What happened yesterday? Anyone who has run in a large city race or anyone who has been a spectator at such a race will know the rush of emotions: exhilaration, excitement, apprehension, perseverance, celebration. When recalling the experience of a race, everyone remembers the camaraderie amongst runners of all stripes, as well as the outpouring of support from the spectators as we cope with our individual highs and lows throughout those 26.2 miles.
Yesterday, my husband and I watched the Boston Marathon on TV. (We would have loved to be running in it, but you have to be really fast to qualify!) There always are inspirational stories to be found in marathon events, and yesterday was no exception. The first races across the finish line, in the men’s and women’s wheelchair races, were two people who had entered the Boston Marathon for the first time, 46-year old Hiroyuki Yamamoto from Japan and 24-year old Tatyana McFadden from the U.S. The commentators explained that Tatyana was born with spina bifida and had been adopted from a Russian orphanage by an American couple. Talk about a different path in life. It seemed like the race was just getting started and we were already being inspired by what people can do. Watching the elite women come in, each with their own inspiring story, and then the men with theirs, we were reminded again of how individual determination can overcome great odds. The TV coverage we were watching ended at about the 3:00 mark of the race. One of the colour commentators was Kathrine Switzer, the hero who defied the men-only rule of the Boston Marathon in 1967, breaking down that wall, and went on to win the NYC marathon in 1974. In closing it was Switzer who reminded the listeners of the individual accomplishment of each of the 27,000 people running, with most of them still out on the route.
Each runner has a story. That includes runners with special talent who has reached the pinnacle through hard work and good coaching, and also the increasing number of recreational runners who have taken up the sport for any number of reasons and have met their own personal goals. People may take up running to get in shape or lose weight, they may have their arm twisted by a friend and then find they like it, or they may be running to run away from something else in their lives. For most of them, they find personal satisfaction in doing something they never thought they could do. For many of them, they find a new community of friends. It is a way of life. Running is simple. It is physical and it is mental; it is solitude and it is companionship. But it is not political and it is not frightening. Unlike so much of what goes on in the world now, it is fun and it is safe.
Until now. It was only an hour or so after I stopped watching and returned to my computer that I had an email from my daughter-in-law asking “Have you heard?” How could a scene of such celebration be transformed to one of hideous devastation, just … like … that? And to compound the sense of the inconceivable, mile 26 had been dedicated to the 26 people who had been killed in Newtown, Connecticut and many of their families and friends were in the reviewing stands in their honour. How can we comprehend why people do these things? It can only speak well of people that we cannot.
One of Ezra Klein’s Wongblog posts in the Washington Post this morning is called “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” I highly recommend it. His title speaks volumes. And it provides the only answer for the question I posed in my title: is this the end of innocence for runners? No, it isn’t. Once you lace up those sneakers and head out the door, the innocence will return, if only for the duration of the run. It’s the gift of running. It feeds the human spirit.