It Wasn't About the Runners. But It Was Definitely About the Marathon

In the aftermath of yesterday’s tragedy in Boston, I struggled to understand how I felt. I found some solace in the words of others; one review that did a stellar job of capturing in a few short words what the Boston Marathon means to runners. Another one offered a poignant description of how what happened was the antithesis of what running is all about. But even so, I felt that these words weren’t capturing what I was feeling.

Like many, I watched the videos over and over, trying to find sense, trying to find a reason, trying to find something to make me think that things were ok, but the more you watch, the more you realize that for many, things may never be ok again.

Finally, I realized what it was. What I’d been scared to admit.

Watch the video from the finish line again. Or like me, just replay it in your mind. Now, at the moment just before things changed, pause it. Whisper to yourself, “There’s a bomb somewhere in this picture. Choose the safest place to be before you hit play.” Inevitably, you won’t choose the sidewalk. Instead, your place of refuge will likely be in the middle of the street, where the runners are.

And that’s when it hit me: this isn’t about the runners.

Like it or not, admit it or not, our sport – like most pursuits – is often a selfish one. I’m reminded of this every weekend I make certain the family activities don’t conflict with key races. I’m reminded of it on the nights before key workouts, when I’m preoccupied with the next day’s pain.

As runners, we try to deflect the idea of such things, justifying our selfish motives with talk of the pursuit of fitness or the importance of the development of discipline. All true, to be sure. That said, these excuses do more to explain our selfishness than to justify it.

Like most runners, I try to mitigate such things. Last weekend, for instance, I rose silently in the quiet of the sunrise, snuck off to a half marathon and returned home prior to the family so much as waking.

But last year, when the marathon gods had finally granted me access to Boston after four failed attempts, my family was there. While I ran down closed off streets, they navigated traffic in a city they’d never been before. While I heard the roar of the crowds, they swore at a Garmin that seemed entirely flummoxed by a traffic system seemingly designed by someone other than an engineer.

And when I finished, I noticed all of the families and friends, packed six deep into those same sidewalks that were the scene of such carnage, cheering for their loved ones, forgiving them for the days and miles of selfishness.

Last night, my daughter posted to her Facebook account that we should all "hug our runners a bit tighter" tonight. Like my daughter, it was kind and thoughtful, but it also showed that like many - she didn't grasp that yesterday wasn't about the runners. Or at the very least, it wasn't mostly about the runners.

In light of yesterday’s events, people have asked me if – given the chance – I would return to Boston again, and like any patriot, any marathoner, I give the snap answer. Of course, I say. And I mean it.

But ask me if I’d let my family go. Ask me if I’d be comfortable with them sacrificing more than they already have. Ask me if you must.

But I have no answer.


  1. Anonymous10:27 AM

    Marcus, Your perspective of the tragedy is not by one of selfish thoughts.

  2. Anonymous12:30 PM

    So strange - I was thinking the exact same thing earlier today. At some point during the night I decided that I wanted to go back to Boston next year. This morning as I was getting ready for work and going through my routine, I was rehearsing the conversation I'd need to have with my family, "Just in case something were to happen, I don't want you to be there. Please don't come."

  3. Nice post. It's not about the running, the runners, or even the marathon, really. It's about vulnerabilities that we will never be able to mitigate. I've often thought during large races that the race would be an easy terrorist target- not because of what people are doing, but because it's impossible to secure a course of that distance. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


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