Twenty-two thousand runners participated in the Boston Marathon yesterday, a few of them were professional runners, but most of them were just runners like me, but faster. They qualified for the Boston Marathon.
Fifteen minutes separate me from qualifying for the Boston Marathon, a goal I’ve been working towards for the past four years. Boston has one of the oldest and greatest marathons in the world. As a runner, being there would be a dream come true, and not only because it would mean I’m fast. My father grew up just outside of Boston. The marathon is part of American history, and part of my personal history, too.
Just over a week ago, on April 7th, I ran the Milano City Marathon. It was my seventh marathon, and I didn’t finish as close to the Boston Marathon qualifying time as I’d hoped. My legs cramped and my blood sugar was high, but that doesn’t make me want to stop trying. Neither does the horrifying act of terror that took place yesterday near the Boston Marathon’s finish line. I view yesterday’s attacks not as only an assault against the people of Boston, or against the United States. What happened at the Boston Marathon yesterday was as an act of evil against something that is purely good.
Running is about the triumph of the spirit. It’s about conquering oneself and doing more than you think is physically possible. When you’re a runner with diabetes it’s a double conquest.
Marathon running is a combination of physical endurance and mental strength. The people on the race day course have spent months – or years – training. They’ve been running no matter what the weather was like, often in the dark and when others were sound asleep. They’ve watched what they ate, gone to sleep early, and given up things they love (like a cold beer!) in the name of a better performance. All this to be a part of a celebration of human achievement.
There’s a feeling of camaraderie among the runners – I have felt it in my own country and in the European races I’ve run. And the crowds are part of this, too. They cheer not just the elite runners, but all who participate. My wife Jess was with me in Milano last week. As she put it, “I chased the marathon, and I loved it.” She stood in front of the La Scala Opera House cheering for me and for my friends who were also running. And she just cheered and clapped because the runners are amazing and, “You’re just proud of all of them,” Jess said.
Knowing someone you love is out there watching you makes every hard step a little less painful. But that’s all under the assumption your loved one is safe. You run with the good faith that those running with you, and those watching, will be okay. Sure, someone will get dehydrated, and someone will get pickpocketed. And someone always falls. But as Roger Robinson in the Guardian said of marathon running, “It’s the only sport in the world where if a competitor falls, the others around will pick him or her up. It’s the only sport in the world open to absolutely everyone, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or any other division you can think of. It’s the only occasion when thousands of people assemble, often in a major city like New York or London, for a reason that is totally peaceful, healthy and well-meaning. It’s the only sport in the world where no one ever boos anybody.
If you’re losing your faith in human nature, look at marathon crowds, standing for hours with no seating, no cover, no bathrooms, to cheer thousands of strangers.”
When I approached the finish line of the Milano City Marathon I was in agony, but I didn’t feel alone. The crowd was supporting me, and Jess was there about 150 meters before the finish line. She’d made her way through the crowd to the front. She’d found a place to lodge her foot on the barrier fence so she could push herself up and be taller than everyone else. Through my pain I barely saw her, but I heard her shouting for me. I heard “Go Mikey, go Mikey, go Mikey!”
I crossed the finish line and doubled over in pain. I felt like I was going to throw up. But I also felt like a winner. Everyone who takes part in a marathon gets a medal and feels like winner. After running my first few marathons my young children would ask me if I’d won, and I would always answer yes.
The marathon is not just the 26.2 mile course. It is a long journey. It is mind over matter. It is spirit and will. These are powers we must employ now to get through the Boston Marathon tragedy because there is no finish line for the pain, suffering, and loss that yesterday’s bombings caused.
ASweetLife sends our thoughts and prayers to the victims, their families, and the city of Boston.