My dad has run the Chicago Marathon 4 times. The second year he ran, in 1990, he missed qualifying for the Boston Marathon by 2 minutes and 56 seconds, finishing with a time of 3:17:56. I have vague memories of being in Chicago to proudly cheer for my marathoner Dad and to stay with my Aunt Betsy & Uncle Carl. I guess I also learned why Chicago is called the "windy city." Knowing myself, I'm sure I wasn't the most pleasant child to be standing with in the cold, surrounded by thousands of other cheering bystanders as we craned our necks and fastened our eyes to pick out Scotty Ross in the midst of all the runners. If you can imagine a younger me whining about being cold & bored, then you already know me pretty well.
I began running after my freshman year of college. After an entire childhood & adolescence of playing sports, I realized I needed to do something to offset all the extra calories I was consuming from late-night pizza and ice cream after every meal - thanks to Transy's cafe ole (as we used to call it). I thought, well, Daddy is a runner. I guess I could give it a shot. So that summer I ran with my Dad up and down the streets of our quiet neighborhood. As I got stronger and more in shape, he showed me his longer routes that took us through different parts of town. Before long, I became acquainted with his 4.3 mile-route as well as the 3.2. And I chuckled when he told me that he called his 5.7 miler his "short 7." (He likes to call it that to make him feel like ran more than he really did!) My last Saturday in town before school started again, we went to a high school track to see how fast I could run a mile. I think it was right at 7 minutes. For a first-time runner, I was pleased and so was my Dad. Needless to say, I headed back to Lexington for my sophomore year all fired up and ready to run my first 5K. I had a new sport - and my only competition was myself.
Since 2003, I have run several 5K's and 3 half-marathons. Running has become a part of my life. It feeds my soul, it nurtures my spirit, and it helps me feel strong. And yet, sometimes I hate every second of a run. There are days I wish I could just not care about running and give it up forever. But deep down I know I couldn't live without it. I love the way it makes me feel. I yearn for the challenge, and, yes, even the sick-to-my-stomach pain on those gruesome summer days. Running makes me feel alive. It has roots in my family and in my marriage. Jeff was a cross-country runner in high school, (and my current trainer if I could just get him up for a morning run). My older sister, Katherine, picked up running at the Hoptown Turkey Trot 5K two years ago, and 6 months later ran her first half-marathon. Despite some knee troubles, she finished strong with a triumphant, hand-raised cheer as she strode across that finish line. (I was a minute or 2 behind her, the Tennessee heat just about killed me that day.)
For these reasons and so many more, what happened at the Boston Marathon has me shaken...along with the rest of the country and world. When will these horrific acts of violence stop? Where can we go without fear of attack? How do we overcome and get through this kind of trauma without making it a political war zone and finger pointing bash of who's right and who's wrong? Why does it take violent acts of terror to bring people together in compassion and care - why can't we come together when times are peaceful, too? All of these questions run through my mind at a 6 minute-mile pace. And to make matters more painful, think of all the attacks of this nature that happen daily in other countries....bombings and violence that we don't even hear about; or if we do, it's much easier to turn the channel and carry on.
Lord, have mercy....
On this day after....I pause and pray for the victims, for the runners, for the city of Boston, for all who walk away from this race a changed person. For them, running will never be the same again. And I pray for the people who feel as though this is the answer to their problems or frustrations. I pray for their families.
Looking through the photos taken after the bombings, I see ordinary people - like you and me - running for so many reasons: health, pride, in honor or memory of loved ones, to fulfill a goal they have dreamed of all their life. I have felt the butterflies in my stomach on race day. I have had the giddy, excited legs just before the buzzer blows - and that voice going through my head saying: this is it..give it all you've got. Ordinary people participating in an extraordinary event that, in its very nature, is something that brings people of all ages, races, cultures, & abilities together. It's one of the only sporting events where I've seen people cheer just as loudly for perfect strangers as they do for their own loved ones.
Running echoes the human ability to overcome grave challenges. To come together in love and support, and true human compassion.
It has nothing to do with the time on the stopwatch. It has nothing to do with the perfect stride.
At its core, running is about spirit. The stride - not so much of the legs - but of the human spirit...which, I believe, is created to be good. Very good.
The spirit of running will live in me forever. The spirit of running will live in Boston...and Chicago...and New York...and Nashville...and all the small towns throughout the world who host 5Ks for causes that mean something. Something real. Something great. Something bigger than one person alone. Something with the spirit of togetherness.
It's the stride of the human spirit that makes running special. And it's a part of my story.
Run on, runners. Keep that spirit alive. Our world needs it.