Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Boston Marathon 2013

A little over a week after  the sport  of marathoning got jolted and perhaps got changed  for ever it is difficult to put the events of that Tuesday early morning (Indian time)  in perspective . Thankfully the next major marathon - the London marathon- went off well with over 36,000 runners completing the race. Both Boston and London are part of the marathon majors  - the other four being Chicago, Berlin, New York and Tokyo. These 6 marathons are the runners equivalent of the Grand slam in Tennis as far as professional runners are concerned. However, a key difference and unique element of running as a sport is that thousands of amateur runners participate in these races running on exactly the same route as the professional elite runners. These 6 marathon majors are on the aspiration list of almost every marathon runner and none more so than the Boston marathon. Besides being the world's oldest marathon (this year was the 117th edition of the event) it is the only race that has stringent qualifying times based on gender and age and runners  usually  need to train  hard for several years in order to qualify to run it - a few thousand running spaces are available for charity runners. 

Having had aspirations to qualify for and run Boston marathon since 2010 this is a race that I have been tracking closely the last few years. When the qualifying times got stricter in 2011 it meant I had to run a FM in sub 3:40 instead of sub 3:45 to qualify in the 55-60 years age group for the April 2014 race. After training rigorously  for over 18 months I managed to just sneak through the qualifying time in October 2012 and bettered it a bit at the Mumbai marathon in January 2013 where I clocked 3:37:20. Such is the competition for running places in Boston marathon that this still does not guarantee me a place in Boston marathon 2014 the registration for which will happen in September-October 2013. Nevertheless, being optimistic of getting into the 2014 event I followed this year's event very closely. I watched the race streamed live from  the Boston marathon website   for about 2 hrs 40 mins to visually soak in the route and the ambiance. I  turned  off my PC after both the men's and women' winners were interviewed and went to sleep happily visualising myself on the route next year. 

I was totally shocked on Tuesday morning when I learnt from some runner friends at Kanteerva stadium  about the blasts at Boston marathon and that the race had to be stopped before many runners could complete it. A few of the runners were surprised to see me there - they had thought that I was running Boston this year. I just could not focus on my interval training as my heart went out to runners who after training so hard to get there were unable to complete the race for reasons completely outside their control. In fact on marathon race day(or for that matter in a race of any distance) there are a number of things that can go wrong to prevent a runner from finishing or meeting his/her goal time and one has to be mentally and physically very strong to conquer these and complete the race. After my training run I rushed home to find out the details of the blasts - was touched to get several calls and messages(SMSs and FB messages) from friends  enquiring about my well-being. Everyone felt I was fortunate enough not to have qualified for this year's race! I was devastated to find out that there had been 2 bomb blasts at the finish line of the race killing at least 2 people and injuring scores of people many of whose lower limbs were blown away. I really cannot imagine the angst and horror experienced  by the runners and their friends and family members who had come to watch them finish the race.  Fortunately my friends and family who live in the area decided to give this year's event a miss at the last minute - the Boston marathon is considered a spring time party on a 3 day weekend and attracts thousands of families to participate along the entire route with a large majority of them congregating in the finishing area. The holiday weekend celebrations peak with celebrating the triumph of the human spirit demonstrated by thousands of runners of all ages, sizes and backgrounds. 

That Tuesday was one of the worst days of my life. I could hardly get any work done and spent most of the day reading and re-reading all the stories related to the blasts despite the photos and videos being gut wrenching.  An event like the  Boston marathon  serves to energise people   of  diverse ages, religious, social and economic backgrounds as they  celebrate the endurance of the human spirit during and at the end of the race. Usually there are tears of joys at the finish line as runners hug each other and their families and friends talking about their trials and tribulations of the race and how they missed, met or bettered their goal times. What a different scenario  it was in this edition of the Boston marathon for runners finishing post the 4 hr time.  Hundreds of runners had to run away from something terrible after spending hours running towards something good.Long distance running is considered a lonely sport as the runner often trains for hours alone and has to work hard on his own during the race.  However the camaraderie and bonding among runners is usually spontaneous and unique. Strangers often chat up during the race  and/or at the finish line and end up becoming good friends. For example I met one of my close friends on the course of the Bangalore midnight marathon in 2007 when we were the only two runners for a long stretch. So it was not at all surprising that minutes after completing the gruelling race several runners went back into the course to help injured spectators and runners and even donated blood. 

Injuries and loss of life  due to human violence and terror has become a part of our life specially in India and one has almost become inured to it. However, when it happened in a space so dear to me and around which my life currently revolves it had a deep impact on me. 
A week later with one suspect dead and the other in hospital, while there are a few conjectures, one still cannot understand the motive behind this shameful,insane event which has changed the world of marathoning for ever. By nature marathons are open events and  spectators encouraging runners are welcome  all along the 42.2Km course - so it would be impossible to completely secure the entire route. However I am sure there will be greater security measures in all global marathons just as transiting through airports changed post 9/11.Not sure how this dastardly act will  impact next year's race at Boston which I hope to run(I will be anxiously following the progress of registrations when they open around the 2nd week of September)   - yes I am now keener than ever to be part of the 118th edition of the event and run  along with thousands of other runners and  show the world that the spirit of running and human resilience is not least bit affected.   

And I am sure that is how the millions of runners around the world feel - we must carry on running be it in training or in races, be it every day or few days a week or even few days a month or whether it is a short run or a long run, run alone or run in a group. That is the only answer and healer to this.  Long distance runners push themselves to test their physical and mental limits, to raise money for various causes, to compete against themselves and sometimes against others. Now they must push themselves to also show that the senselessness of a few cannot beat the solidarity and communal achievement of the human spirit. 

This was well demonstrated at the London marathon last Sunday putting the spotlight on the beloved sport and away from terrorist fears.  The race started with a 30s period of silence to remember those impacted by Boston.From the start of the race till the finish in front of Buckingham Palace runners and spectators had Boston in their thoughts.  A banner saying 'Run if you can. Walk if you must. But finish for Boston' said it all for the runners and for Boston.  There were larger than usual crowds to watch the race - a great tribute to the strength of Boston and a celebration of the indomitable human spirit.

For my part I have done exactly one training run since 16th April - due to a minor injury in my left calf. I plan to resume my regular training routine this weekend and push harder than ever to achieve my goals for this season - doing my bit for those impacted by last week's event!

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