As someone who has ran 5 marathons in the last few years, I’m going to let those of you who don’t run marathons in on a little secret. Contrary to what you might think, marathon runners are not elite athletes. Granted, there are elite marathon runners and all of the other professional runners who are actually competing with each other to cross the finish line first for a prize, but they comprise such a small portion of all the runners who are out there on the course. What are the other 20,000 people doing on a marathon course?
The answer is simple. Being a part of something larger than ourselves. Healing ourselves. Standing up for what we believe in. Raising money for causes we hold dear. Dying to the part of us that says we aren’t capable of doing great things.
I showed up to my first marathon a few years back fully expecting to see nothing but slim and trim athletes and having given birth to my son only a little over a year ago, I was sure they were all going to be in much better shape than I was. I was shocked to see that marathon runners were comprised of some of the most unatheletic looking individuals on the planet. All shapes. All sizes. And all ready to run. It was during my first marathon that I learned what running a marathon is all about: Heart.
Running a marathon is all about heart. It is a journey of the soul more than anything else. Yes, you train because you have to respect the distance, but we are all running for something and it’s not to win thousands. We are running for a reason. One of my favorite things to do while I run is to read everyone’s t-shirts. Most everyone is running for somebody else or for something else. The course is loaded with people running to remember someone else because it’s a tangible way to remember, grieve, and acknowledge the importance of their life. It provides a way to give the loss some kind of meaning.
My first marathon I ran as a St. Jude Hero which means I raised money for St. Jude’s Childrens Hospital, but I will always cherish my second marathon that I ran as part of Team Jake. Jake had cerebral palsy and in 2006, his dad ran the OC marathon to raise awareness for Cerebral Palsy. He carried his son, Jake, in his arms across the finish line. The family spent the entire afternoon with Jake and his father celebrating the marathon finish. That night Jake died peacefully in his sleep. Rather than give in to grief and bitterness, the family embraced the OC marathon as an opportunity to honor Jake’s life and to continue to raise money for Cerebral Palsy.
This is what I mean by heart. And this is what was out on the Boston Marathon course yesterday. Thousands of people running to honor a memory. Thousands of people running to honor a cause. Thousands of people running to get their life back. Thousands of people completing the final piece in a long complicated journey of grief. Mile 26 was marked to honor Newton’s victims, but every step of those 26.2 miles carried with it names and faces of runners trying to honor loved ones in some way.
In addition to the senseless death and injury that occurred yesterday, the coward for yesterday’s events took something that is so sacred to the marathon itself. The coward dishonored the lives of countless individuals, took away the opportunity for the runners to complete their journey. Took away the chance to cross the finish line because for all of us that have ran we know that it is so much more than the end of 26.2 miles. For most of us, crossing that line is not an ending, but a new beginning.
My heart broke. I didn’t know how to process yesterday’s events so I did the only thing I know to do. I grabbed my shoes and tightened up my laces. I put a helmet on my son’s head and handed him his scooter.
And we went for a run.