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Weekly Confessional: Stolen Finish

I confess to getting hung up on a fairly minor point.

When the Boston Marathon bombings happened, I think my reaction was probably similar to most people’s. I was horrified. I’ve been at finish lines as both a runner and a spectator. They have an unbelievably positive vibe. Just about everybody there is personally invested and the people who aren’t are volunteering to help others and are usually very energetic about it. It seemed particularly vicious to wipe all that out with what seemed to be random violence.

Adding to my horror was a little exercise I did. In an attempt to properly empathize with the people affected, I pictured my last finish when I was able to find my wife, my brother, my mom and my sister cheering in the crowd as I crossed. That image is very positive and burned into my brain (I hope) forever. Superimposing the films from the bombings over that image in my brain was too effective, too emotional, because I assumed some poor soul didn’t have to imagine it. Some poor soul probably lived through it.

When I pulled back from that terrible image, I thought of all the ways people would be affected. I eventually realized I didn’t really hear anybody mention the runners who didn’t finish. That’s probably appropriate. They probably consider themselves lucky. I’d imagine most of them felt a little disappointment, but focused their energy on finding their loved ones and getting back home safe. Still, I felt bad for them.

You may know the Boston Marathon is a race for which you have to qualify to register. It’s not easy. A typical marathon runner trains for four to six months for a race. That means anybody in the Boston Marathon had that amount of time in for their qualifying race and then again to properly prepare for the Boston Marathon itself. That is a terrific amount of running that probably required blowing out at least two pair of running shoes.

That’s a hell of a lot of training to have your goal pulled out from under you. That’s why I found it so grating when news announcers kept saying that several thousand of the “recreational” runners had not yet finished the race when it was stopped.

Recreational? Screw you. Somebody my age has to run a qualifying marathon in about three hours to qualify for the Boston Marathon. That’s roughly seven minute miles for 26.2 miles. That is incredibly impressive. When I ran a half-marathon in Detroit, I had an 8:17 pace and finished 80th of more than 800 runners in my age class. That’s more than a minute off the qualifying pace, not to mention the fact that even if I could find that extra speed, I would have had to run the race that fast a second time to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Knowing that, calling anybody running the Boston Marathon a recreational runner seems to only reveal the speaker’s ignorance.

I know these things seem to be of negligible importance compared to the things we did care about, that did get covered and did talk about from that day. Negligible might seem to be overstating it. That’s the main reason I waited two weeks to write this piece. But as a runner who knows a little bit about what it would take to participate in that event, I wanted to say a few words on behalf of a lot of people who lost out on a small thing that may not be all that small to them.

I’m also a runner who knows that people often don’t just start running to get in shape. A couple years ago, I felt like I was probably either depressed or on the verge of depression. In my personal and professional life, there were things I felt I needed to be doing but felt like I was almost physically unable to bring myself to do them. It felt like failure heaped upon failure, but week after week I wasn’t really doing anything about it. It brought about a good deal of self-loathing.

One of the ways I eventually fought this inertia was to make a list of things I wanted to accomplish. I made them all fairly frivolous so that if I wasn’t able to accomplish them, it wouldn’t have the double whammy of failure compounded by an impact on parts of my life that mattered to people other than me. One of the things on the list was to register for and finish an organized race, ideally a half-marathon.

I knew to accomplish this I’d have to train for about four months and it would require a big commitment of time. The strange thing was what I was most worried about was all that time alone. All that time with potentially nothing to think about but things I wasn’t doing well or should be accomplishing. Did I really need more time to worry about things already keeping me up at night? Thankfully, it didn’t work like that. I almost never thought about those things on runs. I thought about things I wanted to be doing. I had ideas. I took in the scenery, looked for funny anecdotes that I could take from my runs.

I have no idea if I’m overstating the role running played in the difference between how I feel now and how I felt before I started. I guarantee you, though, that it played a role. That’s what I can’t stop thinking about when I think of the thousands of runners who didn’t get to finish that race. Simple probability tells me there were people who used running to pull themselves back from what felt like an edge, but didn’t get to finish as they had hoped.

I confess that just like everybody else, I feel incredibly bad for the victims of the bombing we’ve seen in the photos and read about in stories. But I must confess that my mind always wanders a little further to the runners who had that finish line taken from them. I confess I hope one or more of them somehow stumble across this entry and take heart in somebody putting to words that they lost something that day, too.

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April 30, 2013 - Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional

1 Comment

  1. I concur. Even if I don’t understand running I feel the pain of getting cheated and the pain of feeling embarrased to talk about that pain in the face of the enormous pain of loss of life and, literally, limbs.

    Comment by Guido Nius | May 2, 2013


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