I love to run, especially marathons. The training is grueling and time consuming yet the feeling of crossing the finish line is amazing. The cheering crowds give you energy to run faster, even when your body runs out of energy. For those of you who aren’t runners or have never been to a marathon, you have to experience it to really understand.
The two bombings at the Boston Marathon killed three and injured hundreds. The bombs exploded near the finish line as runners were waiting for their moment of training and hard work to pay off. After hearing the news, my first thought was about the runners that were hurt and the horror that they felt. This is a tragedy for anyone to experience in any situation, but to experience that as you are close to a marathon finish line is something that I can’t imagine.
I’m thinking about the spectators who were killed or severely injured. They were selflessly cheering on their friends, family and strangers. Watching the recreation runners (or walkers) finish a marathon is not like a big sporting event with star athletes. Getting to a marathon involves road blocks, traffic jams, big crowds. With the masses of people, it’s hard to find who you are looking for and to get where you need to go. The reason spectators go is to support someone else.
I’ve run the Baltimore Running Festival several times and it’s really touching that people come out of their houses to cheer on the runners, and not just the fastest runners. They are cheering on the regular people. They could be doing other things that day but they chose to come out holding up signs, singing and giving out treats to people that they don’t even know. This helps make the marathon a great overall experience, and not just a physical challenge. There were so many people who I didn’t know looking at me and saying supportive words like you can do it!
During the Marine Corps Marathon, I just kept thinking about friends that I saw along the way, which kept me going. On the other hand, there are parts of the race a few miles from the finish where there are hardly any spectators. Running at those points is more difficult because you feel alone. There are fewer runners around, some limping, and you are getting tired. It’s depressing in those moments, because you’ve come so far. When I get past those points, the cheering crowds lift me back up, and I start to speed up. When you cross the finish line and the masses of people are there, cheering, there are no words for how uplifted you become.
A few years ago I ran the last 13 miles of the Marine Corps marathon with a friend for his first marathon. He was running for charity and wanted the extra support to get through the hardest miles. While I waited and looked for him at mile 13, I started cheering for the other runners that were coming by. They saw my race bib so they knew that I was a runner too (Many of them thought that I had already finished and came back to cheer. No I’m not that fast!). I was in a place where there weren’t many spectators, and so many people thanked me as they ran by for being there to cheer for them. It was overwhelming to feel that much appreciation from so many people. Their gratitude for my support shows just how important it is for runners to have people on the side-lines cheering for them.
At the Baltimore Marathon last year, I stayed until the end, cheering for the people who were coming in within an hour of the cut-off time. The crowds thin out at that time. Finishing 26.2 miles at any pace is an accomplishment, and they deserved the support. I wondered what their stories were and what motivated them to be there.
When I first heard about the bombings, I felt apprehensive to run a marathon again, especially in Boston, which was one of my goals. I missed the qualifying time a few years ago by 3 minutes. In the days since, I’ve actually felt the opposite, that I don’t want this to deter me or anyone else from the marathon experience. The marathon experience is inspiring. You see people in wheel chairs, the blind (lead by guides) and older people crossing the finish line. And there are so many people running or walking for charity or for the benefit someone else. In my first marathon, I remember a man running past me whose shirt proclaimed this is his 100th marathon! He was probably in his mid-70s (and yes, he ran right past me!). I thought how great marathon running is, that it keeps people motivated and in shape in their 70s and beyond. This is inspiring for the other runners and the spectators.
In the pictures at the scene of the Boston bombings, there is a man who has fallen when the bomb went off because of the strong force around him. I found out that he was 78-years-old. Just being 78 and completing a marathon is inspiring , not to mention that he ran a 9:18 per mile pace! He kept going. Thank God he was ok.
Marathons are not just about the runners, they are about the spectators and all of the people who support the runners. To all of the volunteers and spectators who are out there supporting the runners and walkers in marathons: We appreciate you! We may be too tired to tell you that at the time but we do. You give energy to the race. Marathons just wouldn’t be the same without you. Please keep cheering, keep supporting, keep going.