Martin Richard, 8 years old, was taken from his family and friends at the Boston Marathon on Monday. I was crushed when I heard about him. He came to celebrate the race, the place where we stop for a day and a huge crowd of over 15,000 take a bold leap. Courage, fear and heart on display for all to see. His loss hits me personally because of my love for this race, and here’s why:
I’ve already written at length about running the Boston Marathon, and what it meant to me. I can’t stop thinking about the tragedy there this week.
As I went through my 20’s sources of inspiration began drying up. The church, mired in scandal, and a symbol of pain. Fictional characters were recognized as just that, people that weren’t real. I began to run more often just because it was too difficult to try and find anyone left that played tennis, and there were no trails for rollerblading like there were back in the Bay Area (does anyone rollerblade anymore?)
The first race I ran was a 5k in Cambridge and I won first place in my division (Fat Bastard) by cracking 7:30 miles, a pace I haven’t seen in years. In the finish chute a guy behind me was lamenting how he was in better shape when he had run the marathon. This was a spark – I had outrun somebody that was able to run the marathon.
The next step was to go to the finish to see what it’s all about. The first time I went late in the day. The winners tear across the line in a split second. The true drama is to see the people coming in as the clock climbs to 4, 5 and even 6 hours. It’s difficult to put into words the range of emotions you see and feel watching the finishers. The tears, the limping, bleeding, the dazed and confused. All reaching deep within to accomplish their goal, many for the first time, or for charity once the 4 hour mark has passed (if you can’t make the qualifying time of around 3 hours, depending on your age, you can still get a number for the race if you raise money for charity, usually more than $2,000). It’s overwhelming to see people in the last hundred yards of their own 26.2 mile personal hell. I hate having to drive 26 miles, never mind running it.
The more you follow it, the more inspiring it becomes. Seeing Team Hoyt, a familiar site at all the big races. The hundreds of runners raising money for charitable causes. The man pushing himself backwards in his wheelchair. For any runner that gets drawn to it, it quickly takes on mythic proportion. It’s an audacious goal to set for yourself, and it requires such a commitment that you can’t help but create a bunch of your own stories as your adventure unfolds.
My college friend Tony Ong got me running with the Nike Running Club on Wednesday nights, a group led by Shane O’Hara (I was relieved to find this article about him and hear that he was ok). Shane would eventually leave Nike and become the Manager of Marathon Sports, the store at the finish line, you can see it in most of the pictures. Tony is fit enough that he can just jump in and run, and was thankful that he didn’t train this year otherwise he would have been closer to the trouble. He and his family got out of town with no problem. Soon enough I was signed on to run as a fundraiser for the Franciscan Hospital for Children.
What makes the Boston Marathon unique is that mere mortals like myself will never know what it’s like to throw or catch a touchdown in the Super Bowl, to step up to the plate to swing for a home run in October, or hear “GOOOOOOAL” as the ENTIRE WORLD watches you during the World Cup; but anyone with enough heart can get to the start behind some of the world’s greatest athletes (way behind in my case) in what many consider to be the world’s premier marathon.
Like many, my training did not go well. During the last week when you are supposed to taper down and have a huge surge in energy (many complain about getting very little sleep in the week prior to the race), I was sleeping 8-10 hours and sluggish all the time. Though I plodded along, I did manage to finish before the course was closed, I would not have been that lucky this year. My brother jumped in in the last half mile and crossed the finish line with me. The photo is here with me in my office to see every day.
It causes me great pain that the devices were set to 4:09. If the intent was getting the most media it would have gone off around the 2 hour mark when the elite athletes would finish. The 4 hour mark is when one of the largest packs come in. This was a strike not at the runners with world class talent, but those running on heart.
And yet those responsible are not only cowards but fools. The group that runs on heart knows they can’t win this race. They know at best it will be exhausting, if not painful. Giving enough sweat to feel the salt on your skin is certain, blood and tears probable. They will run in the dark, in single digit weather, on the ice for the chance to run in April where yes, it can be 80 degrees, or it can snow, or rain, or anything between. This event makes no sense. It exists only because people have the courage to try it, and others come to cheer and be inspired (and well, yes, the college kids party hard and cheer really loud, that’s their job). More adversity just makes the stories of the heroes more impressive, more motivating and likely for the next group to catch the spark.
Martin Richard, I never knew you but I can never forget you. In his memory PLEASE DO SOMETHING, even if it’s just an extra hug to your kids or the 10 seconds it takes to give to a worthy charity. If what do makes you a little bit uncomfortable, perhaps makes you afraid because you may fail, and inspires you to take a chance; that’s even better.