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Bombs won't break a runner's spirit: reflections after Boston Marathon tragedy

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about running. And I don’t run at all anymore (more on that later). But I walk my dogs, and I see runners trudging up the Mosquito Creek trail. I see them bunched together along Westview and Queens in a driving winter rain, everyone illuminated in headlamps and reflective clothing, doing that little skippy shuffle that really means “put one foot in front of the other.”

I don’t see the runners in the early morning because I’m never up at that time (though my wife is, and out the door by 6:30), but I’ve seen them on Granville Street and through Stanley Park driving home from the airport at the most ungodly hour. And not just one or two, but a few. I would be willing to bet that someone is running here in Vancouver at every single second during the day.

When I see a runner out there, I wonder “what’s their motivation? Or, do they even have a motivation? You really must, since runs are largely fairly uncomfortable affairs – especially at 6:00 a.m.

But for a fairly large percentage of them, there’s the marathon. It exists like no other participant sporting activity. Finish a few local 5 and 10K races, start jogging with a club sponsored by a running store, and chances are good that within five years you will be lining up to run an unfathomable distance. Who the hell runs for four hours, just for the fun of it? After all, the fitness benefits wear off after forty minutes.

I haven’t had a hell of a lot of glorious moments in my adult life. Sure, I’ve had a few jobs (and lost a few), carved out a niche that’s about as narrow as a crack in the pavement in my communications field, and won a couple of awards, got married, had a couple of kids – all pretty standard stuff, in the privileged way that defines middle class North American life.

But I’ve crossed the finish line in a couple of marathons – 1986 in Victoria (2:58) and in New York City in 1989 (3:05). I had broken 3:00 before I’d turned 35 on a glorious fall day on Vancouver Island. I cramped, staggered, and barfed my way through Central Park in equally perfect autumn weather, and couldn’t walk for two days afterwards.

Due to a variety of physical ailments – some that, yes, might have been caused by too much training in my 30s – I’m not able to run much anymore. Planatar fasciitis, atrial fibrillation, and knee surgery have turned my 50s into a bit of a physical train wreck.

But the two marathons that I did complete stand as perhaps the two greatest outdoor athletic achievements I’ve ever managed. I think of them often in a comforting, nostalgic way.

I think the reason that marathons are so popular is that we become addicted to not just overcoming our physical limits, but the way that these little personal victories brings us together. You can’t help come away feeling good about humanity. People cheer for everyone who crosses the finish line. “Looking good, number 2412!!”

I took my kids out to watch their mother (struggling with an early diagnosis of diabetes) complete the Vancouver Marathon when they were four and two. I’m not much into group events, but it was a thrilling moment.

The Boston Marathon bombing has – temporarily, at any rate – awoken me from this unfortunate two decade torpor. As someone anonymously posted on Facebook, “if you’re trying to defeat the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong group to pick on.”

I bet that tens of thousands of people will be back to run that race in the years to come. It would be a hell of a goal to achieve.

So, let’s go, runners. This is the time to stand up and be counted. I’m lacing my goddamn shoes on right now. Maybe I’ll see you at the starting line, or hopefully, even the finish line.


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