Monday, April 22, 2013

Bring back the Innocence: Boston Marathon 2013

It has now been a week since the 2013 Boston Marathon. Too much has gone on since 2:49 p.m. on that Monday afternoon. Like others I have been glued to the internet and the television for the past week trying to make sense of such a depraved act. Within minutes of hearing of the bombings at the end of my day teaching school, my initial thoughts and online message was, "Thoughts are with my friends and all the runners and fans at the Boston Marathon finish line. This is a simple sport and certainly is not a place for violence." My thinking has not changed one iota since that moment. While my sentiments have not changed during the past week, my mind has had to suffer the questions of who could do this? my eyes have seen photos and videos I would never care to see, and my heart has been ripped by the hurt and pain caused to so many people, my race, and the people of Boston.

The Boston Marathon is dear to my heart. It has woven itself through my life for decades starting in 1968 while as a third grader I decided I wanted to run that race in Boston. The night before this year's race, I started rereading Joe Falls 1977 edition of the book, The Boston Marathon. As I was reading, I was reminded how simple and innocent it was to be a runner back then. Here is a quote from the first chapter, "The runners is Boston seem special. Maybe it's because they are all God's children. They seem to understand charity and they seem to understand discipline. How many times in the course of 80 years has one runner paused to aid another runner. That's charity. And who will ever know of all the discipline that they put into their lives in order to prepare themselves to run in this race, this arduous test of one's self." How could someone decide to wreak havoc on such a race and onto such people?

As the violence of the bombing became known, I felt for the runners who nearing the finish of such a monumental goal, were stopped. Many were so close to fulfilling months of training and years of dreaming. As I learned more of the circumstances and those most injured or killed by the bomb, I realized most of the victims were spectators.  One of the biggest thrills of running Boston is the hundreds of thousands of fans along the route that cheer on all runners or their own friends and family members. Those who run Boston know how important the fans are to the event. Yet it seems that most of the injured were these fans who came to cheer on the runners. They are such good people to do that!

I can also say, that throughout the news of the event, I often thought of the volunteers and staff of the B.A.A. Marathon. I often thought of race director Dave McGillivray who so kindly let me run the whole "Midnight Shift" of the 2000 Boston Marathon with him (video). I know how thorough and prepared he is with the race each year and just knew that this must tear at his gut. I know many people that volunteer at the finish line or work as race announcers and I was wondering what was happening and if they were O.K. So much planning and hard work by runners and volunteers and staff at the Marathon and those are all good and noble things and I can't comprehend the savage need to attempt to destroy all of that.

In the week prior to the Boston Marathon, I was wishing I had rewritten my review of Bill Rodgers new autobiography Marathon Man. I felt like I had missed my favorite part of the book, not that it was anything insightful  but it is because of what I admire about Bill Rodgers and what I really think that running (at least for me) is all about in the end. Bill Rodgers just loved to run and the passages of him as a kid and an adult portrays his childlike enthusiasm and enjoyment with the physical act of running and being out in nature. We learn about him running through the woods with abandon all the while looking around at the birds and the woods. Running to me is all about getting back to the element of just freely running around like a kid and enjoying every second of it. I have seen Bill like this in a race and it still amuses me. I remember a 5 mile race in 2006 run before a major rainstorm that Bill Rodgers was at. After finishing, I went back to cheer other finisher on. It finished on a road over a dam. Everyone looked determined and miserable due to the race conditions until Bill Rodgers came into view. I watched with complete amusement as Bill headed right for all the puddles on the side of the road so that he could splash through the puddles as he ran. To me that is pure Bill Rodgers and after all the racing and miles that he has put in, I was so happy that to see that splashing in puddles still made running fun!

That is the running innocence that I don't want to lose. I still don't cut my hair short, because there is something about running and feeling it flop around behind you like Billy's hair or Pre's hair or any runner's hair from the 1970s. The other reason is it is one of the few things I can think of that cost money to have something taken from you! The innocence of youthful running,, legs stretching out, jumping over obstacles and cornering around trees, no care in the world, good stuff to hang a lifetime on; running. As I implore my failing legs to restore their carefree youthful moves and looseness, I so want running to return to those days. And maybe not just for my body.

