My wife, Loretta, took this photo at about mile 24 of the Boston Marathon.
Folks sometimes ask me why I’m so passionate about running. In the echoes of Boston’s bomb blasts I found the answer.
Not that I blame them for asking. As anyone who has suffered under a high school coach knows, my sport is your sport’s punishment. Running, especially when you’re just beginning, can be uncomfortable. Heck, it can hurt.
It’s supposed to hurt.
Runners always seem to be nursing some injury or another, wearing black toenails like a badge of honor. So as I limp around the house after a long weekend run, I’m not surprised to be asked: Why?
The answer, for me, is found in the same place as the answer to this question: Why did the Boston bombing register so deeply with so many of us at such a gut level?
An iconic American institution was defiled. Innocents were killed and maimed. Cowards spilled blood on a day reserved for celebration. It was a national tragedy deserving of every ounce of grief and outrage it provoked.
But that still doesn’t go far enough to explain my own visceral response.
Maybe it’s because I was there … embedded in a historical moment … a couple of blocks from the starting line when the bombs exploded. I was fortunate to have already crossed the finish line about 20 minutes before the blasts, which I only heard from the safe distance of the changing tent. I suffered only the confusion and frustration shared by thousands of runners — along with their friends and families — who struggled in the ensuing chaos to find one another and to find their way home.
Maybe it’s because this attack was a direct assault on my sport and my comrades. Not just any busy city street, but the finish line — the finish line! — of our nation’s most-revered road race. Not just any victims, but fellow runners with whom I shared the course … with whom I share a passion, and therefore, a bond.
Which brings me to this … This was personal. In ways that could only be true for runners, this was personal.
Running is the most intensely personal sport of all. It’s an individual event, an activity uniquely suited for introverts. Those of us who thrive in being alone with our thoughts, who enjoy spending time in our own space, gravitate to running.
Running is mostly a solitary endeavor. There are advantages to running with a group, which I’ve written about, and I’m a better runner for the support of my friends in the KC Track Club. But when I’m training for a race, following my own specific schedule of distance and pace, I tend to run alone. Which means I spend hours upon hours each week by myself. I stingily stake my claim on that time and space for my own self.
This is what you need to know about runners: We aren’t running away from anything. We are running to something, toward a place deep within ourselves. As the miles unfold down the road, we approach a distant locale of our soul. We are challenged from within … we challenge ourselves from within. To be better. To know better. To do better.
There is healing and self-awareness that can only be reached in solitude, when there is sweat on your forehead and your calves are throbbing and your heart rate threatens to rush above 180 beats per minute. There is abiding joy and purpose in the realization that I ran farther today, or faster, than yesterday.
Because it’s not about the miles I cover outside, but the distance I’ve traveled within.
So you’ll understand that training for a race, even a once-in-a-lifetime event like the Boston Marathon, is really just an excuse to run.
When race day arrives, never mind that hundreds or thousands of other runners may be jostling with me at the starting line. I know that I am only competing against the most challenging opponent … the same foe who confronted me across so many miles in the months leading up to the race. Myself.
I will push myself to run faster, to embrace the pain, to accomplish something I didn’t know I could achieve. Then I will believe I can do anything. And I will be a better person for it.
Because running is so intensely personal, this attack on runners was inherently personal. I was attacked. I felt vulnerable, victimized.
So after arriving home from Boston on Thursday night, one of the first things I did, as soon as I was able, was go for a run on Friday morning. It was cathartic. So I ran again on Saturday, for all of the same reasons. I hope those reasons are clear now.
This is why I run. And this is why I still hear the bombs exploding in Boston.