On the Anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings, a Different World for Runners

Craig Leon, a professional runner for Team Run Eugene, ran the race of his life at the Boston Marathon last year. He was elated-- the weather was perfect, his splits were on-point, he finished the highest he has ever placed in a major marathon event and ran a personal record: 10th place, 2 hours, 14 minutes, 38 seconds.
"I dreamed for years of running the Boston Marathon," he wrote to me via email. "It made all of those lonely runs seem worth it." Leon was in an interview at 4:09 on the marathon clock when the bombs went off a few yards away. "The moment I knew something was [wrong was] when I saw several people crying… and several other race officials frantically sprinting into the the race operations room," he says.  "It all happened so fast."

Photo via Runner's World

Phone service was shut down so many didn't know what was going on at all. Runners and officials were scattering. Racers were instructed to stop. Bystanders were spreading whatever information they knew: there were some explosions, some injuries, somewhere around the finish line. Millions outside Boston were calling, texting, tweeting in to check on their loved ones. "I definitely felt like I had been dropped into a war zone," Leon recalls. Five hours away in New York City, my phone was blowing up. I had run the Boston Marathon the year before, and coaches and teammates I hadn’t spoken with for a decade were inundating my phone wondering about my safety, as I was wondering about theirs in hopes they were not in Boston that day. Old rivals and friends across the nation sent messages just to connect and relate about the bombings. In the months after, even the most surly runners gave an especially personal, knowing nod to other runners in passing. “I AM BOSTON” shirts became ever more prominent out on the streets. The word “Boston,” which previously was associated with triumph, immediately became one associated with tragedy: it profoundly changed the running community.  In the same way the world is reminded of 9/11 every time we are scrutinized at airport security, runners are reminded of the Boston Marathon bombings when they check their bags through newfound complications at road races. In the same way Americans remember where they were on 9/11, runners remember where they were when they heard about the Boston Marathon bombings. 
 In the same way New Yorkers mourn the loss of their greatest symbol of progress, of pride and of dreams accomplished, runners mourn the loss of their greatest symbol of progress, of pride and of dreams accomplished. It is often said that the Boston Marathon is the the largest one-day spectator sporting event in the world, with over one million spectators lining the 26.2 mile course. For runners, whose competitions lack the pomp and circumstance that comes with most spectator sports, the Boston Marathon is It. For many, qualifying to run Boston is the ultimate goal of their running careers. For many more, qualifying is a distant dream. And for all, it's a day of nostalgia about the teammates we've loved, the races where we've let ourselves down and the races of which we're proud. It's a reminder of why we pound the pavement through the winter slush; why we get up early to get a run in before work; why we struggle through three more miles when our legs feel like cinder blocks. What the bomber did that day was a rabid gut check, a knife thrown recklessly into the heart of millions who see the Boston Marathon as their personal Everest. It was an attack on the sanctity of that race. It was a fleeting maneuver that will sadden, scare, and then enrage millions of people who care about one another, who care about progress, who care about betterment, and who are passionate about positively impacting their world and others. Despite little-to-no phone service, rumors swirling and bomb squads lining the city, Leon managed to get messages to his family immediately. He says he was relieved to be able to leave the city, which was padded with officials from the local to the federal, days before the Tsarnaev manhunt was live tweeted to the world. This year, Leon says, the race will be like no other. "I’m not sure I’m totally prepared for what it will be like," he says. "The energy in any big city on marathon week is electric, but I think this year will be unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of in the running world." I am sitting in an airplane above the Midwest, headed out to Colorado to spend a few days with the people who I spent my first Boston Marathon with. From here, I can feel the intensity of this year's Boston Marathon. Since the training period began for the Boston Marathon six months ago, I've felt the intensity of this year’s event. Every time news breaks about Tsarnaev, every time I see photos of the victims with their prosthetics and their scars, I can feel the mounting pressure of this marathon. Each time the Boston Marathon trends on Twitter, I get goosebumps.  Because people died, because lives were altered, because millions of dreams were ruined, because hundreds of personal goals were stifled, because hundreds of thousands of athletes and hundreds of thousands of Bostonians will never, ever rejoice the same that we could before: good luck.