Yesterday, while the kids napped (and Peter napped too), I laced up and went out for a run. It was just shy of 2 miles and took me three times as long to finish as it should have (or, I should say, as it would have... or as it did last August, when I last ran this course.) It was hilly and, even with the spring temps, in the full sun, was enough to work up a sweat; I was glad I knew where there was a potty (at a park) because, midway through (even though I went before I left!), I had to pee again (thanks Michael! and again when I got back!). I was slow. I will count my shuffle step as a jog because it felt like running but, when the guy on the riding lawn mower is pretty much 'chicking' you at every pass, you know that you are on the reeeeaaaalllly slow side. I didnt pass any other runners, but there were people working out and enjoying the gorgeous day, especially at the park (where we'd taken the kiddos earlier). As I rounded the bend and saw our car- a glorious sight!!- I slowed to a walk and, in that moment, already couldnt wait to be running again.
Because running is one of those things. To non-runners, it's hard to explain. Peter will run with me on ocassion. He doesnt like it (okay, he pretty much hates it... if there was something else on the list to do, he'd do it in spades before having to run), but he knows how much I love it, so he takes one for the team and will run with me every now and again. (In fact, he may run with me today! And he'll love it more because with his gumby long legs, he'll be able to walk and keep up with me!). He even will take Bobby, who inherited my love of it, out for runs. But he doesn't get it. And honestly, he most likely never will. He's not a runner. And that's okay; it's not for everyone.
Ask someone why they run and you'll get a slew of answers; none of them are wrong. Unlike many other sports and activities, it's such an interesting field of athletes. We are thin and fat, talk and short, fast and slow. And we look at every other runner (no matter what) with awe and happiness, no matter if they are the fattest, slowest, last place finisher of a race we took care of an hour before, or if they are the Adonis that ran by Sarah and I at our first triathlon, leading the elite athletes. It doesnt matter; because you are there... You are working it... You are in the zone. A friendly wave by a runner you pass, a fellow jogger saying "I know it's hard, but you can take this hill", an elite on the corner while you still have miles to go and they have their medal in hand saying "You're doing great." This- this is our sport. This is part of what makes us who we are.
There isnt a lot of money in it. Most "professional" runners have to hold down jobs in addition to logging major miles a week, fitting in naps and good nutrition, and hoping to score prize money by winning races. And yet... The millions arent there, but the love of the sport is. And the love of their fellow athletes and all those who come out to support races is.
There was huge talk after Hurricane Sandy about the NYC Marathon. Should it have been canceled? Should it not have been? NYCM is a HUGE opportunity for runners around the world; being in it and not being able to run it was a slap. But many ran anyway. Not to give a middle finger to the world around them that was in ruins but to give of themselves. They ran their 26 miles wherever they could, giving of their bodies, of their souls as they contemplated the destruction, and their hearts as they offered up prayers and their own sufferings (because, no matter how much we love it, there is an amount of suffering involved in foot to pavement) for those impacted. We run for charities, we run for loved ones who have died or been injured, we run for strangers. Broad Street, in Philadelphia, offers the chance to have the Army assign you a fallen soilder that you focus your intention on for your 10 mile run. Charities like Alex's Lemonade Stand, for whom I ran the Marine Corps Marathon, give your fundraising efforts to organizations that fight childhood cancer. The list goes on and on and on. I cant think of an organized race I've run where helping wasnt the focus. Even when you arent running "for" someone in that sense, miles are a way that runners are able to focus on the world around them and many believe that, in our giving of body and mind and soul, we are able to focus and give to the world at large in a cosmic way. In a 'we-are-one' sort of way.
Sarah likes to say that running is something we do on our own. There's no bike to help bear your weight or take off some of the impact; it's just you. Your body. Your muscles. Your mind. I like to say that it's all in your head; running is 90% mental and 10% physical. You can do it; the real question is do you want to. But it's not just about us. It's about those who support us. Runners couldnt do it without the people around them, some of whom are complete strangers. For those of us with kids at home (who cant run with us yet) we need the support of those we love to care for them as we take a mile (or ten) down. The best races are the ones where there is support and you feel special as you run the miles when you think you just cant do it anymore.
As I've talked about, I love seeing young kids run and get involved in the sport. To that end, I volunteer with our parish CYO in the Cross Country program. Last fall, I worked with K-3rd grade (mostly girls since most of the boys were older, and one PreK little guy!) as they worked so hard to run a bit over a mile. They were inspirational to me and, as I ran the MCM, those kids and their faces were some of the many that flashed through my mind in that 5+ hour experience. But there's one eight year old for whom an XC coach will never cheer or run with; Martin Richard will never run a race... never cross a finish line. Because a coward (or cowards, we dont know yet) decided to build and detonate three bombs at the Boston Marathon a few days ago. His father, who was a runner (conflicting reports say he was either running or was volunteering at the race), has not only lost his son, but his wife suffered a brain injury from the blast and his daughter- who ran the kid's race the day before and medaled- lost a leg. There are nearly 200 casulties (as of now) reported, with over a dozen in critical condition; several people are still in medically induced comas to try and help their injuries. Three, including Martin, are dead already.
The average runner finishes a marathon is 4:30-5:30 (compared to elites, who cross the finish line just after 2 hours). The bombs went off as average runners were crossing the line; not that trying to bomb elitists would have been better. And, as Peter pointed out, runners support each other. The runners who finished first would now have been spectators. But the bombs, while injuring runners, did the most damage to supporters and spectators... Those those who give of their time and energy and love, to support those who are physically running the course.
When the bombs were going off, Peter and I had taken the kids to a craft fair and wine tasting. We were eating cotton candy and buying pottery and just enjoying our family. When I got back to the car and checked my phone, I had texts and emails and messages: Let us know you arent in Boston. Let us know you are okay. Where are you? Are you okay???? As I began to respond, I wondered what had happened that would make people question where I was and if I was okay. I spoke to my mom last night and she told me that, shortly after the blast, my grandmother called her in a panic. " Michele's not running the Boston Marathon is she? Do you know where she is? She hasnt answered the phone." At some point, I used my phone to google and realized the tragedy that had befallen one of the most loved marathons in our country.
And I was heartbroken. And felt so incredibly helpless. Hours away (and, let's face it, not exactly able to help out in my present capacity), I was worried about the people I love: 2 of Sarah's sisters live outside of Boston and one is a runner... our cousins in Plymouth, one of whom is a fireman in a neighboring town- would he be called into the city to help?? were there more bombs??... of the bloggers I know from the Boston area... of the city I've visited and loved, and all those runners and spectators. It made me sick to my stomach. Later, when I heard about little Martin, I thought of Bobby and Maya's little cousin, who is 7 and lives near Boston... He was her age. Could I imagine life without her, especially because of some awful act like this? No... and I cant even fathom it now. It hurts too much.
But one family is doing way more than fathoming it. They are living that nightmare.
Runners all over the world laced up yesterday in the aftermath. We cant do anything tangible, but we can come together as one- as one community, as one sport, as one human body- and we can send our intentions to Boston and all those impacted. We can do it today and tomorrow and... It can be 1/4 mile or 14 miles- it doesnt matter. It can be you, standing on the corner, just sending up a thought and prayer. Physically, we can give of our bodies so that our minds can connect into that place, where the Divine that is within us connects with the Divine that is within every other person, and we can find a place of peace. And of hope. And of love.