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The Suburbanite
  • Boston Marathon bombings shattered soul of sport, communities nationwide

  • Marathons are unique places and it’s that uniqueness that made Monday’s tragedy at the 117th Boston Marathon so difficult to process.

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  • Marathons are unique places and it’s that uniqueness that made Monday’s tragedy at the 117th Boston Marathon so difficult to process.
    My perspective on the situation is a bit different, having run 16 marathons, including the biggest of them all, the New York City Marathon, and big-city marathons in places such as Columbus and Miami.
    When I first heard the news of the bombings in Boston, my thoughts went first to those affected, but on some level to a conversation I had just had three days prior with Tony Muller, who covers Manchester sports for us here at The Suburbanite. Tony ran in Monday’s race and finished in time to be clear of the finish line by the time the bombs went off. Prior to leaving for Boston, he let me know he would be out of town and I mentioned that I had never quite been fast enough to qualify for Boston.
    It’s an elite race, reserved for those who meet strict qualifying standards. I’ve always dreamed of qualifying, but for my age group, the standard is 3:05. The closest I have come is 3:31 at last year’s Akron Marathon.
    “You’ll get there,” Tony wrote in his email response.
    Thinking of the times I have dreamed of finishing in Boston, racing up Heartbreak Hill and sprinting across the finish line, I realized Monday afternoon that the race I had imagined finishing so many times really would never be the Boston Marathon again, at least not the way we knew it before those explosions rocked our collective consciousness again.
    To fully understand the impact, you have to understand what a marathon is like on race day. We marathoners are often called crazy and, in a sense, we might be. Where else are you going to find thousands of people willingly waking up before sunrise, often with temperatures cold enough to drive them to wear trash bags and other easily disposable clothing (or clothinglike) items to stay warm, rubbing Vaseline on their bodies to protect their skin, stretching and powering down energy gel on a city sidewalk at 6 a.m.?
    There is a sense of community, unity and  camaraderie in the tents set up for runners and in the corral behind the starting line. You’re about to embark on an endeavor that most people will never even attempt, to push yourself for hours to see if you can achieve greatness — greatness by winning your age group, posting a new personal best or just by finishing the race.
    Along the way, at so many points along the course, you encounter supporters of all ages, sizes and races. Some are there to cheer on their loved ones, but others are there to support whoever comes by.
    Every year, one woman stands in the same spot along the Towpath during the Akron Marathon, midway through the race, with a large kitchen pot and a wooden spoon, banging away to show her support for the runners.
    Page 2 of 3 - I can still remember a DJ set up on the side of a Harlem street during the New York City Marathon, bumping beats and playfully challenging tired runners that “You can’t walk. Winners don’t walk here in Harlem.” Another person showed up around the course holding a sign you can see only at
    the New York City Marathon, reading, “I am strong. I will finish. I have no (expletive)
    limits.”
    Races such as New York City or Boston are special also because of their international feel. Competitors come from dozens of countries and they all come to run together and share the experience and joy of simply running. They come and run side by side, like a mobile version of the United Nations in Nikes.
    Large crowds show up to support them even though most in the stands or along the side of the road have never been within 5,000 miles of some of the runners’ home countries. Those supporters pack New York’s Central Park, Boston’s Boylston Street or even Akron’s Canal Park, making the moment that much more special when runners turn the final corner, spot the finish line and realize they’re about to achieve their dream.
    It is that environment — that atmosphere of joy, achievement and togetherness — that took such an enormous hit Monday afternoon. A place where an 8-year-old boy was running out to hug and congratulate his father after he finished the race became a place where a bomb killed that boy, wounded his sister and shattered the hearts of everyone who heard the news.
    What is so jarring about all of this is the realization that there is no sporting event more wide open than a marathon.
    Big city or small town, the course stretches out for 26.2 miles. Most finish lines are on public roads, in stadiums or in open public spaces. The stadiums rarely have the sort of security for a race finish they would for a football or baseball game. In a public place such as Central Park or Boylston Street, policing everyone moving around is virtually impossible. The New York City Marathon winds through all five of the city’s boroughs, with crowds five or six deep in some areas of Brooklyn, with no way for police to cover every square inch of the crowd.
    Security undoubtedly will be ramped up at marathons in the near future. Hopefully, a feeling of confidence in law enforcement and race personnel will allow us to run races or watch them as spectators without having our first thoughts turn back to Boston and the tragedy we witnessed.
    There is no denying the immutable truth: The world changed for the worse on Monday and it won’t ever be the same.
    That unique place is gone.
    Page 3 of 3 - Andy Harris is the assistant editor of The Suburbanite. Reach him by email at andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com, on Twitter @aharrisBURB or by phone at 330-899-2872.