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Taking Back the Marathon: For the Community

The Boston Marathon has traditionally been a day of partying for local college students, with little focus on the running of the race itself. However, the tragic bombings that occurred on April 15,  2013 have inspired many to run in 2014. Taking Back the Marathon features Boston College students who are planning to run in the 2014 Boston Marathon, along with the stories behind their motivation to make this year’s race one to remember.

Charlie Baker, A&S '15

Running is my thing. I’ve been long distance running since my freshman year of high school and I become more and more impressed by what this sport can do everyday.

Distance running evokes a paradoxical sense of community and togetherness. In general, running is definitively an individual endeavor. Although there are technically marathon ‘teams,’ the physical effort is singular. There are no passes, no picks and no assists. One man’s legs can’t be made faster by another’s. Rather, one steps onto a path laid out before him and is faced with the challenge of carrying himself to the end of it as quickly as possible. He alone can bank the grueling investment of training in the months before and he alone muster the courage to fight the pain until the finish line has been put behind him on the day of the race. Even so, running seems to embody teamwork and interpersonal triumph more than any other sport, especially on marathon day.

I think the assertion that running is a mental sport can shed some light on our tendency to unify on Marathon Monday. Having run for most of my athletic life, I understand that distance running is perhaps the world’s slowest competition. The actual race is not so much the main event as it is the demonstration of months and months of training. This training is where races are won and lost, and is where personal records are made. It’s grueling and requires patience and emotional strength.

Marathon running offers to the individual a powerful example of the metamorphic powers of training, hard work and practice. The individual nature of the sport makes the performance pretty honest; one can see the true degree of his improvement un-masked by the efforts of teammates. Everyone is offered the opportunity to see how hard work can turn their legs’ ability from one mile to 26-plus. But the body can’t make this transformation without the mind’s sustained effort throughout the training. The spirit of distance running is to push our bodies beyond breaking point, and when our bodies fail us, we turn to our minds for strength. This is where the community aspect comes in.

Throughout training, we ride on the ethereal sense of power and effort we get from our fellow runners. There is this sense that we are struggling with this impossible task together. It never ceases to amaze me how when I pass another runner on the road, a simple wave and a smile evokes a brief but powerful kinship; an assertion that we can both make it through the pain and reap the rewards that lie at the end of the run. By the simple virtue of being a fellow runner, I immediately have a teammate in my efforts. And this team is a special one, without rivals and of special composition. We are not fighting against another team or another thing. Rather, we are fighting to overcome personal limits and prove to ourselves that we can do something amazing. We are each individually fighting to achieve some personal greatness, and our commonality lies ironically in this individual effort.

Of course, this is a distinctive, if not unusual, year for the Boston Marathon. Last year’s race ended with the tragic death of three people and the serious injury of many others. To see such senseless violence on a day dedicated to peaceful victory and personal triumph was humbling. When the bombs went off, the very interpersonal unity and purity of the day was attacked. Like the marathon, such a tragedy is an intrinsically difficult challenge, the conquering of which requires the togetherness of a community. The rhetoric following the bombings, namely proclamations of “Boston Strong,” really embodied that sense of community which is necessary for the healing of such a deep wound.

Although the dust has settled from the chaos of that attack, the marathon will surely re-kindle some of the emotions, both painful and rejoicing, felt on that day. Although it may seem that this day dedicated to togetherness and human spirit will be contradicted by the memory of the bombings, I believe that the nature of the event stands in testament to the fact that such human suffering can be overcome. When we suffer together, we share the burden of hardship and grief as a team, and such challenges become easier to shoulder. The inherent struggle in a marathon shared by its runners thus becomes microcosmic of our response to last year’s tragedy. By remembering how we overcame the attacks through a powerful sense of community, we take back the marathon; we reclaim the very ideals which make the event possible.

When Frankie asked me who I was going to dedicate the marathon to, it struck me that I hadn’t previously thought of this at all. Subconsciously though, I think my Mum is the person I think about the most when I’m struggling in my training. She’s been going through a hard time lately, and when I’m striving with something, I think about the strength she has been showing me. I know that as we get into our later years, we try less to be like our parents than when we were younger, but I think this is a time in my life where I can really start to look towards my Mum again for examples by which I should lead my life.

To highlight a personal roadblock, I’ve been struggling with a spine issue for most of my running career which sometimes makes running impossible for me. It’s really easy just give up when faced with a challenge like an injury, but I understand that part of the difficulty in running a marathon is overcoming pain. I realize that the entire point of the event is to prove to yourself that the person inside of you is stronger than the body it’s in. I try my best to remember this when I’m having a particularly painful day. I think of all the other people struggling with worse injuries, and how they are able to overcome them to do incredible things. I think of my Mum, too, and how she would respond to pain. Most of all, I think of those people who lost limbs in the attacks last year and realize how lucky I am that I have the opportunity to run with generally good health. It’s things like this--other people’s struggles and other people’s examples--which stop me from quitting. With the reservoir of strength I find in my fellow community members, I find that roadblocks like my back issue are much easier to navigate.

I think the marathon this year will be a positive experience for everyone. With the circumstantial backdrop of last year's tragedy, I feel that the sense of unity will be stronger than ever. And the awesome people running the race will a visible testimony to our ability to come together.

In the marathon, times don’t matter. It’s less about when you cross the finish line as much as it’s about the fact that the finish line has been crossed. And I think that the city of Boston has crossed its finished line and is ready to take back the Marathon on April 21. Good luck to all the runners!

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