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After Boston: Running Again After Tragedy

Dear Mountain Mama,

Running has always been my solace. To escape everyday stress, process loss, or deal with drama, I laced up my running shoes. Each time my foot struck the trail, I relaxed a bit more. With every exhale, a sense of calm and clarity replaced chaos. As my body found its rhythm, I experienced joy. Some runs I even felt invincible.

But Boston changed all that. This week my legs felt as heavy as my heart. My mind turned over the bombs, the stolen lives, the injured runners, and then it rested on the dead-too-soon- eight-year old. What type of person does this? I feel like running has lost the sense of innocence. How do I find the courage to lace up my shoes?

Gutted by Boston

Dear Gutted,

Of course you’re mourning, Gutted by Boston. We all are. The running community is close-knit. The loss of one runner ripples through the souls of all of us. We think of those poor runners and spectators who came out expecting to celebrate physical accomplishments, and we shed tears for them and their families.

Boston is also a very personal loss to all of us. First our government buildings, and then our airports and even our schools were tarnished by acts of violence. And now our most cherished marathon has been turned into something else. Races are where we go to be our very best selves. We go to push ourselves to do something and be someone that even we may not yet realize is possible. Now instead of hopes and dreams, Boston conjures up sad, horrible, scary, devastating, and ugly images.

It’s impossible to even begin to imagine what kind of monster would be motivated to do something so sinister. The killers who set off the bombs have caused enough harm. To give those monsters the chance to replace the feel-good associations of running with nightmares is unacceptable.

While we are powerless to undo the events that unfolded at Boston, we alone are responsible for our thoughts. We must not give that power to dark and evil people.

Of course thoughts of Boston will stay in our minds. We will shake our heads, not able to process the enormity of what happened. Our hearts will remain heavy with loss.

But when are thoughts turn to the events that unfolded at Boston, let’s also remember just how amazing runners are. Let’s remember how inspiring, encouraging, supportive, modest, decent, and hardworking the community is. When I ran this week, my thoughts turned to Boston. I pleaded with the universe to somehow make right out of the madness.

And then I remembered the kindest act another runner once bestowed upon me. I’ve never told anyone this story, but I’ll tell you now, Gutted by Boston. My hope is in telling it that with the sadness you might also find the courage marvel at random kind acts others sometimes bestow upon us when we are at our most vulnerable.

Years ago when I worked at a big corporate law firm and was billing eighty plus hour weeks, I dreamed of one thing. I wanted to qualify for Boston. That meant running a marathon in 3:40, roughly 8:20 minute miles. I carefully planned my training schedule and taped it above my bed.

The week before my marathon, the closing of a multi-million dollar merger forced me to work into the wee early morning hours.  Needless to say, my taper had not happened the way I had hoped. I hadn’t slept or got in my last few runs or eaten the way I had planned. Nor had I pooped. Not once, not all week.

I fiber-loaded, but still nothing moved. My pants felt uncomfortably snug. All I could think about was clearing my intestines, one nice big toilet-filling expulsion.

The morning of the race I toed the start line completely clogged. I hoped that things stayed put just a while longer, three hours and forty minutes longer to be precise.

At first they did. I was hitting my splits. As I passed the thirteen-mile marker, I started to think that I just might quality for Boston.

But a half mile later I felt that uncomfortable sensation, a tidal wave rippling through my intestines, quickly downward. I tried to shortening my stride. With every footstep, the pressure intensified. I realized I had to find a bathroom immediately. I panicked, looking around the paved streets, the concrete sidewalks, and the locked towering office buildings. I scooted off the course, down an alley, in an attempt to preserve some dignity.

A male voice called after me, “I’ll cover you with my coat.”

“No, I’m not peeing. It’s more.”

“I know, I’ve been exactly where you are right now.”

With his back turned to me, he held is coat to offer some semblance of privacy. Inches away I made the most gruesome sounds. And then a week of backed-up bowel movements rushed out. The whole time this kind stranger stoically held his coat between us.

When I was finished, he offered me napkins. I couldn’t meet his gaze as I took them from his hands. Then he held out a bag for me to dispose of the napkins and encouraged me to finish my run.

I wanted nothing more than to disappear in the shadows of the buildings. But when I looked that kind man in the eyes, I felt inspired. That was the first and only marathon I’ve ever finished. My time was exactly four hours.

That man offered me comfort during a time when most others would have chastised me or looked the other way. At my most human and embarrassed moment, another runner possessed the grace to help.

Gutted by Boston, we must look for the light during this time of darkness. We must search for our own uplifting and funny and human running stories. The best we can do is to share those stories and that love now. Gutted, lace up your shoes and run toward the light!

Mountain Mama

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