We will overcome
by on Tuesday, April 16, 2013  (11 comments)


I know everyone is writing about this and I have no doubt some are far more eloquently than I will. Still, I can't help but add my own thoughts.

Yesterday's events at Boston have shaken the running community. There is no denying that. Never, as far as I can recall, has an act of terror so directly attacked the distance running community. There have been acts of terror targeting the Olympics and that, obviously, affects the running community but they weren't directly targeted at a running event. They were targeted at an event that running is a part of. On top of that, this wasn't an attack on just a running event. It was an attack on the longest-running annual marathon in the world. It was an attack on possibly the most famous marathon in the world (some might quibble with this but it is definitely among the top two or three).

At the same time, runners in general have interminable spirits. We don't just pack it in when something goes wrong. Individually, we overcome and return from injuries. We come back from bad races with good races. When we fall down 9 times, we get up 10 times. Runners seem to be hardwired for that. Actually, I just think it's a process of natural selection. Runners fall down. Those who don't get back up don't remain runners.

This time, it's not an individual battle we have to overcome but an attack on our community as a whole. True, the attack probably wasn't targeted at the running community as much as it was targeted at a high profile event in a major US city but the chosen target was a running event and, as such, the attacker picked a fight with the running community. I have no doubt that we, as a community, will get up again. That's what we do individually and that's what we will do as a community.

The individuals affected by this will have a long road back. By the latest count I've heard, three families are paying the ultimate sacrifice. Many others are suffering great loss themselves and have long roads to recovery. I have no doubt the running community will rally around all of those who are suffering physical and emotional scars that many of us can't imagine. We may not be able to do everything for them but we will do all we can and we will not forget about them. They are now a part of our sport's history.

In the meantime, those of us with less severe scars will come back. In a way, our sport has lost some of its innocence. Starting with London this coming Sunday, security at major events is never going to be the same again. That said, we will not give up. We will not give in. I fully plan to be out racing this Saturday and, in my own way, remembering those who have been so seriously affected by the events of yesterday and celebrating the resiliency of not just the participants of our great sport but of our great sport itself.

In the end, we will follow the lead of Bill Iffrig who, after being knocked down by the explosion, got back up and crossed the finish line.

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I hope to run Boston in 2015 after qualifying in 2014. WE will indeed overcome!

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I actually had a thought this morning of looking for a September marathon and qualifying for 2014 but my heart just isn't in the marathon right now. I could do it as a nice show of support I'm sure but I think I can find better ways to show my support that I could find myself more fully invested in.

I don't want to minimize what those who were there went through. I've heard a couple of stories and the experiences I've heard about are absolutely traumatic, the kind of thing I still can't imagine even after hearing the stories. Those people have a lot of recovery to do and I feel for them. From the running community's perspective, though, it's not an easy road but it's one we will cover. If these attackers intended to attack the running community, they didn't know who they were picking a fight with.

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Ryan: If these attackers intended to attack the running community, they didn't know who they were picking a fight with.

If the FBI hands this over to the Kip Litton thread crew we would have an suspect in about 12 hours.

Not meaning to make light of this but just pointing out that as the bomb area was the most photographed place on earth yesterday afternoon that they WILL catch the monster who did this.

Speaking of photo's I cried this morning when I saw the 1st communion photo of the little boy who died. His first communion banner that he was holding is from the same kit that the children from our church use. I understand that his little sister may have lost a foot and his mother has a head injury. My thoughts are with his family esp his father. That is far more than any one person should ever have to bear. I also cannot stop looking at the picture of Carlos Arredondo helping the young man who lost his legs. There is a very large photo of it on the front of the Wisconsin State Journal today.

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Andrew A.

