Even though I lived in Seattle when I ran Boston in ‘79, I had grown up in New England and knew the excitement a banner headline could create.
‘Japanese Runners Arrive,’ I recall the Boston Globe announcing one day in the mid -‘60s. What could be bigger news than that? I couldn’t wait for the race itself, even though I then lived five hours away in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
This was magic to a little kid, and I knew that someday I would run this race.ABC in New Hampshire and CBS in Massachusetts were the single television stations we received. Decisions were easy: watch or not - there were no other choices.
It was the Hartford station, with its New York City orientation, that was beamed up into the hilltowns of Western Mass, and so it was that our sports references were the Giants and Yankees rather than the Patriots and Red Sox.
Or would have been, had it not been for an almost forgotten communications device: radio.
Radio reached into our homes with a power that is hard to imagine now. To this day when I think of the Beatles’ first wave, I picture Mt. Washington from my bedroom window and sense the Beatles reaching me with a voice and a message I thought only a twelve-year-old could understand. In Massachusetts, often I would fill the downstairs tub with cool water in the summertime and just sit there and listen for two hours while my beloved Red Sox lost again.The Red Sox are New England’s team, and the Boston Marathon, New England’s race.
Even as a child, I always found something sacred about this race, something unscarred, something pure. Amateurs, and few of them, ran this race for the unfettered joy of it.It was unimaginable that anyone would try to do this race harm.
I wonder now, what it would have been like sitting in that tub, listening to the runners finish, and hearing the bombs go off. What would I have made of this?The first several times I saw video of the Boston bombings there was no sound, just video, so I did not understand the full import of what I was seeing. I knew something was wrong, but not how wrong.
When I heard the audio, I was stunned.The question of the year became: what was your time at Boston?
A new colleague finished in just over three hours and emailed me back to say that by the time the bombs went off, he had retrieved his family from the finish area and they were safely away. I think that he, too, was unaware at first of the devastation wrought by these acts of cowards, though I know they weigh heavily on him still.Aging is a process of loss as well as gain, and as I tend towards the optimistic, I try to keep my focus on gain in the face of sometimes compelling evidence to the contrary. Often, things that are near as well as dear suffer unavoidable collateral damage in spite of our best attempts to spare them. But it’s rare that someone decides - willfully and maliciously - to line up the very best in his sights and pull the trigger.
As a child of Boston who was shaped by small New England towns, I believe strongly in the power and the resilience of my fellow New Englanders. It is Boston - and the entire region - that has been and remains strong.But on Monday, unavoidably, the international distance running community - and our entire nation - will hold its collective breath while the Boston Marathon is run. In spite of massive security efforts, we all will wonder if someone else will attempt the inconceivable.
Strong Bostonians and New Englanders have the answer: they show up. They accept fear as a new reality of this race, and cheer from Hopkinton to Boston anyway.Strong qualifiers from around the nation accept fear as a new part of this race, and run anyway.
Strong champion runners from around the world accept fear as a new element of this race, and race anyway.The rest of us hold our breath - and breathe anyway.
Dagger in the heart of Heartbreak Hill?Clearly not a fatal one, not when incensed millions ask “how dare they?” and answer in defiant protest by lining the course for 26.2 miles.
These millions will by the spirit of their very presence answer the terrorists - resoundingly - the same way David Ortiz did in Fenway Park.