Boston Is Everyone’s Tragedy, Not Just Runners

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Photo Credit: Boston Marathon Bombing by Flickr user Aaron "tango" Tang, used under a Creative Commons License.

Photo Credit: Boston Marathon Bombing by Flickr user Aaron “tango” Tang, used under a Creative Commons License.

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.

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  • Mark M

    Great post. I couldn’t help but see the ‘sacred ground’ being violated, of not just Boston, but all marathon finishes, but I’ve also been mentally repeating “this isn’t about you, don’t make it about you…” to myself, meaning I can support and sympathize and empathize, but don’t pretend that my life was blown apart the way those who were direct victims were.

  • Greg Strosaker

    Thanks Mark and well said. Of course we all have the perspective of runners, you are a step ahead of many in that self-awareness. And the trauma and images of the event can haunt runners and non-runners equally.

  • Drew Trachy

    Thank you, Greg. I’ve had mixed emotions about the running community’s reaction to this, and you put it into words perfectly.

  • Greg Strosaker

    Thanks Drew, I struggled for a long time on what to say on this topic and then, once decided, debated whether to go forward, but I’m glad I did as I think some things did need said.

  • Mark M

    I just reposted my thoughts on this, in large part from this article.

  • Greg Strosaker

    Good article Mark, thanks for including me in it, can’t comment on it from work but will do so later.

  • Ingrid

    Thank you for this reminder. It is easy for me, too, to fall into this trap, but the scope of the tragedy is far beyond ‘runners’ and ‘non-runners’, and it’s petty and divisive to make it about how “my in-group” reacted “specially” to this tragedy. Your last paragraph here was very well-stated. Thank you again for stepping out and saying something that, I think, needed to be said.

  • Greg Strosaker

    Thanks for your comment Ingrid. I had a feeling I wasn’t the only person feeling this way, though I’m sure many will disagree.

  • salty

    While I generally agree with you – I really have a hard time inserting myself into the middle of national tragedies and the like – I also, uncharacteristically, felt shaken to the core by this. It hit me as a runner and what is helping me cope is seeking solace in my community. Seeing the community of runners come together like this is simply amazing and wonderful. Yes, some take it too far, at least in my opinion. I really find the selling of stuff, whether for charity or not distasteful – the shirts are free advertisement for the makers even if all the “proceeds” are sent to charity. If you want to contribute to the One Fund then give them money. Why not give them the $26 rather than $10 or whatever the markup on the shirts is. But that’s me and as much as it’s not for me, I know wearing a shirt will help others feel better. I cope the way I cope and my limits are mine. Especially in light of this awful awful event it’s important to let everyone grieve and make sense of it in a way that helps them without judgment.

  • Greg Strosaker

    Hi Salty – yes, I too felt more shaken than others, no doubt – I had that same conversation with my wife who also felt the same way just due to her “proximity” to running. As I responded to a comment on Facebook, this post isn’t as much about criticism or judgment as it is a warning not to get too carried away going forward. I recognize that a lot of the initial reaction is going to be emotionally-driven and not well thought-out. I would just encourage that at some point we take a step back and avoid making the tragedy “about us”, as Mark has said.

  • Shawn Slaven

    Good thoughts Greg–your points are 100% spot on, but I sympathize with the “our tribe” mindset. But I think it is a natural reaction to a tragedy that strikes close to home–what marathoner didn’t see their own family in the story of the boy that was killed at the finish line? While you are right, this is not a runners’ tragedy, it is America’s tragedy and a tragedy for freedom, it is not unlike a disaster that strikes your hometown. While it may not kill anyone you know, it hits much closer to home because you’ve been there. So while not “correct” or likely to be too endearing to those outside the group, is not unreasonable for people to react with a “us against them” mentality. In listening to the various reactions (including one woman who claimed she would no longer let her kids go to her races because it “didn’t feel right”), i think it is best to let people make their peace, hear them out, and if necessary come back with the kind of conciliatory words you highlight here. It is all part of the healing process.

  • Greg Strosaker

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment Shawn. I agree that we as runners will have more emotions around this event than non-runners would and have seen plenty of examples. And we’ll always have more vivid memories of this event, even if we were not directly involved, since we can better visualize what the finish line is like, what the feelings of a family waiting for us would be, and the shock of death or injury intruding on such a vision. I just think that we do need to step back and recognize that it wasn’t an attack against “runners”, it just happened that the Boston Marathon was the convenient target for these dirtballs based on timing and proximity. I am more concerned about the chest-thumping around “they picked the wrong people to mess with” than around the idea of showing remembrance and empathy for those impacted.

  • Rachel Piotraschke

    I think Mark said it really well (and you too of course, Greg :)) the tendency to make every tragedy about yourself is something that is not at all limited to runners and actually drives me nuts/makes me kind of sick EVERY time some sort of tragedy occurs. I see it on scales from national news events like Boston, down to when a very well-liked classmate of mine passed away from cancer while I was in high school… I’d hear people say things like “wow, it’s just been such a rough week for everyone.” wow, really? for everyone? has it been really just oh so HARD for you? how do you think it was for that guy’s family? or for those who lost a loved on in the explosions at Boston, or who lost limbs? or heck, even those people who were just THERE because I’m sure that was extremely traumatic?!?

    just… ugh. I find it so disrespectful for those who are experiencing real tragedy and have had their lives changed forever. I get that we all want to be supportive, but I think it’s really easy to cross that line from “I can’t imagine how you’re feeling, but I wanted you to know I’m here for you” into just being self-absorbed. maybe I’m being too much of a “keep your feelings to yourself, darnit” Midwesterner, though :)

  • Greg Strosaker

    Thanks Rachel and well-said, I think I suffer from the same midwestern values. This is especially frustrating when it comes to tragedies such as this because part of the goal of the perpetrators is often to get as much attention for their deeds as they can, and the media (and all of us via social media) are all to willing to help them meet that goal.