I was going to post tonight about the Rishikesh half marathon, and how I’ve had to drop out of it because of the trapped nerve in my back that’s twisting me up and stopping me from training. That doesn’t really seem very important now.
It feels like longer, but it was only about five months ago that I met Rob Davies on the street a few yards from where the first of the Boston bombs blew yesterday. I’d already spent the afternoon wandering around the centre of the city, and decided I like it very much indeed. It reminded me of Glasgow, which I’ve been away from long enough to miss. Rob took me back to his place and made jambalaya for his wife Sara and I. It was a splendid day, with excellent people.
A couple of months later, I ran (well… stumbled) the Mumbai marathon. It was the first I’ve ever tried, and it was an extraordinary thing.
There’s nothing evil about a marathon, and that alone puts it in a category of human endeavor to which few other things gain entry. A marathon doesn’t care about your politics, your nationality, your religious beliefs, or your social status. It doesn’t care if you’re a good person, or a bad person.
Although the Boston marathon takes place in America, it isn’t about America. It’s the oldest organised modern marathon, and one that you have to qualify for (unless you finish another marathon in a certain time, you can’t race – Boston is nobody’s first marathon). I’d like to qualify for it one day, though I doubt I will.
For that reason people fly in from every country imaginable to take part. If you run marathons, you can’t help but have that ambition – to run Boston (or at least, achieve a qualifying time and know that you could run Boston). If you manage it, you join a crowd of people whose huge variety of beliefs would ensure that they would never ever come together in other circumstances, for any other single purpose. They lace up their shoes, and set out to run for slightly further than the human body is supposed to be able to manage, on a gruelling, humbling course. During the time it takes to do that, whether they’re at the front of the race or the back, they’re united by a single goal. They don’t ask questions about one another. They don’t fight or argue. They just run, together. They’ve qualified for Boston, hitting a pinnacle of achievement, and that’s enough to bond them.
In the course of doing so, most will discover something worthwhile about themselves and the people around them. it’s cheesy, but it’s true.
As far as we know, three people died at the Boston marathon this year. One of them was an eight year old boy, waiting for his dad to finish. That kid must have been nuts with excitement, waiting to see his dad complete this impossible, awesome thing. There’s a lot of hope, in that image of the kid. If you’d seen him waiting, you probably would have smiled despite yourself, no matter how cynical you usually are.
There will be a label attached to this bombing at some point. It might be ‘terrorism’, and that’s certainly what everyone expects the investigation to uncover as I’m writing this. It could as easily be the work of some deranged individual, in the same class as people who walk into schools and slaughter as many children as they can find with semi-automatic weaponry. Whatever the motivation, terror and pain were the intent. It worked, but it won’t last.
Marathoners run towards things, not away from them. It’s pretty much hard-wired in.
Everybody else? Spectators near the blasts stormed the temporary fences to try to get to the injured (there were, it looks like, many horrific injuries), and did so not knowing whether the bombs were done. Along the route, Bostonians opened their homes to runners who hadn’t reached the finish yet and didn’t know what to do or where to go (there’s a particularly good blog from one runner here).
I find all that inspiring. Marathons brings out the best of people, and the Boston marathon did too. I hate that we only really see the best of people in circumstances such as these, but it offers a little hope. It’s easy to let just the fact of an atrocity like this (and the many others that happen worldwide every day, in every nation, whether they get the coverage or not) shave just a bit more optimism from you, so a little hope can go a long way.