As a runner, the bombings at the Boston Marathon last year touched me in a more personal way than other terrorist attacks. The emotion I felt wasn’t as overwhelming as that caused by 9/11, but, although Boston was 1800 miles away from Laramie, Wyoming, it felt that the bombs had struck at my family.
You see, I should have been there. I’d qualified, through a deferral allowed because of the previous year’s devastating heat. Because of financial uncertainty, I’d not used my deferral when entries were opened the previous September for the 2013 race. When Patriot’s Day arrived, I was feeling bummed that I wasn’t there. Not only that, I had a feeling in my gut that I might never make it back to Boston. My running hadn’t been going well for quite a while. In fact, prior to that awful day, I had not logged a single mile in the previous three months. I was 56 and I was sure my best running days were behind me.
Then word reached me … bombs at the finish line of Boston. I logged on to find a flood of social media and news about the frightening event … and the brave, heroic response of race officials, bystanders, and runners. Almost immediately, anger and determination began building inside me. After a short time of watching the coverage, I just had to lace up my running shoes and get out. Running was the only thing I could do at that moment to show solidarity with my comrades in Boston. And it was then that I decided that, no matter what, I would be in that race in 2014.
I started training for the American Discovery Trail Marathon in Colorado Springs which would be on Labor Day just over four months away. It was one of the last opportunities to get a qualifying time.
Naturally, life put a few obstacles in my way; stuff that all runner’s deal with from time to time … a crazy work situation, nagging injuries, the occasional doubts about whether it was really possible. I got to September 2, the day of the race, fueled by hope that I could pull it off. Hope that the mostly downhill course would help me overcome my training deficiencies. Hope, not confidence.
Hope wasn’t enough. I missed a BQ time by 4:26.
I was crushed. Those last painful miles, when I realized that my goal of reaching Boston had slipped away, are now among my darkest running memories.
Four days later, I was on the East Coast for an extended job assignment, counting on work to make me forget my failure. I’m not sure what drove me to check for marathons in the Washington, DC area, but I did. And found one. It was after Boston entries had opened for those beating their qualifying time by five minutes or more, but it was the day before entries were opened to those who had “only” met the standards. Although Boston was filling fast, the race had not yet closed entries. If I could get a BQ, there was still a chance I could get in.
Only twelve days after my ADT disaster, I ran the Abebe Bikila International Peace Marathon; a race run on the C&O Canal Towpath. It was an almost dead flat out and back course on dirt. It may have been the fact that I love running the C&O; it had felt like my home course before I’d moved to Wyoming. It may have been the drop down to sea level, or maybe this second chance stirred me to a stronger effort. Whatever it was, my race that day was charmed. With a strong kick over the last half mile, I not only got my BQ, I beat the standard by 5:13. I was able to enter that night and not wait for Monday. I was in.
This song and video helped motivate me as Boston got closer.
Being in Hopkinton this year will be an emotional high unlike any other. For me, coming down Boylston Street toward the finish line will be like slapping every terrorist in the world and yelling in his face “You can’t beat us, we don’t quit. We are Boston Strong.” The bombings united the running community; it connected us all in a way that I don’t think has happened before. I feel like the multitude of runners at Boston this year are participating on behalf of all runners across our great country. Runners who know what it is like to overcome adversity and just keep running. I know that everyone of you who can’t be on that starting line in person, will be with us in spirit.
Yesterday, I saw a picture of a woman who’d been badly injured in the bombings, but has recovered. She wore her scars like a badge of honor. Across her stomach she’d written “You can SCAR me, but you can’t STOP me.” Along with 35,000 others, she will be running the Boston Marathon on May 21 …Patriot’s Day. You can’t get more inspiring than that.