I had a different post planned for today. It was funny. It involved Hugh Jackman, a crazed fan with an electric razor and a thrown handful of hairs from down under – and I don’t mean the kind from his native Australia. But then Boston happened. And suddenly random attacks did not feel so funny. Not funny at all.
It was a strange coincidence: There I was, just finishing up a puff piece for Shape about what makes the Boston Marathon so special that I have a bootcamp instructor who tattooed his race time on his body and blithely thinking about all the people running today. But no sooner had I sent it to my editor than I got an alert in my newsfeed. Unexplained explosions on the race course had claimed three lives and injured over 100 people, some so gruesomely that the media is reporting “extensive amputations” on a grand scale.
I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine what, who or how. I especially can’t imagine why.
But I can imagine where. This tragedy would be epic no matter where it occurred, make no mistake, but there seems to be a particular poignancy that it happened during the venerable Boston Marathon, a gathering of some of the best pro and amateur runners in the world. It’s a race and a place where so many dreams are hung that people talk about their time there for decades afterward. Despite the hundreds of marathon courses around the country there is something special about Boston.
In the world of marathon running there is one race that trumps them all: The Boston Marathon. People train for years to qualify, spend thousands of dollars to attend it and nothing give you more instant street cred than saying you “did Boston.” Yet with 693 marathons scheduled for 2013, there are plenty of opportunities to get your 26.2 in so what is it about the Boston Marathon?
1. The prize purse. The male and female winner each get a hefty $150,000 in prize money, plus an extra $25,000 if they set a course record. Compare that to the measly $20,000 purse offered to the winner of the New York City Marathon. Sure, most of us probably won’t win but dreaming about what you could do with all that money could certainly help you get through those last few miles!
2. The crowd. Over 500,000 screaming spectators line the course – over 80% of the entire population of Boston – making it one of the best attended races in the country. It even boasts a “scream tunnel” where local college students give extra encouragement to runners. Thousands of people screaming your name is guaranteed to make you feel like a rock star.
3. The exclusive admission policy. Unlike most races, paying the entry fee does not guarantee you a spot. You have to run one of the USATF pre-approved marathons earlier in the season and meet a certain minimum standard, based on your age and gender, to “qualify” for Boston. (Charitable groups are exempt from this.) Just gaining an entry is considered a huge honor and because only the best runners get to enter, any win (even if it’s just passing that guy in front of you in the last mile) is that much sweeter.
4. Heartbreak Hill. While it’s not the most difficult marathon in the US, the Boston Marathon course is known for being tough – thanks to a series of four hills, with the last one coming between miles 20 and 21. This is right at the point where many marathoners “hit the wall” so it’s said there’s more “heartbreak” on that hill from lost or uncompleted races than any other spot. But if you can power up the 88-foot climb and finish, it feels like a serious mental and physical accomplishment.
5. The history. Started in 1897, Boston is the world’s oldest annual marathon. In 2011, Geoffrey Mutai set the record for the world’s fastest marathon by running the Boston course in 2:03:02 (although this time was not recognized by the IAFF because the course is not certified as a world record qualifier). Since then many of the sport’s top athletes have run at Boston. In addition to athletes you may also see some high-profile faces as celebs like Will Ferrell, Mario Lopez and Lisa Ling have all crossed the famous finish line.
Of course now there’s another line item to add to the history of the race: it’s the only one to be attacked by terrorists. But I forgot the most important thing about what makes Boston so special. Sure the prize money is outsized, the cachet is significant and it’s one heck of a race but the real thing that makes Boston so amazing is the people. The runners who work so hard to be there and to finish. The spectators and volunteers who work so hard to be there and to help others finish.
This helping spirit was in it’s purest form today as reports and video show people immediately running towards the blast zone to help the wounded. Even before they knew if another bomb was going to explode. That kind of courage is remarkable and heroic. And it reminded me that while it’s our instinct to focus on the evil who perpetrated the horror, they are but a few in the face of all the heroes who emerged. There are many reports of kind Bostonians who have taken in stranded runners, emergency workers who worked tirelessly and ingeniously, strangers who comforted other strangers and many more who offered a helping hand.
And what do I have to offer? Words. Words that feel tired to me before I even write them. I wrote on Facebook that I was praying for the victims and their families. And I did. I am. But that feels so pathetically little. Lame to the point of being trite. I think this is the worst part for the rest of us: watching the human suffering and not being able to do anything to help. Except post endlessly repetitive thoughts on social media. I wish I had something to novel to say. I wish I had some comfort to offer. I wish I could kick some bad-guy butt (if we even knew who they were).
Most of all I wish I weren’t the girl who just yesterday complained about her muscular, healthy legs – the legs that carried me through my run and weight lifting today. The legs I am so blessed to have. The dreams I still have.
But wishing does no good. So instead I’m turning my wishing into hoping. I hope those who were there will find the words they need to speak of their experience. I hope that I can find ways to comfort those within my reach. I hope someone will find the bad guys and kick their butts. And most of all I hope that when that someday comes for me that I will be one of the ones to run to help. This is my prayer.
I kind of hate this post. It isn’t much and it certainly isn’t enough but I couldn’t think about anything else. And in the end it’s always better to say something than to sit silent. Maybe?
What was your reaction to the news? What do you do when you can’t really do anything? Pray? Worry? Eat? Read every scrap of coverage? Hide from it in a funny book or movie? Do you have any thoughts on why the Boston Marathon is so special? Have you ever run it??