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I have only ever run one marathon, and in the cause of full disclosure, I didn’t run all that much of it.  I did complete the whole enchilada, got the medal and everything.  See, I’m a lousy runner.  I don’t expect to ever run in another marathon in this lifetime.  But here’s the big thing I learned: marathons are joyous.  Yes,  I said joyous. And I mean it. And so I #prayforboston.

Thousands of people line up to try something very difficult, to test themselves – even the experienced runners who have done it before don’t know what today will bring.  At the start of the race, the air is thick with excitement, anticipation, and hope.

The start of the 103rd running of the Boston Marathon
Start of the 103rd running of the Boston Marathon. Do the math, this is an older picture.

There are hundreds of volunteers who line up at regular stations along the entire course – that’s a lotta people volunteering – who hold out water and Gatorade (or its variants) cups for runners to grab as they pass.  There are volunteers working the First Aid stops that deal with everything from blisters to blown knees.  I don’t even know how many people it takes to organize the logistics – at my race there was an expo the day before where we checked in, got our race numbers (that was a thrill!) and the little chips racers tie to our shoes that track their time, plus some very nice sponsor swag for sale.  How many people did putting together the 29,000 racer packets, handing them out, and managing the sales floor take? I think every one of them was a volunteer.  Plus the local running club provided race pacers – people who would run the course at a certain speed, say ten miles or twelve miles per hour, so those of us who were less experienced could keep an even pace.  At that point in a runner’s training you know how fast you go (or don’t), but you may not know how to keep from starting out too fast in all the excitement, wearing yourself out for the long haul.  Race pacers really help.Then there are thousands upon thousands of people along the course, cheering and clapping as runners stream by.  It’s incredible how many people turn out to see a marathon.  Runners have about seven hours to complete the whole course before the organizers close it down and scoop up stragglers.  There are always a few racers who take nearly that long, but do manage to finish, and a surprising number of observers stay to the bitter end, cheering for the last bedraggled soul to cross the finish line.  One church had 5-7 people up on its steps waving giant, brilliantly colored silk banners for the whole seven hours ( those things were massive, they have to have been very heavy).  We had bands every 2-3 miles.  Local cheerleading squads turned out.  A small grocer cut up every orange he had in stock into 1-bite wedges and passed them out to the runners streaming by.  I had my name painted across the front of my race jersey, and random strangers would cheer for me by name.  I was even  blessed by a Carmelite nun in a white wool habit just outside her convent as I passed (apparently not looking too good); she had brought an elder Sister out to see the race.  There were people clapping and yelling the whole way, even over the last couple of miles, which I got to rather late.  The good will is almost overwhelming.

By their cheap nexium very nature, marathons are joyous events.  We don’t need to protect them to keep them so, they just are that way on their own.  And they’re not anything else – they’re not political, not ideological, special interest groups are blended in with all the other runners doing this very difficult thing.  Why in the world would someone boobytrap one – and at the finish, where the quotient of joy is greatest?  (There are always a large number of marriage proposals at the finish line of a marathon.)  What could possibly have been the point? (see my notes a few days later, below.  I know what they were trying to do.  I just couldn’t believe they would.)

Honestly, I hope we find the perpetrators and pound them good.  We know (I think) they didn’t die in the blast.  So many lives have been changed forever, in the worst of ways – limbs lost, brains injured, bodies torn and scarred, I can’t even imagine what the final tally will be on top of the three people killed.  Yet I don’t hear people whining, only hugging each other, grieving, and vowing it won’t be like this again.

Boston has heart.  The Boston marathon has been run since 1897.  It will be run in 2014.  I’m sure there will be memorials, probably many of them.  I’m sure runners, amateurs and professionals both, will run next year especially because it’ll be this anniversary.  And that’s all right.  That’s taking the race back to where it belongs.  Marathons are joyous.  And we could all use a little more joy.

Update 4/19

The race was Monday, here it is Friday.  One suspect is dead and the dragnet is seining the other as I write.  The authorities, supported by thousands of citizens crowdsourcing their videos and pictures, have been able to move very fast.  The perpetrators were brothers, typically young (one is 19), typically middle class.   I wonder who convinced them this was a good idea?

I understand why someone wishing to disrupt and dishearten us would try to hit an event like the Boston Marathon. It’s pretty classic, really.  However, from what I am observing, these boys missed a few key insights to the American psyche.  First, this is the USA, we have a big population and a big land mass; there are just plain a lot of us.  Attacking us just unifies us.  This was horrifying – and nowhere near enough to stop the mass of us coming after these boys.  We are going to stop them in their tracks.

Lesson One: if you try to scare us, you’ll just make us mad, and we will find you.  Everyone will help. Lesson Two: You can’t bully us.  It only unites us.  We’ve seen that before and, if anything, tend to overreact aggressively.  Lesson Three:  after we steamroller right over you, we’ll do the very worst thing anyone can do to a passionate young person: we won’t take you or your cause seriously.  Lesson Four:  You’re trying to eat the heart right out of us.  You can’t.  Especially in Boston, a city known for its great heart.    We will circle around the wounded, grieve for the dead, and gather in their memory next year when we run the Boston Marathon again.

If you want to destroy us, good luck trying.  If you want to change us, have the courage to live and be the change you want to see (cliched but so true).  I dare you to work for it. The rest of us will #prayforboston, or whatever version of that we individually choose to practice.

(This was such a waste of two young lives it makes me want to weep.  Child, child, what were you thinking?)

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