Hearts around the world ached upon hearing the news of the lives lost or forever changed by the bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The assaults were an attack on our humanity, an affront to our collective conscience. To hurt for the victims and to feel revulsion for the killers required neither U.S. citizenship nor personal experience with terrorism, and it certainly didn’t require one to be a marathon runner. And yet, for me, the fact that the bombings occurred so close to the finish line of such a revered and enduring road race – one that I’ve aspired to run one day – made the tragedy feel awfully close to home.
I’m a lifelong runner and have finished three marathons – far fewer than many people I know. Yet each of those three 26.2 mile / 40 kilometer events has been a point of extreme happiness in my life. Each race was a celebration – a glorious, almost reckless indulgence in life itself, replete with both joy and pain, and at the end, a sense that every moment is worth it. Each race has reminded me of all that I have to be thankful for, of the inner strength that I can draw upon, and of the external help and love that is available – even from strangers – should I need it.
At these races, it didn’t always take the finish line to bring on tears. During the first mile of the Reykjavik Marathon, I cried for sheer joy, for the privilege and freedom of running, and for the love of the friends, spectators, and fellow runners – the community – who were with me. At the end, I was so overcome with happiness that the volunteer who greeted me thought I might hyperventilate (as did I). When I look back now and try to describe the feeling, I would say that I felt thrilled and overwhelmed by my individual piece of this amazing, collective thing we call life. I felt an unparalleled sense of grounded freedom, a freedom rooted squarely in an experience that was both individual and collective. It is my only moment of what I would refer to as the oneness of enlightenment.
The memories of those races are something that I turn to on a regular basis, something that I draw upon when I wonder whether it’s really all “worth it.” They remind me that the answer is and will always be a resounding YES. The races also remind me of the importance of personal empowerment and of being connected – and that the two are often part and parcel of each other.
Just a few months ago, in December 2012, I was very proud of my new city of Barranquilla, when it hosted a very well-organized 10K. I was not really expecting the race to bring the sense of exuberance and camaraderie that the marathons had. After all, Barranquilla is in many ways a fledgling city without a big running community or even a particularly good environment for running, and this December event is the only road race it has and it’s 6.2 miles, not 26.2. And yet there it was – that sense of community and personal empowerment that is always present at the best of these events.
Honestly, I wasn’t able to put any of this into words until I read “What It Felt Like to Run a Boston Marathon” by Glenn Kelman. Glenn was able to articulate why I have always been so drawn to road races and why I felt particularly sad and angry that someone should plan something so horrible, so anti-community, so anti-life, for an event that is one of the purest celebrations that exists of our individual lives and our collective humanity. At first, the tragedy at the Boston Marathon seemed like an end of innocence – as if goodness somehow requires innocence and that innocence was now gone. But then, with the help of others, I focused on all the people who rushed into the chaos to help. I realized that the race wasn’t robbed of its meaning, but rather that all those helpers exemplified in spades every good and true aspect of our human lives that is evident in smaller doses at any marathon – our ability to pull together, individually and collectively, and to overcome.
I’ll be picking a new marathon soon, and Boston, I’ll be thinking of you every step of the way. To Boston and Barranquilla and all the countless individuals and communities worldwide that make these events happen – keep up the good work. It makes a difference. It really does.