The Boston Marathon has long been known as a premier endurance race, drawing runners from all over the world to challenge themselves to traverse 26.2 miles of hills into Boston's Back Bay. Today, it's known for something different. And a nation is heartbroken to find itself under attack again.
No one is more heartbroken than our local Bostonians. The marathon is a tradition here, for runners and spectators alike. Marathon Monday is on Patriot's Day, a state holiday that celebrates the men and women who fought for America's independence. Bostonians pride themselves in being plucky, being fighters. We fight through 24 inches of snow to shovel out our car. We fight over that parking spot to make sure it's ours the next day. We fight through months of cold dreary winter to make it to the glory of spring. And when that spring finally comes, we celebrate our endurance, line the streets of the marathon course, and cheer for complete strangers. It's an institution in Boston.
Some celebrate it by sharing their water hoses on hot days. Some celebrate it by handing out orange wedges and cups of water from their driveways. Some celebrate by drinking in early-opening pubs before lending their slightly-rowdy exuberance to the crowd. Hey, some bring their booze in "water bottles" to their closest viewing site (not that I'd know from experience, or anything...). But we all celebrate one thing - the joy of accomplishment, the joy of overcoming, the joy of finishing something that's hard.
I ran a marathon once. The 26.2 miles on race day is only the part of the challenge that others see. It's the months leading up to the race that are the real challenge. There are speed workouts. Endurance runs. Getting up at 4:30am on a hot day to get a long run finished before the sun really comes out. (That's a reason to run Boston in April instead of the Cape Cod in October - summer training sucks!) And then going to work afterwards. (Thanks Melissa for pushing me through those!) But even before my first-hand experience, I cheered. To the point of vocal failure.
One of my favorite things about the race is that people will write their names, either in black tape or marker, somewhere on their body or clothes. So instead of shouting "Go Red Shirt Guy!", you can shout, "Go Amy!" "Go Gus!" "Go Max, you can do it Max!" And they smile. Sometimes they'll give you a thumbs up or wave. You get to cheer for people. Some of them look like they really need it. Those are the ones you cheer extra loud for. You want the slightly-tubby middle-aged guy to reach the finish line. But you're not convinced he will... The spectators create a wave of sound to push the runners forward. It truly draws the city together.
Another one of my favorite things is the ability to get charity numbers and run to raise money for your favorite charity. These runners are not the ones competing for a medal. These runners are the ones competing to COMPLETE the race. Many are doing it for the first time, many are not life-long runners. They are pushing themselves to do something hard, and doing it to help others. These are the class of runners that were crossing the finish line when the bombs went off, not the elite runners. These are the runners who had coworkers and family members waiting for them near the finish. The contrast between those hurt and those who did the hurting could not be starker.
The girls and I briefly watched the marathon on TV this morning. We spent a few minutes watching the first wheelchair contestant cross the finish line. We talked about the fact that "his legs couldn't help him walk, but he could use his strong arms to be the fastest guy in the race." This afternoon, some of the worst injuries from the blast were amputation injuries - legs lost. But what the race shows us in its better moments is that hardships and tragedies don't stop people. The human spirit is stronger than the strength of a limb. We fight. We struggle. We overcome.
The Boston Marathon will be as popular as ever and as strong as ever next year. The bomb-makers hurt people, but they did not hurt the spirit of the event. I grieve for the families of those who died and were injured. I grieve for the runners who lost the chance to finish a triumphant race. I grieve for those who will leave what should have been a joyful accomplishment with an ache in their heart. Evil exists in this world, but it did not win today. The hordes of people running towards the blasts to help are proof of that. The people lining up to donate blood are proof of that. The shared grief of a nation is proof of that. Evil reared its ugly head, but we will continue to fight it. We will overcome it. The Boston Marathon will endure, and its spirit will win.