I started running in junior high. My reason was shallow—I wanted to look good. Specifically, I wanted to look good in short shorts. The kind of short shorts you can only pull off when you are in junior high.
Though what I discovered during running wasn’t shallow. I discovered something I hadn’t intended to find—an inner strength and peace that is rarely appreciated in junior high kids. Of course, I didn’t find it right away. In fact I don’t remember an exact moment of insight. Somewhere, along a road or trail, likely surrounded by many miles, I simply knew that running was responsible for this new feeling inside.
Long before my epiphany, I learned that I didn’t look good running. Mostly I was sweaty and wheezing, clumsy and awkward. My face was the shade of our garden beets. My shorts bunched up between my thighs as my shirt hung unflatteringly off my bony shoulders. It was not hot. In twenty-two years of running, I have exactly one picture of myself where I look like good while I am running, where both feet are off the ground, a ray of sun is shining on my face and I appear to be floating above the earth in perfect bliss. Every other picture of me, I’m landing—one foot on the ground, the force gravity showing its hold on me—my skin sags, stretching my face out like a basset hound; my muscles brace for impact which looks mostly like I’m trying not to poop my pants; I appear neither fast nor light.
Despite my troublesome looks over the year, I continued to run anyway and soon enough I forgot what I looked like. I became lost in the rhythm, freed from rules and constraints—physical, emotional and social. I gained confidence as a young adult which was sorely lacking before I started running. Out on the pavement, I found out who I was and what I was made of. I was strong. I was bold. I was tough. I found out that I was all the things I didn’t think I was, all the things I held inside, out of view.
Today I still run, for a million reasons. I run because sometimes I forget these beautiful things about myself. I run to remind myself who I am, because the pulse of a run is calming and liberating. I run to get away. I run to relax, to be alone, to be social. Sometimes, I run because I can. When I’m scared, angry, worried or excited, I run. I run to honor myself and I run to forget myself. I run to not take life too seriously. I run to get high. I like to run where cars and bikes can’t go. I run to explore. I run to get lost.
I know the runners of the 2013 Boston marathon ran for all the same reasons I did and more. Some of them ran despite life—disabled, blind, injured—their scars visible; others ran with internal scars like me. Many ran to honor a loved one. Some ran to honor their country. I’m certain, no one ran the marathon because they looked good doing it.
The Boston Marathon is a runner’s race of glory, our moment of fame. In a sport lacking big money and glamour, it’s the Super Bowl of racing, the World Series of the road. For 26.2 miles running is the coolest thing in the world. The crowd in Boston is working as hard as you, pouring their hearts out on the pavement with you. They celebrate you, every step. They will not let you quit; trust me I tried. They believe in you more than you believe in yourself, relentlessly encouraging you when your faith in yourself is wavering.
At Boston your inadequacies don’t matter. You can take off too fast, too slow, be too fat, too old—no one cares. For those couple of hours from Hopkinton to Boston you are the best runner in the world. The kids along the course idolize you, asking for your autograph or to slap your hand. They yell that they want to be like you someday.
You are never alone in that race, you’re part of a community. A community that celebrates running, celebrates life and the power within all of us to do something that we never thought we could.
Boston is the culmination of every night you went home early so you could train hard the next day; every morning you logged miles before dawn in the heart of winter; every blister; every lost toe nail; every ache and pain, all worth it in those moments. The race is a celebration of you.
Like running itself, the Boston Marathon has a crazy beauty to it. The girls at Wellesley College, drunk but happy, tell you over and over again, how amazing you are, how strong. Strangers celebrate you, helping you to do your best, making sure you get over Heartbreak Hill. The crowd cheers so loud you can’t hear your own thoughts; they carry you.
Sometimes we all need to be carried this way—unsolicited and unrequited. That is the pain of the bombing at Boston. The bombers stole the celebration, turned it to pandemonium and fear. They stole the final mile from many a runner who deserved to be cheered all the way to their finish. They stole the glory from everyone who had already finished. The bombers took every runners personal journey and marred it with tragedy and death.
But the story continues. Runners continue to run and the citizens of Boston, our families and friends, they continue to celebrate and to honor life. That is what runners do.
We simply have even more reasons to run now.