I suppose I will represent an uncommon view, though that is something I feel accustomed to by now. When I first heard about the tragic explosions, I thought about the typical configuration for a big city road race finish (long stretch of roadway, multiple access points, token security, fairly wide-open) and wondered why this had not happened at a race until now. Perhaps I just pay closer attention to international news than most people, and thus am soberly aware of innocents being killed violently on a routine basis around the world and thus understand that it is only a matter of time before it happens again on U.S. soil. I feel sadness for good people killed by terrorist acts (and U.S. drone strikes) elsewhere in the world often enough that, frankly, Monday's event hardly moved the needle. It would seem far easier to strike at an area like that where there are likely to be thousands and thousands of people milling around in the open as the second half of the field finishes, with national and international media presence, than it would be to strike, say, a stadium or airport or similar such venue that would seem relatively easier to secure, at least where the largest mass of people is likely to be found. I suspect that, with no international terrorist group claiming responsibility, this was a domestic terrorist act, a la Timothy McVeigh. Why running and why Boston? A simple coincidence of a huge metro marathon. Could have been NYC or London. Could have been Bolder Boulder, though I suspect that starting this year there might be much higher security restrictions at the stadium where the finish is. A strike against innocent civilians is done to gain attention across the nation/globe; as Dr. Harry Edwards put it, the intent of this act is to create fear, anxiety, and headlines. I suppose I have, in essence, helped achieve that goal with a handful of retweets and this response. Talking about this with some running buddies over brews last night, one mentioned that he has long considered a real act of terror against the U.S. could be much simpler than what was carried out on 9/11, something like setting off bombs at a bunch of farmers' markets around the country. It would be making people afraid squarely within their own comfort zone. (Airports/airplanes were already settings of anxiety and fear prior to 9/11, it would be difficult to add significantly to that on a wide scale.) Boston was perhaps the last big city U.S. marathon I had an interest in competing in (NYC priced itself out of my range, NYRR subsequently proved unworthy of my support) and though realistically the threat there will be far lower than it was this past Monday, my enthusiasm for running Boston is diminished as I write this (plus I have a growing fascination with the Toronto Marathon). On the other side of that, though, my preference for smaller city, regional marathons is essentially unchanged. Boston certainly deserves our sympathies for the outcomes of this horrible act, though I have my doubts that the hashtags and tribute runs and the rest will be anything more than feelgood gestures. Those who carried out this cowardly act likely do not have the heart to understand or even give any attention to what happens within Boston, marathons, or running after this. I am confident that a city and community like that will bounce back strongly, seems unlikely that it would turn into Detroit over this. It does seem likely, though, that there is a good chance of a copycat -- thanks in no small part to media/social media attention given to this -- and a far better chance that anyone wanting to run a big city race will face more security hassle that does little to make us meaningfully safer.

Incidentally, a good, recent podcast interview that Jason Whitlock (one of my favorite sports journalists, formerly of the Kansas City Star) conducted with Dr. Harry Edwards: http://www.foxsportsradio.com/player/?station=FSR-PR&program_name=podcast&program_id=jasonwhitlock_podcast.xml&mid=23103854

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Andrew, I understand all of your points. Honestly, one of my first thoughts was also about the ease of which a major race, such as Boston, could be attacked. I thought about this after 9/11 and I still think about it every once in a while. A baseball or football game is easy to control. There are only so many entrances, which makes it much easier to control who and what goes in. A road race, by its very nature, is out in public. You don't have controlled access, though I wonder if you now will to finish areas at the major events. By their nature, road races are very vulnerable and the major ones still have the major media attention that terrorists would crave.

I also wonder about who committed this. International groups are usually quick to claim responsibility. As I've seen written, Patriot's Day is a popular target for certain US-based terrorist cells. McVeigh struck on Patriot's Day and there were a few other examples I saw given that are less well known (and I admit I didn't recognize myself). That said, I just saw an update that authorities have identified a suspect, though they are not giving any details yet. We may know a lot more in the near future.

As for marathons of interest, none are on my list right now. I'm still feeling burned out on the marathon. That said, Boston is still on my "some time in the future" list.

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Everyone has different ways of dealing with the emotions created by a tragedy like this. For some people the feel-good gestures of tribute runs and hashtags help them deal with their sadness, fear and anxiety. Their gestures may not solve problems or stop acts of terrorism, but I think especially for the running community it gives us some sense of power that we will not be defeated by cowards hiding behind a bomb. They hurt us deeply by killing and injuring innocent people, but they are not going to back us into a corner and make us hide in fear. The goal of terrorism is to paralyze the world with fear. That's their power. We should not give these cowards that power by avoiding large races or not going back to Boston. These evil people are nothing more than cowardly bullying murderers.

