Wednesday, 17 April 2013

We are runners

There are so many layers to the Boston Marathon terror attack, and so much has been written already that I will try to keep this brief and make my point distinct.

For those who maybe don’t know the context; the Boston Marathon is hallowed turf for mass-participation marathoners. It is the only major race in the world where the general public are welcome to enter, but only if they meet demanding qualifying times, creating a uniquely meritocratic environment in public sport. For runners like me, this makes qualifying for Boston seem a distant and ultimate goal, something to aspire to as we slowly whittle our PBs down towards a fast enough time. Some people train to qualify and don’t even need to run the race – just being the proud holder of a marathon PB that equates to a ‘Boston Qualifier’ (BQ) is enough. The finish line is an even more distant part of that challenge, I think of it as an almost mythical, ethereal entity - crossing it would certify my ultimate achievement in ‘recreational’ distance running.

I watched the news unfold open-mouthed. The finishing line of the Boston Marathon - a symbol of achievement beyond achievement, of years of hard work and sacrifice – left battered and blood-stained. The spell was broken. Boston’s finish line was revealed for what it was: an arbitrary line drawn on an ordinary street, that could be anywhere in the world. Just another in the long list of places where the scum of the earth had set out to force chaos, tragedy and hatred on innocent people.

For a few devastating moments, I doubted whether the magic and wonder of the marathon could ever be the same again. Perhaps this was a watershed occasion, where our passion was shown to be a frivolous, pointless and arbitrary act. Unimportant. Self-important. Self-absorbed.  Dangerous, expensive and vulnerable.

Then more stories emerged. Not of runners complaining that they missed their moment in the spotlight. Not of crowds panicking and fighting to get away from the scene. Not of chaos and violence.

Stories of courage and hope and selflessness. Of fearless runners and volunteers and emergency services. Endless offers of accommodation, queues to donate blood, messages of condolence and solidarity and love and support. Survival, persistence, and mutual respect. The spirit of the marathon, laid bare.

As one tweeter put it: "If you're trying to defeat the human spirit, marathon runners are the wrong group to target."

I will be running the Virgin London Marathon on Sunday, along with tens of thousands of others. We are runners, and we are not afraid.

Happy running


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