So Monday morning I watched the live internet feed from the Boston Marathon on my computer. It was fun. I could feel myself swaying in my chair, trying to run with the leaders. In my head I was running the Newton Hills smoothly and quickly just like those tiny Kenyans. It was amazing. More than that, it was inspiring. I wanted to change into my New Balances right then and hit the road.
So I went home for lunch pumped full of adrenaline. I didn’t have time to run, but squeezed in a 13-bike ride. It was windy of course, especially riding west on Mockingbird, but fighting the headwind felt like solidarity with those runners on Heartbreak Hill. Even on my bike I was one of us.
It wasn’t until after lunch that people in my office started asking me about the bombs. I had no idea. I had to catch up on the news. And then, staring at the videos on my computer, I sat stunned, awash in my own vulnerability. These were my people. They were where I wished I were. They were winning their day. They were finishing a year-long, life-long goal. They could have been me. If my knees didn’t hurt, if I could run faster, they would have been me. I could hardly breathe.
Over the course of the afternoon, I was surprised how many phone calls, texts, and emails I received about the marathon tragedy. Friends wanted to know if I’d heard about it, if I knew anyone running, and even if Cyndi and I were running the race this year. The entire incident felt more personal than I’d expected. It felt like my own tribe was under attack.
I wasn’t alone in feeling that way. Blogger Peter Larson wrote, “In talking with other runners over the past 24 hours, the common thing we all feel is that our family has been attacked. It’s a family that includes not only those of us who run, but also those who gather to watch us achieve our goals.”
My daughter, Katie, texted: “It’s a sad day when the most passive athletes are targeted.”
She got that exactly right. Marathon runners don’t hit people, they don’t try to knock the ball out of your hands or steal it from you, and they don’t yell at line judges or referees. They’re self-contained, often introverted people willing to put in long training hours on the road. The only person they hurt is themselves.
I’ve been around a lot of marathon finish lines, either because I was running myself or because I was waiting for someone I love to finish. My first finish was in 1983 at the Golden Yucca Marathon in Hobbs, NM. It was raining when I crossed the finish line, and the entire area was deserted. A man and woman jumped out of their Airstream trailer, scribbled my name and race number and finish time on their clipboard, scrambled back inside out of the rain, leaving me standing alone in the rain, so proud of myself I couldn’t stop crying. I would have pounded my chest and howled at the sky but I was too exhausted to lift my arms.
I knew I was a different man from that moment forward. I was transformed into a marathon runner, and I could claim that privilege for the rest of my life. I knew my future would be different than predicted. I knew I was amazing.
All marathon finishes are like that. Even crossing my most recent finish line at the Crossroads Marathon, October 2010, was transformational. Once again, it changed my image of what was possible. It opened my heart and expanded my vision. Even exhausted, I knew I could do anything. I was indestructible. I was a mighty warrior who could not be stopped.
That is what marathon finish lines are like. They are joyful. They are emotional thin places. They are transformational. They are magic.
But Monday, in Boston, the finish line turned tragic.
The first thing I wanted to do after seeing the bombing video was to find Cyndi and hold on to her. I was soft and hungry for her touch all afternoon. I needed physical confirmation that we were OK.
John Bingham posted on Tuesday: “What we learned from the New York City Marathon is that runners are not immune to the power of the universe. Hurricanes don’t care how long you’ve trained. They don’t care that running a marathon is a life-list dream. They don’t care that you are a runner.
Yesterday we learned that we, elite runners, charity runners, young, old, male, female, runners are not protected from the dangers, the horrors, and the hatred that are in the world. We aren’t. If we thought we were yesterday morning, THIS morning we know we’re not.”
Through the years, Cyndi and I have run so many races together, running and love and longevity have intertwined through the years. It was my love for Cyndi and my desire to snatch her back from her track & field boyfriend that started me running back in 1978. But Monday morning my favorite sport reminded me that even something as benign as running comes with risk to the one I love most.
You can’t love someone without accepting the risk of losing them. Sometimes the threat of loss is only tangential, as in my fear of losing Cyndi because of Boston. We were both in Midland and far from danger.
But it felt more real than that. It was a reminder that the commitment to love someone is risky and can end badly. Tragedy can strike anytime, even in the middle of life’s best moments.
But to be transformed by love, you have to accept the risk and love deeply anyway. You have to cannonball in with all you have. You have to love with all of you, all day, all the time, right now.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32