It’s nearly impossible for a running blogger to avoid writing about the events in Boston this week, as any other topic seems trivial. While many have written about what it means to the running community or to the author as a runner, it’s important to discuss the broader aspects of what happened.
The natural tendency for a runner, especially one who has or aspires to run Boston, is to view the tragedy through that lens. To visualize the typical activities at a finish line and compare that to the videos we see repeated time and again. To turn to other runners for consolation and understanding or to express grief or fear. To view this as an attack at the soul of what it means to be a runner.
This has led to posts mourning the violation of the “sacred ground” that is the Boston finish line. To posts on how the perpetrator(s) picked the “wrong people to mess with” in marathon runners. To posts on how “the tribe” had been assaulted. To posts stating that “the finish line is no place for horror”. And to various events where runners have gathered in tribute, whether in person or virtually.
While this goes to show the strong bonds that do develop between runners – as it can for any who share a common passion – and it can serve as a valuable coping mechanisms,it seems in some ways as an attempt, even if unintentional, to “own” the tragedy. Maybe this is natural, since Boston is “our event”.
But both Boston and the tragedy that occurred are far bigger than the running community. The Boston Marathon is the premier showcase of one of the great cities of our nation, and a part of our culture as perhaps the only athletic event of such prestige that is open to “recreational” participants.
This heinous crime impacts all peace-loving citizens of the world, not just runners and their families. It points out vulnerabilities that many large gatherings still have, and the existence of evil people who are willing to take advantage.
This would be no less of a tragedy if it occurred at a big parade, soccer game or amusement park. Loss of life and serious injury knows nothing of the peaceful context in which it may occur. Of course the finish line is no place for horror – but is it an appropriate emotion anywhere else?
I have no idea what the motivations of these types of criminals are. Maybe they targeted Boston specifically because of runners, or maybe not. But in either case, the impacts of this crime reach beyond those involved. Beyond the sorrow of those who lost loved ones or friends or whose lives are forever changed by the physical or mental trauma, many will again suffer a bit of fear in such gatherings or flash back to past tragedies of this sort.
Runners are already suffering a bit of an “elitist” image issue. Witness the reaction of New Yorkers when the marathon was going to carry on after Hurricane Sandy. It is possible that big races will become even more expensive and inaccessible due to increased security costs.
It would thus be better to resist the urge to make this tragedy about running, to claim a special “victim” status due to the venue at which this terrorist chose to inflict their harm. We are all part of a bigger community – that of reasonable humans – all of whom are victims when our trust and faith are damaged in this way. To claim more a “special” victim status risks garnering backlash instead of sympathy and that serves no purpose in the long run.
Interestingly, the ones who seem least likely to view this from a runner’s perspective are those who actually participated in Boston this year. Maybe it was actually experiencing the event, whether mixed in the chaos or not, that gave an appreciation of how widely this crime affected people, especially since runners were actually a significant minority of those actually at the scene. It is only those of us who were far away to seem to take mostly the runner’s view of what happened.
As runners we should be grateful for the communities that continue to support us through providing outstanding events in spite of their costs and hassle, that provide the environment in which we can (usually safely) train and compete. In this case especially, the loss of life would likely have been far greater had it not been for the outstanding medical facilities and resources provided by the city of Boston. This is Boston’s tragedy, America’s tragedy, and the civilized world’s tragedy. It is not just our tragedy.