BOSTON — I don’t remember exactly where I was when I heard that two bombs had exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon 10 years ago, but I do remember exactly how I felt. I knew instantly that somehow, some way, I was going to run that race the next year.
Pretty much every serious runner I know had the same reaction.
It goes without saying, but it is important to say nevertheless, that the human toll of that day, the three lives lost, the amputations and hundreds of other injuries, will always be foremost in every runner’s mind. The pain of the victims and their families, on that day and enduring since, may evolve but will always be there.
At another level though, so many of us who run these races took that attack personally, just as we did when Ahmaud Arbery was killed, or when anyone is assaulted or murdered for doing nothing more than chasing fitness and endorphins. Running in the face of that may be a small thing that helps only us, but it’s a way to deal with the anger. It feels defiant, like a way to say you-know-what to anyone who tries to mess with the thing we love, the people who do it, and those who support us.
And so, yeah, I was on the starting line the year after the bombing, when the words “Boston Strong” in the blue and yellow of the Boston Athletic Association, the race organizer, seemed like they were on a banner on every house along the course and on the T-shirt of every spectator on that sunny and glorious day.
“Boston Strong” was still there Monday, and it always will be.
The Red Sox wore blue and yellow uniforms over the weekend at Fenway Park. Before the start of the second wave of runners, the race announcer noted that the B.A.A. did not distribute a bib with the number 2013 on it. No explanation needed. There was also a solemn ceremony on Saturday marking the 10-year anniversary of the bombing and honoring the victims.
The Boston Marathon Bombings
But it might be the greatest victory of this city and the world running community that what happened 10 years ago had far from an overwhelming presence in Monday’s race.
Make no mistake, there are still houses with banners, and spectators wearing those T-shirts are never hard to spot. That “Boston Strong” sign across the bridge in the final mile will always take my breath away and put a little extra something in my legs for that last stretch. Running Boston, a race that has now happened 127 times, will always feel different than running any other marathon.
By race time though, so much of the chatter had shifted to running and racing. Around the starting village at Hopkinton High School, there was a constant refrain of the name “Kipchoge” — as in Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, the greatest male marathoner ever, who was running Boston for the first time and learned the hard way why Mile 20 is called Heartbreak Hill.
The story of the day was how he had fallen back just where so many others have fallen back before and finished sixth, in 2 hours 9 minutes 23 seconds.
“Today was a tough day for me,” he said later in a written statement. “I pushed myself as hard as I could, but sometimes, we must accept that today wasn’t the day to push the barrier to a greater height.”
Despite the intermittent rain and temperatures in the low 50s, the region did what it always does, coming out in force to help get the thousands of runners who have long targeted this race — the rare race that most people have to run seriously fast to qualify for entry — from the western suburbs to downtown Boston.
And there on that last, roughly 600-yard stretch down Boylston Street, a party went on all afternoon that plenty of people, runners especially, did not want to leave. Sure, some were hobbling and needed some assistance or even a push in a wheelchair to a medical tent — been there, not this day though — but plenty of others just needed some nudging from all those volunteers to keep moving, because the runners kept coming to join the party that was unfolding just a short distance from where the bombs had exploded.
That is what should be happening at a finish line, even a finish line that has always been and will always be different from all others.