Events at the Boston Marathon finish line moved me to reflect on the purpose of running a marathon in my life. I still believe the marathon is a beautiful thing, but I have realized both its insignificance and significance.
By insignificance I want to recall the New York Marathon and how disappointed and vocal many runners were about their frustrations regarding its cancellation. Understandably, the organizers and city mayor could have made timelier decisions; however, several thousands of people were without the basic necessities of life – water, food, shelter. There seemed to be a conflict between those living in disaster and those feeling disappointed in a cancelled race. It was positioned by many runners that continuing the marathon would have been symbolic of human strength. I was encouraged to see that once the disappointment settled, runners took to the streets to help the clean-up efforts after hurricane Sandy. Though it was not made obvious then, running a marathon is not a basic necessity for life, nor does it mean that we live a good or meaningful life; it is insignificant in the bigger scheme of things and sometimes the race should not go on. Though it makes us feel good about ourselves, feel fulfilled even, completing a marathon in itself is not an act of or for humanity.
Nonetheless, I can imagine my reaction to being stopped in the race, unaware of the devastation ahead. Such an ominous image seeing runners lined up as though they are at the start. I can put myself in their running shoes. Initially, I would be upset. When you are racing, emotions are incredibly high and though I am well trained to keep those in check, in stopping the race prematurely I think I would break down. With months of training, dealing with highs and lows of motivation, hard workouts, long runs, tiredness it would accumulate into a angry furry of tears. I can now understand the personal disappointment. It would take me a moment to get out of that state to accept the reality that the race is done. That is OK. Doing a marathon feels important to us individually, we run the race with our individual goals in mind, and we focus on ourselves to achieve those race goals, but a medal or PB should never replace the relationships with have with others. This inhumane moment has forced many of us to rethink ourselves and others, and the role of marathons in our shared lives.
My initial reaction to the news of these events on Facebook, Twitter, texts and on the internet was of disbelief and anger. I had the feeling of being shattered. As a runner, I have an image of running that is “perfect”. I believe sport can be used to change the lives of people, it can create confidence and inspiration, peace and understanding, and provide inclusion and opportunity, but I am also aware that it can be used to make other personal and political statements too (Munich for example). I need to find meaning. What does this all mean, if anything at all? As individuals we run because we want to become better people, to be actively engaged with living a good life, and as we do so, we are increasingly becoming aware of the world in which we live in, how connected and interconnected we are, and aware of the lives we share with others. I could put myself in their shoes and know what they are feeling ~ certain experiences are universal.
Collectively, these are some of the human characteristics that the 2013 Boston Marathon has inspired in our global community: compassion, empathy, generosity, determination, discipline, drive, responsibility, gratitude, kindness and openness, and self-actualization. I am thankful to be a runner in solidarity with those in the global community of runners, to be moved from the individual to the collective.
This was an attack on our collective space, not just the Boston Marathon. I want to remember the marathon as a space where we come together as people to feel empowered, not as the site of a horrific attack. A marathon is a beautiful thing, and we can make it the world we want it to be. That is the "marathon" that now lies ahead of us.