I haven’t always been a runner. To be honest, I still feel a little weird sometimes calling myself a runner. I feel even weirder calling myself a marathoner – even though I have completed five marathons.
But as I heard the news of the bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday, I reacted not just as a runner, but as a marathoner. While other similar incidents have affected me, this just hit me more. I struggled to compose myself while reading the news at work. It felt personal.
I have crossed that finish line five times. Never in Boston, but three times in Chicago, once in Minneapolis and once in Tallinn, Estonia. As I ran, I worried about how I’d hold up physically and mentally – whether the inflamed nerve in my foot would act up, whether my bum ankle would give out or whether I’d have to take an ill-timed potty break. Not once did I ever worry about a bomb. Not once did I ever think about terrorists.
But now I will.
Just as there is always just a little inkling of worry in the back of my mind every time I set foot on an airplane, when I line up to start the Soldier Field 10 Mile a month from now, the slightest bit of doubt will inevitably creep in. But I will still run.
A friend asked me on Twitter whether the Boston incident would keep me from running in another mass event. I immediately replied that it wouldn’t. The 9/11 attacks didn’t stop me from flying, I told him. Why would the Boston bombings stop me from running?
Why do I run in the first place?
I went out for cross-country in seventh grade and didn’t even make it a week. I tried to start running again in my early twenties and promptly aggravated an old ankle injury, resulting in six months of physical therapy and no running.
But the desire to run stuck with me and when I was midway through my thirtieth year, I gave it another shot – this time inspired more by a guy than anything else. I signed up for the Shamrock Shuffle 8K solely because he did and barely crossed the finish line, having never run that far in my life. A month later, the boy was gone and I was heartbroken. I turned to running.
Running became my escape. It was my therapy. It was how I survived possibly the darkest time of my life. It was there for me when I felt like no one else was.
I signed up for a half marathon and devised a training plan. Following that plan got me through – it gave me something to look forward to during a time when I struggled to make it through a single day without shedding a tear. But when I hobbled across the finish line in that first half marathon, I swore I would never do it again. I swore there was no way I would ever attempt a full marathon.
I didn’t run for three months, but soon, it started nagging at me. I just couldn’t stay away and before I knew it, I wasn’t just running again, but I was signing up for a 5K and an 8K and a 10 mile. And then, one lonely night as I sat on my couch, sniffling and shivering from a horrible cold, I signed up for the Chicago Marathon.
The experience of training for that first marathon is one I will never forget. As my long weekend runs reached 12 miles, then 14, then 16, I found a high in the knowledge that I was consistently pushing myself beyond what I thought I could do. I discovered a confidence in myself that hadn’t been there in the past. As difficult as it sometimes was to drag my butt out of bed for a 5 a.m. run, I always came home with a smile on my face.
Marathon day itself was a mix of emotions. An abnormally hot October day, I felt lucky to finish in about five and a half hours. As much as I struggled, with friends scattered along the route and a million strangers cheering me on, it was impossible not to keep going.
I’ve been thinking of all of them the last couple days. Chicago is a lot like Boston – while Marathon day may not be a public holiday, it consumes the entire city. Spectators hold crazy signs and shout our names. They hand out candy and drinks and spray us with hoses. When the marathon was cancelled due to heat in 2007, we heard the same stories of generosity from Chicago spectators that we’ve been hearing from Boston the last few days. What happened in Boston could easily happen in Chicago and that breaks my heart.
But I digress.
Since that first marathon in 2008, running has simply become part of me. I can’t explain fully in words why I love to run. Each time I finish a marathon, I say I won’t do another, but something keeps pulling me back in. Running is my great stress reliever, my time to daydream, my personal escape. It fuels my competitive nature, competing not with others, but with myself. It pushes me beyond my comfort zone more than anything else besides traveling.
So I will keep running. And I’ll run another marathon.
September 11 didn’t stop me from traveling, so why would Boston stop me from running?