Yes, it is April, and in Greater Boston the groundswell has already begun.
For here, April is Boston Marathon Month, and the enthusiasm extends not only to runners like me but to a clear majority of this area’s 4.5 million residents. And the affinity for this special event extends nationally and worldwide; now more deeply than ever due to the act of terrorism that interrupted the 2013 race.
On that day, the first explosion occurred at 2:49pm. Four minutes earlier I had reached the finish line. More frightening, just two minutes before the explosion my 14-year-old son — who had joined me to run the last three miles of the race — crossed that line.
I, my son, family, friends and many associates all have undergone a significant amount of introspection since then. It’s startling how one’s perspective on so many of the big and little things in life can be altered by a single moment. In some ways, re-aligned priorities have been a blessing. In other ways, the anguish that comes with having experienced evil first-hand is something I would have rather not ever known, nor had been witnessed by my children.
The impact of that day continued to be a part of the narrative for the following two Boston Marathons, one of which I raced, and I suspect to one degree or another it will always be there. But this marathon did not become famous because of that incident. It was already the most respected marathon in the world — one where most participants must qualify by running an extraordinarily fast marathon in the prior year — and is one of the most cherished treasures held by the communities of Boston and surrounding New England.
So I prefer in this post to celebrate the little things that make this annual event so precious.
I remember how the arc of specific training challenged my body and mind in so many ways. When one must run many miles a week from December to March, conditions are rarely ideal. Snow, rain, wind and ice all became constants in my life, often for days at a time. That hardly sounds like a positive, but to a Boston Marathoner it is what makes the final effort even more satisfying.
I remember the intense camaraderie that developed within my training group. The shared goal and ebbs and flows of heightened training brings you closer to the people you run with. This special bond extends to how you interact with fellow runners at pre-race events, in the starting corral, and even with those runners who happen to be striding alongside you on the race course. There is a fondness that comes not from any attraction, but simply from a mutual understanding.
I remember the massive crowds of spectators at the starting line, at Wellesley College, on the infamous Heartbreak Hill, at Boston College, Coolidge Corner and certainly Boylston Street; cheering so loudly that screaming family members could not attract my attention as I passed by. Hundreds of school-aged children, watching curbside with their families, hold their hands out to slap those hands of us runners like we were celebrities.
I remember the encouraging words of my son as he ran with me the last few miles in 2013. “You’re the man,” he said. “Show your heart.” “No pain, no gain.” He is a teenager; I may not hear that again for some time.
I ran the race again the next year, so that the only memory my children would have of their dad at the Boston Marathon wouldn’t be the frightening one. I wanted them to remember that all those who participate in this annual celebration — whether running 26 miles or simply leaning back in a lawn chair on a street corner — feel part of a community that shows it actually cares. It’s a reminder that if we show kindness and empathy to those around us it can be absorbed and relayed even further to generate even more compassion in our everyday lives.