Like most of you, I have been reflecting on the events surrounding the Boston Marathon this week and trying to process another national tragedy. I am hundreds of miles away, but the sadness I feel for the lives lost weighs heavily. I have been thinking a great deal about running, and what it meant symbolically to the participants in the race and the crowd cheering them on that fateful day.
I have always loved to run, unfortunately, I’m terrible at it. I’m not a fast runner, I’m not even that great at going long distances. Before last year I had never run for more than six miles in my life. Yet, it’s something I always return to. No matter where I am in the world, going for a run is something that centers my experience. It gives me space to clear my head and to feel control when the world around me is spinning so out of control. The times in my life when I have been most dedicated to running have been the most emotional and tumultuous, times of personal uncertainty and transition. During those times, the open road is something I can always count on. Whether it’s in the heat of summer and I’m going for a run in the middle of the night joined by the sound of crickets and cicadas, or putting on my thermals and jumping over drifts of melting snow, the ability to run brings me a sense of comfort I can’t duplicate. There’s a movie quote from What Women Want that I’ve always identified with:
“The road doesn’t notice if you’re not wearing lipstick. It does not care how old you are. You do not feel uncomfortable because you make more money than the road. And you can call on the road whenever you feel like it, whether it’s been a day or a couple of hours since your last date. The only thing the road cares about is that you pay it a visit once in a while.”
Two years ago, I lost my ability to run due to an illness. Unexpected and unwanted, this illness left me feeling physically weak and emotionally and mentally defeated. I had always taken wellness for granted, the way most healthy twenty-somethings do until they can’t. Thankfully, my illness was treatable and no longer affects me. To celebrate my recovery from being sick, and in part to prove to myself that I was still strong and capable, I ran my first half-marathon around this time last year. It was my very first race. I remember eating pasta the night before with a co-worker who was also competing (because that’s what you do, right?). As we strategized and compared training methods I remember feeling nervous excitement mixed with fear. I had been preparing for this race for months. I’d run in the cold sleet of January, I’d run on vacation, I’d run when it was the last thing I wanted to do. I’d told my parents, my co-workers, and Facebook about the race. The only thing left to do was run.
The day set aside for the race finally arrived and the energy of that beautiful April morning was probably only a fraction of the anticipation and accomplishment felt last week when the Boston Marathon began. It’s hard to describe the mood at these events unless you’ve been a runner or bystander, but it’s as if there is a collective inhalation, a holding of the breath when the race starts. This breath is held by the crowd and let out with each hill climbed, each mile marker passed; a sigh of relief uttered for every runner who safely crosses the finish line.
I ran that day by myself, but I wasn’t alone. Volunteers with water rushed to greet me at every rest stop, strangers encouraged from the sidelines, reading my jersey and cheering my name. It was emotional and exhilarating. I hadn’t seen my Dad before starting the race, but on the last mile I heard him call my name as he ran and skipped beside me, smiling and waving his arms. I carried the support and love I received with me as I crossed the finish line, exhausted and filled with joy.
Last week, this experience was ripped away from athletes who had trained and prepared for the Boston Marathon. It was taken away from their family and friends who had lovingly encouraged and supported them along the way. A positive and peaceful event became tragic and fearful. Words cannot express the sorrow and sympathy I feel for what took place.
I wish I could say I’m still in marathon shape. That I kept up with my training schedule and went on to run a full marathon. Instead, I got lazy and complacent. I went back to my “exercise when I feel like it mentality” (which is very rarely) and kept eating pasta.
Starting to run consistently again was one of the priorities I made for myself when choosing to embark on a year of travel. It hasn’t been going so smoothly. The first week I was in Chicago I tripped and face planted on the sidewalk while running, leaving my right hand and left knee badly scraped and bruised. More recently I’ve developed shin splints, a problem I’ve never had before. Sometimes I’m tempted to give up. I want to sit still and give into the pain of my throbbing calves. I want to focus on my ripped pants and bleeding knee, letting my cheeks get hot with embarrassment.
Why do I keep running? I run to prove to myself that I will not be defined by sickness. I run for my grandma who was bound to a wheelchair as a young mother. I run for Boston. I run for the lives lost to prove that death is not the last word, that tragedy will not define our country. I run because I can. Someday, I’ll grow old with age (if I’m lucky) and my body will once again lose the ability to run. When that day comes I hope the Master will tell me I have run the race well.
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1-2)Google+