We All Run Boston
It's admittedly odd to be writing about my marathoning days – yes, for those of you who may not know, I used to be an avid marathoner. Later in this post, you may catch a glimpse of how CrossFit and marathoning married in my mind. While the physical demands are very different, the mental challenge they both pose fuels my competitive and intense nature. However, my running days feel like an eternity ago, from time when I opted for these different physical challenges. This story is less about the physical and more about the emotional though. I am referring to the 2013 Boston marathon and a day that continues to challenge me even as the years separate us.
To briefly set the stage, at around the four hour mark of the marathon on April 15th, 2013, two bombs went off about 10 seconds apart within 200 yards of one another near the finish line of the Boston marathon. I was not there. I was four blocks away with my family having finished around 40 minutes prior, taking pictures with my sister, naively thinking fireworks were going off in celebration of this great day. We soon learned differently.
Remembering the events of that day still leaves me feeling hollow. Three years removed, I can talk about it openly. This was not something I was able to do a year after it happened, when I returned to Boston to run one more time. In 2014, I ran my last marathon. Before I left I felt compelled to let the community of support around me in on my thoughts on that fateful day the year before. Below is an entry from a few weeks after the bombings that highlight the emotional challenges of that day:
From April 27th, 2013
I have admittedly and begrudgingly been struggling with the events that unfolded at the Boston Marathon on Monday. Somehow, I feel as though writing them down will help. Fingers crossed.
This was my first Boston Marathon, the fabled race on the bucket list of any serious runner and even your recreational amateurs. I've heard it called the “black belt of marathon running.” The excitement surrounding the event itself is palpable. From when I qualified back in October at the Twin Cities Marathon, posting my fastest time yet, to the starting gun going off in Hopkinton at 10:20 AM on April 15th, 2013, I have been thinking of this race – how proud I was that I had earned an invitation, how honored I was to run the same course as over a century's worth of elite runners, how determined I was to do well because, after all, it is Boston and as one sign along the course poignantly reminded all of us that day, “Don't stop. We're all watching YOU.” I had the full and enthusiastic support of so many people back home – friends, family, clients and even strangers. I couldn't let them down. This is Boston.
The city and the spectacle didn't disappoint either. Our arrival – I traveled with my parents and my little sister – only served to escalate the expectation and anticipation. Friday at the runner's expo we wound our way between crowded booths, many of which vended (as my dad so kindly pointed out before the race) innumerable pain relieving gadgets and concoctions. The royal blue and canary yellow gilded the ballroom and just about everywhere you looked, there was someone rucking an over-sized, sunburst yellow plastic bag. The excitement and the energy buzzed around the room, new introductions between racers from every corner of the globe were being made. In just under seventy-two hours, we would all be running 26.2 miles together, a task that I suppose mutually and automatically bonds you to your fellow racers. They know what it's taken to get here, they've done the training and whether this is their first or their fortieth, each marathon is a new challenge in and of itself, full of different degrees of triumph, woe, pain, elation and ecstasy. This one though, I was convinced, would mostly be triumph and ecstasy. After all, this is Boston.
As if the 26.2 miles isn't enough, I began the race dashing about a quarter mile up a hill to my corral, slipping in between the metal barricades just as the starting gun went off. Despite providing an ocean of port-o-johns, you still have to wait unbearably long and hence, my tardiness. No time to process what I was about to do, no time to worry or play out worst-case scenarios or plans of attack. Just run. So we did – a collective cheer rang out as we crossed the start line and the chatter clamored on, now accompanied by the rhythmic slapping of tens of thousands of tennis shoes – and the occasional barefeet - on asphalt. The adrenaline was working. The first few miles saw us stretching our legs, winding downhill from Hopkinton to Ashland, on narrow tree-lined roads. We trotted along, my mind alternating from registering the discomfort - which eventually lapses into pain that's dulled only because you choose to ignore it – to wanting to find my family in the crowd at the pre-determined mile marker, seventeen, to mentally checking off the towns I knew were bringing me closer to Boston: Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton, Brookline. I did my best to stay present, to take it all in. This is, after all, Boston.
My memories from the course remain blurred, an inevitability even if the bombings hadn't occurred. Marathons are funny like that – they'll come back to you in bits and pieces, often vivid recollections of a specific spectator or landmark. They'll burst into your mind's eye, overwhelming in their clarity and then they'll disappear. You're faced with the realization that you may not get them back. Maybe that's why we keep running them. Maybe that's how we keep running them – we don't know any better. Those moments of clarity – the trampoline crew in Framingham, the Wellesley girls getting sweaty kisses, my mom, dad and little sister who I spent a good ten minutes looking for and only saw for about five seconds (a five seconds that bolstered my spirits more than I can begin to describe), the last turn onto the now roped-off and decimated Boylston Street – are different for each of us, making Boston our own. Because, after all, this is our Boston.
Return to January 23rd, 2016
The decision to return to Boston a year after the fatal bombing was not made lightly. I spent time weighing the pros and cons, talking with anyone who would listen. The challenge lay in returning to a place of trauma. I struggled greatly in the year that followed the marathon with what a psychologist might call “survivor's guilt.” But I found the resolve I needed in those voices around me, friends and family, who helped me to regain the belief in myself that I could do this. I found this excerpt from April 2014, before I went back and ran again:
"This is what I want to conclude with because this is why I run. Before the events of last year, I ran these arduous, long, painful races initially as a test – the marathon, I believe, is the ultimate test of mental toughness. Fitness is rarely the limiting factor. The human body can sustain low-intensity efforts for a long time. The human mind, instead, is what must be overcome. You tell yourself “No” a million times over the course of three or four hours and not without difficulty. But it is because of the belief of everyone around you – your friends, your family, your fellow racers – and in yourself that you can keep putting one foot in front of the other."
I strongly believe that it is the people around us who help us to forge mental toughness. Yes, of course, ultimately you are the one challenged and you are the one who overcomes that challenge but so often it is the voice of someone yelling "One more rep!" or the fist pound of a fellow athlete after finishing a particularly grueling workout that keeps us coming back for more, to keep being challenged.
While the perspective here is drawn from my past (and not CrossFit), I can assure you that what I learned about myself on April 15th in Boston and all the days that followed carry through in everything I do, whether I'm coaching others or training myself. I know that I am tough but that I am made better and that my belief in myself is stronger with a community of people who share that belief surrounding me. As we said back in 2014, we all run Boston.
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