For me, the finish line of a marathon showcases the best of humanity: charity, pride and humility, all in one snapshot.
Last year, as I kicked down the home stretch of the Pittsburgh Marathon, I remember smiling goofily, my body filled with a sense of euphoria that temporarily erased the pain. I remember the roar of the crowd on the Boulevard of the Allies, the volume of its collective voice lifting my feet from the asphalt. I remember thinking I would do it all again just to relive those moments.
Soon, the intoxication of running through the phalanx of screaming spectators would fade, and the disorientation set in. That's when volunteers swept in like angels with water bottles and sturdy shoulders to lean on. Minutes after I finished, when it felt like my sneakers were cemented to the pavement, a female volunteer helped me to the left side of the finish area, to the waiting arms of my parents, and wrapped a foil blanket around me.
That's where it would have happened, perhaps a block from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette building, where the Boulevard of the Allies terminates. That's where we would have heard the booms and the screams that followed. The shards of glass from Boylston Street in Boston on April 15 might have been from my own office, the victims my parents, spectators or those saintly volunteers.
As I'm writing this, Boston is picking up the fragments of an experience that has for decades put our most admirable qualities on display: from the peak athleticism of elite runners to the less-than-elite folks like myself, who live ordinary lives and seek to do something that seemed, just six months prior, out of reach.
Marathons are special sporting events, bringing a unique solidarity to the participants and the spectators. They are civic outings as much as athletic ones, a chance for a host city to open its arms 26.2 miles wide and say, "This is my home."
By the time you will have read this, these words will have been proven true: The tragedy in Boston cannot destroy the triumph of the marathon experience. In the United States alone, there will have been several marathons across the country run without the kind of horror seen on April 15. They may be run quietly, in places you've never heard of and by people you'll never meet. But inside those runners, there will be extraordinary personal victories, a sense that they hope to share with the people around them.
Some people run because they want to be better at something else. Some people run to be thin or to "get in shape." (These people call running things like "cardio.")
I run because I think it makes me a better person. I don't mean a superior person or even a faster one. I don't think I'mbetter than anyone because I finished a marathon, in part because it took me four hours and thirty-five minutes. That time landed me smack dab in the middle of my age group and more than two hours behind the first person who crossed the finish line. (In coverage following the attack in Boston, the media referred to those who ran my pace as "plodders" and "triers.")
I run because running--particularly the long distances--put me in touch with pieces of myself that I don't feel often enough. Like the humility of running slow and looking ridiculous in mom's handme- down lavender tights and dad's old balaclava, which makes me look like a scuba diver; the humility of getting outpaced by a graying man in a road race and thinking "My God, that man must be 70!" (I was wrong. He was 69); the humility of wearing a water bottle fanny pack with no irony whatsoever.
And gratefulness.When the mileage climbs, and my legs ache, and my heart pounds, I have to convince myself that it isn't all that hard, that this isn't all that bad. So I think about the fact that I can run, that I have pair of legs --albeit with uncooperative hamstrings-- to feel pain in, that this agony comes from a challenge I chose for myself. It's liberating.
This is something the attacks at Boston cannot break. If anything, it underscores these lessons about resilience, about cherishing another day and another mile.
The Boston One Fund
The Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon plans to honor the victims of the Boston Marathon tragedy by providing a "Boston Blue" wristband to anyone who donates to the "Boston One Fund" at the GNC Live Well Pittsburgh Health & Fitness Expo. Runners will be able to show their support every step of their 26-mile journey to the finish line in support and honor of Boston. For more information, visit http://PittsburghMarathon.com.