Background reading: Thousands in New York, across the world run for Boston
Yesterday, on our drive home from the gym, my workout partner feigned interest in an ugly new house on our block. Her ruse worked – I looked away from the sidewalk and missed the runner working her way up the hill with her dog. My girlfriend knows I need the distraction – she worries I might roll down the window and chuck gum wrappers and car-trash at the woman and her German Shepard. Usually this time of year, I’m training for a race. Usually, I am consumed by long runs with my training-partner-husband and my old, brown Lab. I am calculating miles, logging speed workouts, running through spring puddles. Usually, I’m the girl running up the hill.
Not this year.
At some point this spring a sesame seed-sized bone under my left toe cracked. I kept running until it hurt too much to run, and now my left foot is hermetically sealed in an inflatable, plastic boot. I can lift weights and ride a stationary bike, but I can’t run. This makes me grumpy – really grumpy.
I’ve said before that running gives me energy and purpose; it’s taught me about endurance and dedication. I now know that my training schedule also kept me sane. Running forces me outside in to Wyoming’s dubious spring weather. It allows me to carve out quiet space from my busy working-mommy days and gives me a sense of control amid the chaos of teaching and writing. It has also made me a part of a very specific community: I am a runner.
A few weeks ago, on another 5 am drive to the gym, I learned about the Watertown lockdown. We sat in the driveway listening to the radio, eager to hear about the impending capture of the Boston Marathon bombing suspect. I looked around the dark streets of our peaceful community. I tried to picture armed troops moving through our streets, banging on doors, waving guns. The images from the radio didn’t translate. I could not imagine an invasion of our quiet neighborhoods.
But I can picture the runners at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I can feel the collective relief and joy of finishing the race. I can picture the smiles and the energized hobbling that follows any race. I can feel the sweat running down the backs of my knees and I can taste the cold post-race beer I always stash in the car. I know what it sounds like to speak to a fellow runner – a stranger – about the grueling last miles of a long road race. I know that sense of belonging that engulfs a finish line.
One of my oldest friends wrote about the communal sense of accomplishment that surrounds distance running. He told me that he can’t “think of a greater gathering to celebrate humanity and what we can accomplish than a marathon.” The young men who bombed the Boston Marathon violated a sacred space. They created terror and destruction, but they also eclipsed the accomplishment and heart of thousands of people.
I could survive without running. I’d likely even get over being grumpy. But like my marathoner friend, I can’t think of a better way to test my resolve and dedication than training for a long distance trail race. I know something certain and simple every time I cross a finish line: I know my body and my mind. And now I know that our racing has become an act of defiance – a celebration of not only personal accomplishment, but of freedom and community.