If you are at all into distance running, you know the significance of the Boston Marathon. The race has kind of become the symbol of prestige when it comes to marathon running. Even people who have never watched a marathon have asked me if I have run Boston.
Sadly, for me, the answer is no. As I’ve explained before, I run long, in part, to make up for my lack of speed. My marathon PR is still nearly an hour slower than I would need to run to qualify to Boston. I realized many years ago that I am never going to make it to that race, unless it’s as a spectator. And still, for me Boston is magical. I admire all those who do qualify for the race, just as I admire the spirit and enthusiasm of the thousands of spectators that line the course each year.
Boston became real for me in 2009, the year that my college roommate, Stephanie, first ran the race. Stephanie took up running in 2006. I like to tell everyone that I get the credit, as I convinced her that she should run the Nike Women’s Marathon to earn the Tiffany’s necklace that they give to all finishers. In reality, I just knew what to say to talk her into that first race. Everything she has done from that point on, she earned through her own hard work. In 2008, she managed to run a marathon time that qualified her to Boston. I was beyond thrilled. I eagerly made plans to join her in April to celebrate such a great achievement. Alas, a last minute family illness caused me to cancel my trip, but I lived every bit of that weekend with her from Philadelphia. I can recall where I was standing in my kitchen when I talked her through her nervousness the day before the race. I remember tracking her progress online throughout the race. I remember the feeling of immense pride when I heard what a great time she ran. In the six years since, I still have yet to make my own trip to Boston, but I continue to relive the experience every year when I follow Stephanie’s own journey there.
Of course, two years ago the whole world turned their attention to Boston. I spent that morning teaching my second graders, while sneaking glances at my computer to see how Stephanie was faring in her own race. True to form, she went out too fast and faded a bit in the later miles, but she still clocked an impressive 3:33 finish. After confirming that she crossed the finish line, I did the responsible thing and went back to a full focus on my students for the remainder of the day. I wasn’t aware that anything was amiss until I walked up the hill at the end of the day to pick up my own children, and was warned by a fellow teacher to not turn on the radio on the way home. She explained that some type of explosion had happened at the marathon and that it was all over the radio. I immediately called Stephanie, and left her a semi-panicked voicemail in an attempt to confirm that she was okay.
In the days that followed, Boston was all that I could think about. I’m sure that many other runners felt the same way. Our national focus tends to turn to tragedies and dramatic stories, but Boston was something more for me. My favorite thing about running marathons is the strength of the human spirit that you witness on race days. You see it in the thousands of runners who push through their own limits to get to the finish line. You see it in the spectators that line the course for hours, just to glimpse a few seconds of a friend or family member, or to cheer on unknown runners that speed past. You see it in the volunteers, who spend all day working mundane jobs just to allow the race to flow smoothly. I truly believe that marathons bring out the absolute best in most people. To have someone attack that celebration of humanity was just heartbreaking. To reflect back on all of the races that I’ve run, and all of the times that my family has stood along the sidelines was sobering. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would ever want to destroy something so beautiful.
The day after the bombing, I registered for the Philadelphia Marathon to prove that runners are great at tackling adversity. Two weeks later, I ran the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington, DC. When I crossed the finish line, and saw the large number of spectators who were there cheering despite everything that had just happened, I burst into tears. Last year, I followed every minute of the events in Boston, hoping and praying that the event would go off without a hitch. And today, I will once again, by tracking my favorite runner online, cheering her on from afar.
I love the Boston Marathon. I love the goals that it inspires, the tradition that it celebrates, and especially the strength and resilience that the city, and the marathon, have shown over the past two years. More than all of that, though, I love that it is a beautiful metaphor for my friend Stephanie, and all of the strength that she has shown, both in her running, and in her life. I am incredibly blessed to call her a friend, and I am more proud of her than she’ll ever know, especially today, when she’ll run her 7th Boston Marathon. Run hard today, Stephie, and enjoy every moment of the experience. You, like the Boston marathon itself, are one of a kind.