The 118th Boston Marathon is in 10 days. Everyone is waiting. We know nothing is going to happen. That is, collectively, the running community, the Boston community, and the country know that another bomb will not go off in Boston on Patriot’s Day. Any yet, there was just another shooting at Fort Hood. So let’s be honest. Anything could happen. That is why we run the marathon.
I don’t mean the Boston Marathon 2014 specifically. I mean, that is why we, repeat marathoners, run the marathon. Whether you have run the distance once or a hundred times, each and every time, anything can happen. You could run like you’ve taken flight and not feel any pain, or you can start falling apart only a quarter of the way in. Both scenarios can be equally unpredictable.
We were reminded at 2:49pm on April 15, 2013 that anything can happen, at any time, and in any context. I’ve had a few minor instances of panic since then while running, when in a crowded space, or when something, usually something arbitrary (read: unpredictable) reminds me of how vulnerable we are, how exposed. This has been my response, and I was not in the blast zone. In fact, I am quite certain I was in a bathroom at the Marriot Copley hotel being post-PR-marathon-effort sick when the first bomb went off. Yet it stays with me, that now prescient feeling, that someone can hurt you, or someone you love, at any time and in any place.
For those running, with 10 days to go, we wait with everyone else, we’re all waiting for the evidence that nothing will happen, it’s evidence that will only come with the absence of tragedy on April 21st. While we wait, we also obsess the way we do before any marathon. We check the weather forecast every few hours. We calculate different versions of our race, we go to great and socially ostracizing lengths to avoid getting sick. We wish we for a protective bubble of protection against clumsiness, like twisted ankles while taking the laundry downstairs. We fight the temptation to cram in last minute hard workouts, which will only wear the body down at this point. All of this is comforting because it’s what we do. It’s not special things that we do before the first anniversary event of a terrorist act, it’s just what we do.
I (and I believe the vast majority of those running in 10 days) didn’t train hard for Boston 2014 because we want to prove anything about terrorism. Yes, a great many runners are running for people injured from the blasts, and many of us have been compulsively donating to the various funds, and/or fundraising, but that’s not WHY we trained hard, it’s only a part of it, a recent addition.
I would train hard and run this race anyway. Even so, I’ve found myself incapable of visualizing my race. I always visualize my races, especially when I am hoping for a personal best. I heard someone on the radio recently describe something (I’ve forgotten what) as like trying to see a black hole. That when you look for a black hole you cannot see the thing itself, only the edges of it. That’s what the actual running of the Boston Marathon this year is to me: a black hole. The harder I try to visualize, to see, my race, the more blank my mind goes. I feel only grief in my chest, tears in my eyes, and I can see the edges. That is, I can visualize everything that happens before the race, and everything that happens after, but the race itself? Trying to see myself, and everyone else running the actual Boston Marathon is a complete void. I can remember every mile of last year, and most of the year before, but I can’t pretend to see this impending one. What no one will say, is that acts of terror are aptly labeled. They work. They change us, they change our behavior, and how we perceive things. They create terror.
I wish we could quietly continue with our training and racing, continue to revel in the allure of the Boston Marathon in its entirety, of all road races, and the pleasure of gathering in the streets with coolers full of snacks and drinks, without suspicion or anxiety. I want us all to be gracefully unaffected by what happened last year. However, I recognize it’s the American way to be over the top in our effort to show that “you can’t stop us” and “you can’t scare us”. We have to, rather than carry-on as we were before, persevere with extra celebration, and more gusto, more everything. We like to say that the best revenge is a life well lived. My problem is that I don’t want revenge. In fact, the feelings after last year’s events that I’ve had the most difficulty with, are feelings of empathy, not anger, not even fear or sadness, but empathy. Insufferable empathy for those killed, those hurt, and for those who did the killing and the hurting. I don’t think I have to spell out here how very complicated that is, and how very uncomfortable.
I think the way to really show that an effort was futile is to actually behave in a way that is unaffected. Unchanged. I want the other Boston marathon back, the one I dreamed about for almost two decades, and then got to be a part of twice. Or more accurately, one and a half times (because, really, the post race celebrating is half the experience). The old Boston Marathon experience was an emotional, exhilarating, and life affirming one. I’m worried not that those elements will still be there, but that now those elements will be so exaggerated as to be intolerable.
I could go on, I could talk about how unsettling the constant talk of heightened security measures is, and about how much I wish people would stop calling it “the marathon bombing”, but really, the important thing is that in 10 days the Boston Marathon will be. No matter what happened, and no matter what happens. It will be, and I will be there with over 100,000 other runners and spectators, racers and partiers. With laughter and with tears: We will be.