I can’t tell you how many times I have crossed a finish line at a running race, but I can tell you I will never cross another one the same again.
I heard the news about tragedy at the Boston Marathon yesterday and was in utter disbelief that something like this could happen. While most of the races I have run in the past have been without fear, I did run the Chicago Marathon one month after 9/11. The next year I ran the Marine Corps Marathon just days after the Beltway Snipers were caught after a several weeks of shootings.
At that time, I was working in the city across the street from the Sears Tower and had settled into the post 9/11 mindset where nothing was safe and everyone was always looking over their shoulder. Neither of those instances prevented me from running either race, or from people coming out in grand gestures of humanity to cheer on the runners.
Of course, there was still that feeling of fear in the back of my mind and heart that took away from those experiences. Just as those memories faded, I’m reminded once again that anything could happen at any time that could put our safety and our families’ safety in jeopardy.
There truly is something special about the finish line of a race whether it is a 1 mile race, a 5k a 26.2 marathon or a 100 mile bike race. I remember my first 5k so vividly where I could barely make it the last stretch, but somehow that 6- letter word, F-I-N-I-S-H, got me through until the end despite my desire to stop. As I became a more accomplished runner, the finish line drew my attention to the clock and my desire to beat my personal record. It was a time where I dug deep, and it became just as much a test of my psychological ability as my physical ability. I can honestly say that in spite of it all, I almost always crossed the finish line with a smile.
As you are approaching the finish line, you think about all these people out there who have put weeks and months into their training. You think about all the people who have sacrificed their time and energy to condition their body to accomplish this goal. You think about people who set out to do this race who have never run a race before. You think about people who are in their 60s and 70s who have been running their whole life before running races became popular. You think of all the money that was raised in the name of the organization associated with the race. You get a rush of adrenaline from the spectators and you look forward to the congratulations you receive at the end, not to mention snacks. If you’re lucky, you get a medal, but that’s really just the icing on the cake after all that you’ve achieved.
When I continued to run races after I had a family, I could almost always count on my husband and kids to be there cheering me on at the end. Forget the finish line or the clock; I had smiling faces clapping and excitedly jumping up and down to get me to the end. I didn’t care if I had to sacrifice 10 seconds off my time to slow down and blow kisses and wave at my kids. My husband asked me once if it bothered me that he didn’t run races and I told him his biggest contribution to my running is being there with the kids there to cheer me on.
When my husband did decide to participate in one of the races I not only ran in, but helped organize, I pushed the kids in the jogging stroller and felt a new sense of accomplishment pushing them over the finish line with a very respectable time despite the 90-plus pounds of added resistance. I was proud of the runner, mother, athlete that I have developed into over the years. Running races has become a family affair and now I have to think about the risk running these races involves not just for my own life, but for my own family.
In just a few minutes I will leave the house to attend a meeting for another 5k race that I help organize, and I am sure our focus will shift beyond bibs and t-shirts to safety and security. A moment of silence for the victims and their families' will likely be added. A somber addition to a normally joyous event.
I could barely watch the reports on the news and the graphic details of all the tragedy and carnage in Boston. However, right before I was about to change the channel, they interviewed a few runners from Chicago who survived and were not injured. Their sentiments were all the same; this event would absolutely not deter them from running the Boston Marathon again, or any other race for that matter. It made me proud to be part of this incredible running community. My perspective has shifted, but I will continue to run races despite my fears. As with most runners, there will be a new thought crossing their minds’ as they cross the finish line because it goes without saying, we will never forget.