Don’t Stop Running

I started running again last February, training for my first Tough Mudder, which I’d crazily signed up for on a lark, as a motivator to get off my ass and get back into shape before age and gravity got the upper hand.

It started off rather sadly, run-jog-walking up to two miles for the first few weeks, combined with cardio workouts, as I re-established my body’s tolerance for sustained exercise. At that point, that’s all it was; exercise, and it mostly sucked. There wasn’t anything pleasurable about it, and only the fear of not completing the course, or worse, getting injured on it, kept me going.

I didn’t consider myself a runner yet, and didn’t have any ideas about what might come after doing that first Tough Mudder, but I stuck with my routine, and kept running, and at some point it stopped being exercise and started being a pleasure. Getting up at 5:30am for a run stopped being something I dreaded the night before, and instead became my preferred way to start the day.

And then, I actually did that first Tough Mudder, run-jogging most of it, walk-limping the last mile or two, and was amazed at how far I could push myself after only 10 weeks of preparation. But more importantly, I was impressed by the camaraderie the event inspired amongst its participants, most of whom didn’t view it as a race, but more like a community gathering.

In that moment, exhausted and freezing, I became a runner. Or, more correctly, I became comfortable considering myself a runner.

…marathon running is a sport of goodwill. It’s the only sport in the world where if a competitor falls, the others around will pick him or her up. It’s the only sport in the world open to absolutely everyone, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or any other division you can think of. It’s the only occasion when thousands of people assemble, often in a major city, for a reason that is totally peaceful, healthy and well-meaning. It’s the only sport in the world where no one ever boos anybody.

Roger Robinson, “Boston Bombings: A Loss of Innocence”

When I initially heard the news about the bombings at the finish line, I’d never felt more connected to the larger running community in my life. I’ve never run a marathon, have never viewed more than a few seconds of one on TV, and don’t have any plans to push myself beyond the half-marathon I’ll be doing for the first time in October, but I’ve experienced that sense of community Robinson describes a few times over the past year in other runs.

The feeling of running across the finish line, whether it’s a one-mile walk for charity or a local 10k, an Olympic sprint or the Boston Marathon, is supposed to be a special one. It’s personal accomplishment mixed with exuberant community connection; an emotional high laced with varying degrees of physical exhaustion.

It’s not ever supposed to be a moment where death might lash out randomly. Where cowards make political statements. Where fear and suspicion take root.

And yet…

There will be more marathons and more Red Sox games and more cowbell-ringing for the runners, and the sun will shine on the finish line again. But always, and rightly, we’ll remember the dead, the injured, in the *place where it happened*, which we’ll talk about in whispered tones. We’ll be forced to think about hatred, evil, lunacy, or whatever brings a person to do something like this, and not just the magic of reaching goals worth fighting for and of taking in a morning at a green ballpark or being part of the effervescence of a supportive, happy crowd.

Ania Wieckowski, “In the Wake of the Boston Marathon”

As news coverage went into overdrive yesterday, I worried about how my kids might respond to what happened; if they’d make a connection to my own running and become concerned about something like this happening at a race I might be in some day. One they might be waiting for me at the finish line, cheering me on.

Or, might choose to avoid altogether.

This morning, I went for an early run, purposefully managing my route and pace to clock in at 26:11, a simple attempt to honor those who didn’t get to cross that line at the 26.2 mark. I wore my blue Tough Mudder t-shirt and my blue Road ID bracelet to work, as another simple expression of… support? Defiance?

I don’t really know, but in the absence of being able to do anything tangible, they felt like something.

[EDIT: Madrigal deleted his Twitter account at some point so this embedded tweet disappeared and I don’t remember what it suggested. Yay, digital!]

I like Madrigal’s idea, and would love to see it extended to half-marathons, too, so non-marathoners like me can participate in a similar ritual. It would be especially fitting to have Runners World make it a part of their Half & Festival in October, not simply because that’s the one I’m running, but as one of the premier representatives of the running community, they’d be setting a great example for all.

And much like those first responders did in Boston yesterday, and continue to do every time a tragedy like this occurs, we need as many great examples of the human spirit in action as we can get nowadays.

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4 thoughts on “Don’t Stop Running

  1. Very thoughtful post, Guy. I’ve been a runner for most of my life, sometimes more committed than other times, depending on life’s hurdles. I’ve done a fair amount of races too, though usually I try to avoid organized running events. I simply prefer the solitude of running in the forest near my home than running among a crowd.

    After the events of yesterday, however, I intend to sign up for as many races as I can do this year. If nothing else, it’s to rejoin the community of runners, and to show the evil doers that their plot backfired. Instead of ripping us apart, they’ll see that we’ve banded together stronger than before. At least, that’s my hope.

    As runners, we know that the other runners we’ll encounter on the trails will likely greet us with a smile, a thumbs up or a wave. Perhaps now that simple act of humanity is more important than ever.

    1. The majority of my runs are solo, but I enjoy organized events, too, and like you, I’m now looking for a few more to add to my calendar this year. And I do love the instinctive head nod or thumbs up that almost always comes when you encounter a runner along the way.

      Thanks for the reply!

  2. So I went out, into the cold and ran. By myself, lungs burning, I ran. I hate running. I always have. I played sports growing up and every sport involves running. But in most sports you get to kick a ball or a make a tackle at the end of your run. With running, it’s just running. You get out what you put in and so I pushed.

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