BY CHRIS RILEY
Since 1897, nothing, not even two world wars, could stop the Boston Marathon. Today’s bombings wont stop it either, but the worldwide gem of distance running will be forever changed.
People have said that Boston is the closest that an everyman (or woman) can come to the Olympics. For at the Boston Marathon, save for a few thousand charity entries, you must race your way into the show. Post a fast enough qualifying time, and you can line up right behind the most elite runners that the world has to offer. Try getting on the basketball court with LeBron James or the football field with Tom Brady – because that is the equivalent of what Boston offers to those who train, strain, and generally work their butts off to be their best.
Take the longevity and elite factor, and add 500,000 cheering and screaming fans who see race day – Patriot’s Day – as a highlight of their year, and you can begin to feel why this event is not only one of the world’s highest attended, but most beloved.
Ever since I was bit by the distance running bug during my freshman year in high school, the Boston Marathon has continued to fascinate me more and more each year. At that time, the thought of running 26.2 miles without stopping seemed absurd. That feeling has gradually subsided as I have run numerous half-marathons and completed one full marathon since completing my collegiate running career.
The fascination has only grown however, into somewhat of an obsession. So much so that my best friend and I rushed back to his dorm room after our class a few years ago to catch the live broadcast of the race to see how our American favorites were holding up. This year, I spent my morning at work sneaking peaks at the live webcast of the race, hoping that maybe this would be the year for an American to break through the Boston drought.
The smile already creeping across my face on the day set aside for the distance runner only grew wider as I watched the East African champions struggle to find the words in English to answer the commentator’s post-race questions, but more than make up for the language barrier with a look of pure joy and elation on their faces just minutes after blistering through a 26-mile run at a pace that makes school zone speed limits seem slow.
Then there was the local factor, as I tracked a group of runners that I have some level of personal connection to…
– Matt Dewald, the former Yankton High School (& USD) runner that lapped me every time I raced him during his senior (my freshman) year as a Buck, PR’d with an amazing effort of 2:19:35 – for a 20th place overall finish – 10th among Americans – out of over 27,000 who began the race. Dewald, who now lives in Denver, leapfrogged Mount Marty track coach Randy Fischer to become the seventh-fastest South Dakota native in a marathon.
– Thomas Madut, who I knew well in my high school cross country and track days since he was a year behind me at cross-town rival Lincoln, backed up last year’s 35th place finish with a 73rd place effort this year (2:29).
– Bruce Allen of Flandreau also returned to Boston after running last year, placing 2,563rd in this year’s race. I had competed against Bruce in numerous road races but really got to know him last April after he passed me for the lead and eventual victory a few miles short of the River Rat 1/2 Marathon finish and we talked at length about his Boston experience afterwords. I didn’t feel so bad about him passing me after I learned he had just run Boston 12 days previously.
– Ed Thomas, who I lined up next to at the St. Patrick’s Day Road races in Sioux Falls a month ago and had a little pre-race chat with, ran for the second year in a row as well, placing 5,417th.
What a great morning. I was able to be quite productive at work, while also catching some race highlights and tracking South Dakota natives running on the world’s biggest stage.
Then I noticed a text from a friend, asking me if I had heard about the explosion at the marathon. I immediately went to CNN’s web page and I have felt stuck in a bad dream ever since.
As more details emerged, more and more running friends were texting me, seemingly as unable to process the surreal events as I was. Just hours after sending a text to a running friend who is in Africa as a Peace Corp volunteer – telling him excitedly about Dewald and Madut’s races, I had to somehow describe the carnage taking place just in front of the finish line halfway around the world from him.
No matter what transpires in the future, this American gem known as the Boston Marathon will always carry an ugly scar. Even though I have never even been to Massachusetts, I have had dreams of competing in the Boston Marathon. When a person is struggling through a 15-mile run, their brain starts to wander. Mine wanders to the starting line in Hopkinton and the downhill miles that start the race – to the screaming girls of Wellesley College – to the challenging Newton Hills near the end of the course. These are places I have only been to in my imagination, aided by stories from Boston veterans and books and videos of 1982’s Duel in the Sun – where Alberto Salazar ran in Dick Beardsley’s footsteps until overtaking the Minnesota native at the very end of the classic race.
I still have these dreams. They were vivid as I went out for an easy four miles this evening in the cold South Dakota Northwest wind – that run was the only thing that I felt I could do to escape the sudden barrage of news organizations and media members on our beloved sport and cherished race – a race that they largely ignored until a bomb ripped through crowds of innocent spectators, cheering on family, friends and strangers.
Let us mourn for those who have been killed, and keep in our thoughts and prayers those injured – both physically and emotionally. We can pay tribute to these victims of a stupid and senseless act of hate. We can continue to dream while we pound miles. We can encourage friends and families and all those who live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and surrounding communities to make next year’s crowd not 500,000, but 1,000,000 strong.
Running might be an individual sport, but races, and especially Boston, are community events where we support and cheer on our friends and strangers. We offer encouragement to the very people that we are racing against during competition. We take to the roads to prove ourselves and find our humility at the same time. I could never be more proud to be a part of a group of people around the world known simply as runners.
See you at the finish line.