Do you remember what happened on April 15, 2013? On that day, there was a terrorist attack during the Boston Marathon, killing three individuals and harming hundreds of others. An estimated 5,000 individuals were not able to finish the race, due to the placement of the bombs near the finish and the time that the bombs were detonated. In the days that followed, runners and non-runners, those present in Boston and those just watching the news, processed the difficult reality of the event together.
I’ve felt real pain, faced very real fears, and thought, I cannot do this; I cannot go on. On Monday April 21, a new group of runners will gather in Boston to run the celebrated race. They will assemble themselves ready at the start, with miles under their feet and open road before them, in hopes of putting all they’ve invested through months of training out there on the course. This year especially, the running community (and those who know individuals who run) have a unique opportunity to cheer each other on collectively at a potentially fearful event. Running a marathon is intimidating, painful, and hard; and all of that fear and pain concerns things happening within your person. Now, fearfulness of things happening outside your person and control is a fast-approaching and present reality for the thousands of runners days away from their race in Boston.
The contrast between triumph and tragedy is very real when talking about the bombings last year and the upcoming “Marathon Monday.” For the many runners who were seemingly “unaffected” by the bombings (either finishing before the bombs went off or not running the race) feelings of guilt were a struggle to overcome, wondering whether their time, energy and resources were spent on something seemingly selfish. But moving on doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting what happened and resolving completely the conflicts in one’s life.
For many, last year’s Boston Marathon will be an event that carries within it triumph and tragedy in a single memory. The triumph of training for and finishing a marathon and the tragedy of Boston’s bombings have enabled many runners to forge a new path, with no clear route ahead. Running a marathon is an appointment with pain; returning to Boston—for the competitor and spectator alike—is to face a new kind of pain in and of itself. The past year has provided individuals with a variety of ways to process the event: taking time away from the sport, meeting with counselors, and talking with those closest to them. And maybe for some the best way to heal was to take some time away from the sport; for others, the tragedy has given a new meaning to their time running—a renewed commitment to the sport amid adversity, demonstrating strength and resilience, which are key for runners, especially marathoners. It has provided a new sense of motivation for those runners, who are empowering themselves and others to dig deeper and push through the physical and emotional pain involved in running a marathon.
I’m also days away from running a marathon, but not one in Boston. I’m running a race in Louisville, and while my times are hardly Boston-worthy, I can’t help but feel solidarity with the many individuals who’ve trained and prepared for the upcoming race in Boston. This is my third marathon; my first marathon took place two weeks after the Boston bombings last year.
I had a number of friends and family ask me if I was afraid to run my race or if I had consider pulling out altogether. I won’t lie and say the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. However, I wasn’t afraid in the way they thought I might be. I was afraid of the pain I knew I was going to subject myself to in running the marathon. I had trained all spring and reached my long run to 22 miles, and it hurt. It hurt a lot. I had lost toenails and had sore knees. Going down stairs was challenging when the weekly miles were high. But I didn’t regret any of it. I didn’t regret it then, and I have no regrets now, in the last year of miles run preparing for this year’s race.
While the last year of my life hasn’t been focused on recovering from the Boston Marathon bombings, I’ve had my own personal trials to endure. I understand Paul’s language when he talks about endurance in the Christian life and running as to gain the prize. I can’t imagine walking through the trials in my life alone—let alone training for and running a marathon—without the help and encouragement from those around me. I recognize my own weaknesses and shortcomings, along with the endurance it takes to pursue Christ, always.
I’ve felt real pain, faced very real fears, and thought, I cannot do this; I cannot go on. In the same way that there are aid stations on a marathon course, there are aid stations in our Christian lives as well. We’ve got them in our church communities, with the people that we have covenanted to do the Christian life alongside. At some point, you dig down, you reorient yourself toward the prize, and you keep moving. One foot in front of the other, as tired as they may be, regardless of how far you’ve got to run. Triumph and tragedy may mark our days, but we have a prize we are running for, and nothing can take that from us.
Image via Josiah Mackenzie