Monday, April 15, 2013

Running For Boston

Today is a day the running community will never forget. I started my day excited: reaching my fundraising goal for Team In Training, excited about building up my mileage again in preparation for my upcoming marathon, pleased with how my training run went on the weekend, and excited to read up on the coverage of today's Boston Marathon, a race I'd never been as excited for in my life. This time last year, I was not yet a marathoner myself, and did not understand fully what it meant. Today, it was a much bigger deal. I packed my duffel bag this morning with plans to run after work, exhausted after a busy weekend and unable to get up early to go in the morning. I threw in my gear, and when it came to shoes, there was no question about it: I was choosing my Adidas Bostons. This is the race every runner dreams about, and it was happening today. And because I do have a few pairs of running shoes to my name, I hadn't worn these shoes since my race last weekend. They still had the timing chip attached and a memory of a finish line shining on them.

Hard at work at the office, I got an email notification of receiving a donation that put me over the top of my fundraising goal. I put work aside for a moment, and literally minutes after posting on Facebook excitedly about the fundraising success, I started to get a whole pile of messages: texts, tweets, Facebook messages, and emails. Messages of shock, pain, links to photos, articles - more than I could keep up with. The news was out about the tragedy at today's Boston Marathon, and everyone knew to tell me. It doesn't matter if you are a fast runner, a slow runner, a marathoner or a short distance runner, the Boston Marathon is the race that captures our imagination and our respect. For many, me included, having the privilege to run this race may take a number of years to accomplish. I dream of the day that achieving my BQ (Boston Qualification) is realistic to attain. And I dream of the day I enter the race, and get to run it myself. Regardless of how far away that dream is from achieving for oneself as a runner, it's a dream we all hold in some way. And being a member of the running community means that undoubtedly you are going to know at least one person who traveled to Boston looking to realize that dream today. Months, possibly years or even a lifetime of hard work culminating in today's race, a race meant to be a celebration of the sport of running and the community it brings together.

As I read the first article I was sent by a friend on my computer screen, I noticed I was holding my phone and in the process of texting a friend, a fellow marathoner. I realized I needed to share the news with him. Meanwhile I continued to receive more messages, this time from family who had just learned the news and wanted to make sure I was aware and I was OK. While everyone knew I wasn't in Boston, they knew that as a runner, as a marathoner, this news is going to hit home even harder. Cam called me to ask me if I had people around me I could talk to. I explained I was going to run after work and figure out some way to process what happened.

I'm not suggesting that this tragedy is in any way more tragic or senseless than those not happening at running races. It's simply that it happening at a race, something that is such a huge part of who I am, and at the race that has captured my imagination and dreams, this tragedy hits too close to home for comfort. It was a week ago that I crossed a finish line. In about 6 weeks or so, I will be racing in a large scale marathon myself. A tragedy at an event like this simply doesn't make sense. How can we ever process something that makes no sense at all? I scrolled through the news in a trance, very much like I have done so in the past when senseless tragedies like Sept 11th, Sandy Hook, the movie theatre massacre, and so on, have occurred. I don't know why I act in this way - perhaps its fueled by the desire to read something that suggests it's somehow not true, that tragedy didn't happen. Yet in the back of my mind there's fear of seeing the numbers of fatalities and injuries increase, so I want to look away. Yet I worry that if I don't know the accurate numbers, I'm somehow not honouring everyone I should as I hold them in my heart and pray for healing.

I looked over at my duffel bag sitting next to my desk, peeled open the zipper, pulled out my shoes and examined them closely; the word "Boston" is written on the back of each shoe. I knew exactly what I needed to do. I needed to dedicate my run today to the runners and spectators involved in today's race and run with them on my heart.  I went onto Twitter and typed in a search "#runforboston" to see what others were saying about the idea, and as predicted, there was more than a lot being said on the Twittersphere about it. I decided then, today's run would be my #RunForBoston. That to me didn't mean running sad, but to reflect on the sport and the community it brings and then it hit me. If it's about running community, I absolutely shouldn't be doing this run alone. And so it began - I started contacting every runner I knew who was in the Vancouver area: those I've run with before, those I never have, even those I'd never met before in person. It didn't take long before the idea and the meeting place I suggested started to get pasted all over Twitter and Facebook. People loved the idea.

I wasn't sure what I had started and started to wonder (with nervous excitement) if just maybe a very large group would form to run together. My phone was flooded with messages, people asking me about distance, planned route, people telling me they loved the idea but didn't have gear with them, or had other commitments. But everyone was pleased to share the idea, everyone considered whether they could in fact make it, and most suggested they'd do their own #RunForBoston in their own way if they couldn't join me in person. I turned up to the meeting spot early, so I could take some time alone with my thoughts, and some silence to attempt to calm my heart. 

As meeting time approached, I didn't see herds of people gathering around me, but I took pleasure in soaking in the sunshine and seeing many runners out along the beach, most of them not alone. Regardless if they were running by my side, they were still running with me. They were still part of my community as runners in Vancouver together. Soon later, my 3 running partners for the evening arrived to join me: Joe who is a good friend of mine, Jeff who I'd met only once briefly but never ran with before, and Kirill who I'd never met before except via Twitter. It was a wonderful run and great conversation the whole way. We ran just over 10km and it was a great reminder of the beauty of the running community: 4 practical strangers able to enjoy an hour of conversation because of a sport, a passion, a lifestyle, we all hold in common. We discussed our running goals and they were all quite different from one another's. Yet we were very much a community held together by running and by a desire to unite for the city of Boston today.

In times of tragedy, we must unite as a community and act in strength. Acts of love and solidarity are far more powerful than any act of horror or violence. While my heart aches for everyone involved, the athletes, supporters, families, race crew, the lives lost, the injuries suffered, the dreams crushed, I am proud to be part of he running community. We're all in it because we love the sport, we love how it brings us together, and we celebrate successes together. And so in times of tragedy, we must come together in solidarity, in friendship, in community. We must unite.

I'm going to end my post today with a quote that was shared with me a few times today, by George Takei who we all love from Star Trek, and his amusing Facebook posts in present day. Today he nailed it right on the head. I didn't know until today that he too used to run marathons, and so he gets it on that other level too:

"When tragedies strike, heroes rise to meet the challenge: the first responders seen sprinting toward the blast site, the runners who changed course to run to local hospitals to donate blood, and the fine citizens of Boston who at once opened their homes to marathoners in need of a place to stay. When we come together, we cannot be brought down."  - George Takei

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