The Last Stretch
Training for a marathon is no walk in the park.
Early alarms jarring you out of blissful sleep to trudge out into dark and cold winter mornings for a 5-mile training run because your tried-and-true schedule says so. Sore muscles and ice baths after double-digit weekend runs. Early to bed nights when you’d rather stay out with your friends till the wee hours of the morning. Blisters. Chafing. Black toenails.
There is pain.
But when you come up on mile marker 26, the last stretch…there is joy.
People you’ve never seen before and may never see again cheering for you. Your legs and arms pumping hard on pure adrenaline those last few meters. When you cross that finish line there is nothing but pure bliss. Overwhelming emotion and pride. You DID it.
All those early mornings, sore muscles, and loss of toenails are worth it. You’ve accomplished something not many people have.
I ran a marathon last October. I remember that last stretch. I remember coming down the hill to the cheers of a hundred spectators. I remember letting go of anything I had left, knowing the second I crossed that finish line I could stop. Relax. Relish in the accomplishment. I found my fiance along the side of the course and ran (hobbled) to him crying and laughing. I was so overwhelmed with emotion and the enormity of what I had just achieved.
I can’t imagine what that would have been like if that last stretch was full of terrified screams instead of elated cheers. Spectators crying in fear and holding bloody limbs. Race officials running around in confusion and panic, feeling helpless to the tragedy around them. Mass chaos. No celebration. No finish clock.
A war zone instead of a party.
I cannot stop thinking about those runners. Those who had a loved one injured or killed. Those who lost a limb.
Those who were robbed of their achievement.
Those who will forever associate one of the greatest races of all time with blood, bombs, and terrorism.
The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest, with this year marking the 117th. Qualifying for Boston is not an easy feat. For my age group (under age 34), a person would have to run a sanctioned marathon in 3:35, an average of 8:12 per mile. That’s not something your average everyday runner can handle. It’s an elite race. It separates the fairweather runners from the die-hards. As a runner of Boston caliber, you have to be dedicated and driven. Relentless. Run multiple marathons, each time focusing on speed and PRs. Track work. Tempo runs. Many a dark Saturday morning getting 10+ miles in before most of us were even thinking of getting out of bed.
As a runner myself, to do Boston is a bucket list item. A dream. If I was able to train hard enough to qualify and actually got in, that would be an accomplishment I would forever be proud of. To come upon that hand-painted finish line and cross where so many famous runners had gone on before me. Basking in that moment, wanting to remember every second of that last stretch.
I don’t understand the motivation behind the Boston Marathon bombing.
I’m not sure I ever will.
Road races are one of the least political and most philanthropic sports in our country. Just think of how much money has been raised for cancer research through Team in Training. Or how many lives have been changed through Back on My Feet. Think about what Marathon Monday means to the culture and history of Boston. A marathon is a place where dreams come alive. An event that portrays strength and unity. A place of inspiration and hope.
This past weekend I ran a memorial race for Boston with my regular Saturday morning run group. The run was organized by the local marathon organization within days of the tragedy at Boston. Being as we had plans for a longer run this particular weekend, we ran a couple miles before the memorial was to begin.
As we came up on the last stretch, entering the plaza where the memorial run was supposed to start, I saw hundreds of our fellow runners in blue and yellow as a salute to Boston.
I saw the American flag flying high in a cloudless blue sky.
I heard voices in unison singing the national anthem as others watched on in silent respect.
And as I stood there, with my people, ready to head out in a pack to run for those who no longer can, I thought to myself:
These terrorists have no idea who they are messing with.