Runners’ resilience

Before yesterday, I hadn’t planned to write about the Boston Marathon, despite its importance in our house. Some years, my husband arranges to be off the day of the marathon so we can watch coverage of it, but yesterday, he had to go in to work.

Instead of writing about Boston, I had been planning to write tomorrow about an inspiring couple who just completed the same 100-mile race as my husband two weekends ago. I still might write about them tomorrow, or I might wait until next week. I’m not sure yet, because I want their story to count, and I don’t want it to get lost in the tragic events of this week.

You see, my family of runners came under attack yesterday, and I’m hurt and angry and confused and grief-stricken. The sick-stomach feeling hasn’t left me since I heard the news yesterday afternoon. And I know I have to write about it here before I can move on to happier topics.

I’m not going to take time to photograph anything for today’s post. There’s nothing I could include here that could add anything meaningful to what I need to say about yesterday – not the medals or jackets my husband has earned in Boston, not the framed Boston Marathon posters that grace our walls, not even the books on our shelves that tell the many stories of this great event.

If you’re not a runner, you may not quite understand the nature of runners that makes us all feel part of a community, part of a large, slightly crazy family. If you are a runner, you know what I mean. And Boston? Well, Boston is the most prestigious family party we have in the United States every year (dare I name it the best in the world?). We all want to be invited, and many of us work for years to qualify for the opportunity to go. Some of us know we will never go as anything other than spectators. When we meet other runners, and the conversation turns to Boston, we know what comes next: “Have you run it?” The simple one-word answer to that question is telling for everyone who has ever run a marathon and knows what sets Boston apart. You have to run for real to get to Boston.

Let me share this poem with you that will give you some idea of what it means to be part of the running family. The poem is John Donne’s (most?) famous one, and I have no idea if Donne ever loved running, but, wow: He got it right, this idea of family and community and a bond that stretches across nations:

No man is an island
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Before two bombs changed everything yesterday afternoon, I watched Kara Goucher come across the finish line. Her first words after she finished were about her teammate and training partner Shalane Flanagan. “How’d Shalane do? How’d Shalane do?” That answer was more important to Goucher than anything else in that moment, more important than how she felt and more important than her impressive 6th place finish. She wanted to know how her “sister” had fared in the event. Goucher knows: we runners are stronger together, more resilient when we cheer each other’s accomplishments and not just our own.

I spent much of the later part of the afternoon praying, watching my Twitter feed for news, and answering phone calls, texts and Facebook inquiries from friends who wanted to know if we were in Boston (we had not traveled to Boston); whether we knew anyone running yesterday (several friends of friends and also some of my husband’s colleagues); and whether we were okay ourselves (shaken, angry, confused). Friends of my parents called them to make sure Chris and I were okay, and I called my mother-in-law so she would hear the news from me before any friends had a chance to call her with their own questions of concern.

I didn’t watch much coverage of the aftermath (see There but for the grace of God), but I did spend time looking for people’s names on the Boston Marathon runner tracker page, trying to assume that those who had an official finish time were most likely safe. Some were the friends of friends I mentioned, but others were complete strangers, like the two sweet women who were running Boston yesterday to raise money for friends’ medical expenses. I didn’t even know their story until yesterday, and yet I found myself searching for word that they were okay, safe, whole.

I did watch the nations’ flags flutter and a few fall in the aftermath. This was an attack on U.S. soil, but it was also an attack on all of us. As Donne says, “No man is an island.” Flags fly at half staff in my own city today, a show of solidarity, an announcement that we are with Boston and with those who face unimaginable injury and unimaginable loss of life. And we will lend our best to help make the Boston marathon even stronger next year.

There’s an 8-year-old boy among the dead. And I think I won’t be able to push him out of my thoughts as I head off for the last coaching session with my own team of 8-year-old and older girls. Because I know that we are a running family, and his death and the terror of yesterday diminished us all in some way.

But I also know that runners are resilient. We wouldn’t be able to accomplish great distances without that toughness. And we will band together. And we will be stronger than terror wants us to be. And we will be loving in a way that terror can never understand. And we will care about those whom terror has killed or injured. And we will triumph. And we will raise the flags along Boylston Street again. And we will run.