 10 a.m. followed by the rest of the throng of 27,000+ runners. The journey had begun! I was enjoying having the live stream of the event on in the background in my office while I got work done. Then, when it came time for me to teach the Sports Information class that I teach, we watched the race as a class and discussed various aspects of the event from a media standpoint, from a fan standpoint, and from a participant standpoint. We got to see the women's finish and then the men's finish. The class was really into it even though most of them had no experience at all with running and especially marathon races.
I went to lunch and then worked on some things in my office. My friends begin to finish and I began to get their text alerts. One by one, they accomplished their goal of crossing that finish line. First Nate, then Jace, and then Brandon. Time ticked on and some more updates came. Soon I saw that Deb, Carrie and Carla had all finished. I was proud of my friends for pushing themselves to do it. Some had battled injuries even getting to the starting line. But they all did it!
I turned my attention back to my work. All of sudden a message popped up about an explosion in Boston. Everything else just stopped for me. My oldest daughter, who is 11, was sitting in my office as we began to watch the news unfold. We were in utter shock. My heart was breaking. It felt like the day when my daughter was just a month old and I held her in my arms while I watched the 9/11 attacks take place on my TV screen. It was all just surreal. But this time, I had a personal connection. I had friends who were right there! And I mean right there as Carla, Deb, and Carrie had just finished minutes before the bombs went off.
I immediately got on my phone and started trying to find out what I could about each of them. Thanks to social media and our running group, we quickly heard that Deb and Carrie were ok. I was able to track down Brandon, Nate, and Jace and they were already away from the scene. I finally heard that Carla was ok, too. I was incredibly thankful that they were all safe and sound.
However, that didn't take away the huge ache that I continue feeling in my heart for the people who are suffering. People I don't know and probably never will. I've watched other national tragedies and natural disasters take place and felt for the people involved. But this time it was different. It was my family...the running family. And one of the things that was hurting me the most was that it was the spectators who took the brunt of the explosions. They were cheering on their loved ones. Showing support. Like they had done for months leading up to the race. It's probably the most often overlooked part of the sport of running and definitely the part that doesn't get enough thanks. Wives, husbands, kids, extended families, best friends...they all pick up the slack to allow us time to run, listen to our countless stories and moans about our injuries, and continue to cheer us on and love us in spite of it. Today they were the target. And they never stood a chance.
The running community is one of the tightest, most caring groups of people you could ever belong to. If you visit any city small or large, you can instantly strike up a friendship just passing a fellow runner and joining in on their journey. Runners come in all shapes and sizes and all paces. But we root for each other. And we all have the common goal of crossing that finish line. Some times we are out for a PR. Other times we are out there to pace others. And other times we are out there just to enjoy the journey. But we keep getting out there and we keep cheering each other on.
Yesterday was a perfect day to run. However, we live in a very imperfect world where people do evil, hurtful things to innocent strangers. It's incomprehensible. And it takes all of our resolve to not let evil win sometimes. I had to look in my eight-year-old daughter's eyes last night and assure her that it was ok for her dad to go to his next race this Sunday. I can't even begin to comprehend the grief of the dad who lost his eight-year-old son in yesterday's tragedy. I had a long talk with my older daughter about the upcoming Cap City quarter marathon as we plan to run it together in three weeks for the second year in a row while her mom does the half marathon. She was worried about running it and worried about her mom since she would be running by herself. I told her that we can't live in fear or it allows the bad people to win.
While Boston and the entire running community and our nation mourns the events of what happened yesterday, we WILL keep running and we will help each other along the journey. And my hope is that I will be there at the starting line when next year's Boston Marathon gets under way. In the mean time, my thoughts and prayers are with the people who have suffered so very much.