For other people it helps to develop a more hardened attitude toward terrorism, expecting that it's only a matter of time before it hits closer to home. My first marathon was the Marine Corps Marathon in 2001. We ran in silence past the gaping whole in the Pentagon and the streets were lined with Marines armed with automatic weapons. I had doubts about riding the Metro that morning, I had doubts about being a massive crowd, and I definitely did not want my family there nor did they want me to run. The compromise I made with myself and my family was that I would go by myself. As we all know everything turned out just fine that day. Shortly after 9/11 the DC area was terrorized by the snipers shooting random people at gas stations and in parking lots from the trunk of their car. At first I allowed the fear to overwhelm me. I was afraid to run outside, to fill my car with gas, to park in a grocery store parking lot, it was paralyzing. Finally I got so angry I said the hell with it and almost defiantly did everything I was afraid to do. Living in the DC area you get used to the feeling that it's just a matter of time before something else happens. But you can't stop living. And we can't give these cowards the power to make us stop living, running, flying, having huge megathons or whatever else we want to do. No matter what they do.

I am going back to Boston. I wasn't sure I wanted to run Boston again since I've already run 3 times, but now I'm definitely going back.

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Lighty, well written. Thank you.

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Andrew, I completely understand where you are coming from. Honestly, now that this has sunk in some, I feel barely if at all different about running Boston now than I had before. I'm not in the mood to run a marathon any time soon so it's not going to happen next year. However, I still have no doubt that some time in the future I will end up there.

As for commemorating tragedies, again, I completely understand where you are coming from. What makes this tragedy any more significant than the ones happening every day in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere? Honestly, innocent lives are innocent lives. It's similar to our nation's mourning over a mass shooting while dozens of people are being killed anonymously by gunfire every day. That said, I think it's understandable that this hits the running community in the heart. There's something to be said about something striking close to home to affect you differently. Most of us here could picture ourselves there. We imagine what it would have been like at our last race to be blown off our feet while approaching the finish line, to be out on the course and told that a bomb just went off at the finish line when we know our loved ones are there waiting for us at the finish line. It's something that is very real to us and hits us much closer to home because we could picture it happening in our lives. To those who have run Boston before, it's even more real because they can recall running down Boylston Street and could very vividly imagine what that was like. While the lives are no less valuable and the circumstances are no less tragic, it's harder to put yourself in the position of an Iraqi or Afghan marketplace because we have no similar experiences to draw upon.

Should we be any less saddened and outraged by what is happening daily in other places? Of course not. If anything, we should be more saddened and outraged because they are happening daily. However, it's not surprising to me, given human nature and ability to imagine ourselves in that situation, that this has hit us much harder than those other tragedies.

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Andrew A.


Andrew A.: It is a completely natural human, humane, and understandable response.

Going off on a bit of a tangent, back in January or February there was a cc race here put on by the local running superstore and they named Newtown as the charitable beneficiary. I would have made no note of it except that my club's liaison with the store made a point of insisting that nobody in the club should use a comp entry because it would take away from the charitable endeavor. It led me to wonder just how much a white, wealthy place on the east coast really needed whatever funds would be raised by this race and if perhaps victims of gun violence closer to home -- who are more likely to be poor minorities -- might be far more worthy recipients. It would be one thing for individuals to exercise their rights in giving money to a charity that benefits whatever they deem worthy, it is something else to essentially be forced to contribute to a given cause in order to run a race. Had I been race-fit, I likely would have paid my entry and simply chalked it up to being out of my control, as it did not bother me so much as simply raise my curiosity. I used to bristle at the "democrats/liberals like to throw money at problems" commentary yet when I considered what was going on in this situation, it was a pretty apt description of the behavior. Something bad happened that we all know about, let's just send money to where it happened. It might be more about what is captured and broadcast by media (social or cable news) than anything else. Newtown and Boston have been covered extensively by national cable news and social media, victims of violence in poorer parts of local cities not so much. Cameras (news or smartphone) are not around to show us people maimed and killed by guns or cars throughout the country (or those maimed and killed by the U.S. abroad, for the most part), that news is far more abstract. Anyway, all the other comments here are clearly heartfelt and interesting and got me to thinking more about my own views.

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We're going off on a tangent here but, as long as we're there, I'll just add one more thing on the topic. This American Life recently did a very powerful story on Harper High School in Chicago. It's two hours but it's very powerful. It deeply affected me when I listened to it.

Part 1
Part 2

As for the topic at hand, it's good to hear that the suspects have been identified. Sadly, catching them doesn't seem to be going as well. Best wishes to everyone in Boston as the tragic part of the story is hopefully nearing an end and the healing can begin in earnest.

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