|Proudly displaying my medal |
after finishing in 2011
Walking in the front door after finishing a really great five-mile tempo run. That’s where I was when I heard the news about the Boston Marathon bombings. It was about 7:15 a.m. Tuesday here in New Zealand and 3:15 p.m. Monday in Boston (we have a 16-hour time difference). Before I even had one foot in the door, my husband Karl shouted to me from the living room, “There were two explosions at the finish line at Boston!” He showed me a picture that a friend of his from Boston had tweeted of the explosions. Suddenly the 9,000 mile distance between my home here and my “real home” – Indiana – felt so much farther apart. I’ve lived in New Zealand for about three and a half months now and can honestly say that I didn’t feel homesick one bit until this tragedy occurred. Suddenly I longed to be back in the United States where I could band together with my running friends and heal with them. It’s interesting how a tragedy can make you appreciate where you come from.
I think this is one of those occurrences in which every runner, and maybe even every American, will always remember where they were when they heard the news. Every runner with whom I’ve corresponded since it happened expressed the same thing: it feels very personal regardless of whether they’ve ever run the Boston Marathon. While we might not always feel 100% safe on training runs on the roads or trails or in unfamiliar settings, races are a place where we inevitably feel safe amidst a sea of other emotions. At some point while at a race we’ve all experienced nervous energy, anticipation, determination, joy, disappointment, camaraderie, rivalry, inspiration, victory, defeat…but never terror. Until last Monday. I think that’s why so many of us were so caught off guard by the Boston bombing. A road race was the absolute last place on Earth most of us ever expected something terrible to happen. For me, the fact that this happened at Boston was an especially tough pill to swallow.
I ran the Boston Marathon in 2011 and 2012 and developed an immense love for the race during those two years. Just two days before the 2013 race I told my husband how I really missed being in Boston for marathon weekend this year and decided I wanted to requalify and run it again sometime in the next few years (for the record, I’m aiming for 2016). The Boston Marathon race weekend is absolutely magical; there’s really no other way to describe it. The entire city is flooded with runners and their families and friends. The feeling everywhere is joyous. Runners have put in the hard work, qualified for this historic event, and race weekend is a time to celebrate. Everyone who has ever run the marathon before proudly wears their race jackets from previous years around the city; those with the oldest jackets garner instant respect from passers-by. The expo is packed with people to the point of feeling uncomfortable and claustrophobic, yet it invokes an instant feeling of, “I need to buy as much Boston-emblazoned stuff as possible!” Throughout the entire weekend there is a sense that you might just run into one of your running heroes or one of our sport’s greatest legends around every corner. To put it simply, everything about it is just downright delightful. Oh yeah, and then there’s that little thing called the race: 26.2 miles of fan-lined streets cheering, yelling, kissing (of course I’m referring to Wellesley), chanting, and encouraging, topped off with that oh-so-sweet iconic blue and yellow medal placed around your neck when you cross the finish line. Most people have likely never imagined having such a strong desire to wear a unicorn around their neck, but in Boston it is a symbol of great accomplishment and membership in a very special “club” – you are a Boston Marathoner.
For two individuals to try to take away that feeling from runners seems unthinkable and personally makes me angrier than I can express in words. Nearly a week after they tried to tarnish our beloved Boston Marathon and invoke fear in runners throughout the world, though, it has been nothing short of amazing to view the response from the entire running community – those who ran Boston this year, those who have run it in the past, and those who have never run it. Money is being raised for the victims and their families to help pay medical bills; miles are being run to honor those who lost their lives; people have helped others in ways they might not have even known they were capable prior to this tragedy. It was heartening to hear the stories of runners finishing the race and then running back towards the blasts to help people, or of finishers who ran to the hospital to give blood, or of the Boston residents who opened their homes to stranded runners or gave them food…the stories of “good” coming out of the 2013 Boston Marathon are far, far greater than the stories of “bad.” I doubt the bombers imagined that when they planned their violent attack. Apparently they don’t know very many runners.
I’ve seen a common hashtag used in several social media posts since the bombings - #BostonStrong. There’s no doubt that the city of Boston, its citizens, and its law enforcement officers have been incredibly strong throughout the series of events that unfolded last week. I think, however, the actions of runners around the world in the wake of this tragedy have also made a convincing argument for the creation of another new hashtag – #RunnerStrong. We are united by our common love for running and our mutual respect for anyone who is out there putting in the miles – whether it’s at a 12:00 per mile pace or a 6:00 per mile pace. We are not a group that a couple of cowardly terrorists should’ve messed with because no matter what they did to try to tear us down, we are experts at a little thing called perseverance. We can endure pain like nobody’s business. We will not shy away from running, nor will we shy away from racing. We practically define the word “community.” We are strong and we will move forward.
I’ve read a lot of blog posts, opinion articles, and social media posts about how people feel selfish when they talk about how the Boston bombing felt personal and what it meant to them – as if it isn’t fair that they feel affected by it, and only those who ran the race this year and/or those who were injured deserve to feel so affected. At the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, I will quote one of my favorite movies, You’ve Got Mail: “What's so wrong with being personal, anyway? Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.” The fact is, this tragedy felt very personal for a lot of us, and I think the ability to write about our feelings, our experiences, and our emotions is part of what will help the running community heal from the heartbreak we’re all feeling. If you think it will help you, please comment on this post and tell the rest of us what it meant to you.
My name is Andrea Eagleman, I’m 32 years old, and I run to … honor the victims of the Boston bombings and show the terrorists that they haven’t defeated me.
ANDREA EAGLEMAN is one of Perspective's regular columnists. She is a Senior Lecturer of Sport Management at Massey University and holds a PhD in Sport Management from Indiana University. She currently lives in Palmerston North, New Zealand and has been running for close to 20 years. Andrea enjoys various distances from the 5K to the marathon, running the Boston Marathon in 2011 and 2012. She enjoys gymnastics, traveling, blogging, reading, photography, and hanging out with her husband, Karl, and her two cats.