Back when I started running in 9th grade at Falmouth High School, we were given an anthology of short stories to read. One of the stories was called "See How they Run" by George Harmon Cox (written in 1941). You can now find the story in The Runner's Literary Companion: Great Stories and Poems About Running. In this story based on the Boston Marathon a young collegiate miler decides to run the The Boston Marathon because his father is dying and can't. This would make the 20th consecutive race for his father. I remember reading this story multiple times to get a "feel" for the race. It seemed so simple and innocent in those days (I assume it was somewhat factual) with the competitors meeting together before the race at a barn and the camaraderie of the older participants. I guess newer marathoners would also consider it quaint that I remember running Boston in the early 1980s and hanging out in the school on Ash Street on the Village Green in Hopkington. You could just wander in like in many smaller road races today and sit in the hallways and stretch. The young Johnny Burke is somewhat cocky at the start, but in the end he learns about the race and himself and gets the girl. What more could someone want from a race. That was extra motivation for myself to get out their and run Boston someday. I ran my first marathon in Dallas in 1977 and it took 8 more attempts before I beat the 2:50 qualifying time in 1981 so that I could finally run Boston in 1982. That is over 200 miles of marathon running just to get a shot to run Boston. Qualifying was always in my mind and Boston was firmly entrenched in my blood. I remember thinking I would be one of the runners that ran it every year, but my interests changed after having a streak of two races (I ran in 1983 as a bandit in 3:07, but was given a medal despite my protest that I had no number. I was told that I was fast enough to get the medal by a volunteer. This was the first year that Boston gave out medals.) At that 1983 race, I heard about the Cape Cod Endurance Triathlon and I went from being a marathoner to a triathlete. Injuries, life, and other circumstances have meant I have only done about 8 Boston Marathons. I have lost count and will have to research my results someday to find out how many I have actually done, but I found 7 medals (plus 1981) so that makes 8, or 7 if you disallow banditting in 1983.If I don't run Boston however, I am always at the marathon expo and watching the race and being thrilled by the whole day each and every year.

Jon Sinclair and Kim Jones.
Strangely enough this year was the most low key, I have been about the race. I didn't do a big production like I usually do at school, although my class watched the finishes with me! I went to the expo and met and had nice conversations with both with Kim Jones and her husband Jon Sinclair as well as Steve Jones (no relation, but the former world record holder in the marathon). I was laughing as I read Joe Falls 1977 book that night on the Boston Marathon In the foreword to the book, he wrote, " The amazing thing is that no one named "Jones" has ever won the the Boston Marathon. You'd think they have four or five Joneses by now. They have had a Smith, and a Brown and a Hill and an Anderson, There have been two Kelley's, Johnny The Elder and Johnny the Younger. But there was also a Yun Bok Suh, an Eiino Oksanen, an Edouard Fabre, and an Aurele Vandendriessche." I don't think that the author in 1977 anticipated the deluge of African runners who would go on to win Boston. Heck we have even had two different Robert Cheruiyots win the race. Still, no Jones has triumphed, as I laughed that I met two Joneses that tried. Kim Jones (ha, I looked at Kim's wikipedia page and then remembered that the person talking to Kim before I did took a picture on his Ipad and said it would be on Wikipedia soon and there it was!) twice finished second at Boston (read her excellent book) and Steve Jones also was a second place finisher in 1987.

It is hard to recapture the race memories before hearing of the bombing. The winners will never get their due and I haven't even yet read over the race stories or find out how all my friends did (if I didn't hear their times before the bomb). I do know that all my friends are safe, but I also know that one para at the school I work at was hit with debris from the bomb and still has shrapnel in her head and body. She will be OK. I also have heard that Jeff Bauman, the spectator in that horrible photograph taken of him with missing legs in the bomb's aftermath works at a Costco in my city of Nashua.

In retrospect, I would like to reflect on that Joe Falls' quote from 1977,  "The runners is Boston seem special. Maybe it's because they are all God's children. They seem to understand charity and they seem to understand discipline." Lets remember that and not lose the innocence and fun and the work of running The Boston Marathon. I know it is a big business now, but every runners personal achievement is not about business, but rather about finding ways to enjoy and benefit from living a happy and childlike life that is full of wonder and perseverance  If that is missing, then maybe you missed out on the point of running.

Thing to reflect on:

1) Do not lose the innocence of running. Run with childlike abandon.Splash through puddles.
2) Learn to understand the hate and violence. Do not resort to hate or violence in your life.
3) Pray for and do whatever you can for those affected my the marathon violence.
4) Thank the fans and volunteers. They create the experience that us runners enjoy.
5) Get my body working, so that I can qualify and run Boston in 2014. We cannot let evil and hatred win. This is our race and our sport!

There was a race on Monday. Here are the highlights.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I have been looking for the last 5 years for a Boston Metal from 1983 that my friend ran and never received because they ran out. I finally found someone (you) who bandit and received a metal that could have gone to her. If you are willing to consider giving it up(or we can agree on what I can pay for it) so I can surprise her with it after all these years I would really appreciate you contacting me. I can proof she really ran it and I can find ways to prove to you I am legitimate. I am a runner too and likely I can some how connect us..(I just finished my 5th continent in Antarctica a few weeks ago). I can be reached at or my CA office cell 408-489-1727 however I live in AZ. thanks MK

Melissa Kullander
Scottsdale, AZ

Jim Hansen said...

Hi Melissa,
I hope that you can find a medal for your friend. I prefer to hang on to mine as it is a part of my running history.