Two takes on the Boylston Street tragedy

Gregg: I’m often asked why I keep running marathons. The truth is there are many reasons, but here’s one that’s as important as any other: the marathon is an overwhelmingly happy event.

Watch the finish line of any marathon, and you’ll see runners raising their arms in triumph, crying tears of joy, hugging their loved ones, beaming with satisfaction, and that’s even before the endorphins kick in.  Even runners who miss their time goals are generally pumped to finish their race, because after all, it’s a marathon.

How many other places do you see actual joy on display?

That’s why the horrifying images from the Boylston Street finish line struck a chord with me. The attacks occurred right at the very spot in the marathon where ordeal turns to elation. Right where I’ve kissed my wife just as I was completing an otherwise disappointing race, but thrilled nonetheless to be done.

The finishing stretch at Boston is the most majestic of any marathon I’ve run. With less than half a mile to go, runners turn left onto Boylston Street and the finish line banner is suddenly in full view, with screaming fans lining both sides of the broad esplanade.

That spot has now changed. Runners in future years will still feel a sense of accomplishment, scan the crowd for loved ones, and soak up the cheers. But somewhere on Boylston Street they may also imagine a boom and a flash of light, a fog of smoke, bloody limbs, and mangled barricades.

Of course, my heart goes out to the dead and wounded and their families and friends. But I feel a loss for all marathoners everywhere – including myself.

Brenn: A marathon is a naturally dramatic event and yesterday’s races, decided on Boylston Street, were suitably fierce. Shalane didn’t win, but she held on with all her might and was right there in the picture as the top four women gave everything for the finish. In the men’s race, Gebre Gebremariam had engaged Lelisa Desisa in the finishing kick, but as Gebremariam turned onto Boylston Street he looked back at the third place runner, betraying vulnerability. Earlier in the morning, in the middle miles, Ana Dulce Felix had a big lead but kept turning her head, as if she wanted the pack to catch her and relieve her the mounting anxiety of leading the race on declining reserves.

Among the non-elites, countless individual race dramas played out. One of the draws to taking on a marathon is just that: to find out what the story is going to be, to conquer the drama of the event, or, as one says about a bad race, to live for another day.

The bombing yesterday afternoon was a dramatic event of an entirely different dimension. It was not self-imposed like the task of completing 26.2; it was imposed on others. It was not peaceful or transcendent; it killed and maimed. Dramatic as it was, it isn’t best described as a drama; more precisely, it was a tragedy. And, whatever the politics or delusions of the perpetrator(s), it had nothing to do with running.

It is difficult for me to imagine being one of the runners on Boylston Street as the bombs exploded, or what it would be like to turn onto Boylston Street, in the tilted state of physical and mental exhaustion, to encounter a scene of smoke, felled runners and spectators, and a blocked finish line. For the families of runners, who have stood behind fences near finish lines, and who have had their own anxieties on race day even when everything goes well, yesterday’s events hit even closer to home. But the drama of such a vicarious experience, or the being-there spotlight on television, is temporary.

For those who were actually there and suffered mental and physical trauma or worse, I lament that our words and our running cannot undo what was done.

One of the prevailing narratives about the explosions – expressed by NPR, the Boston Herald, the Boston Globe, etc., is that the Boston Marathon has been tainted and will never be the same. On CNN last night, Piers Morgan asked a guest whether there would be a Boston Marathon next year. I reject this narrative that the marathon has been tainted, as the marathon was the setting of the tragedy but not the cause. In terms of everlasting, it is the soul of the bomber that was tainted and worse.

Marathons and tragedies seem to go hand-in-hand these days, as this event echoes the conflation of last fall’s NYC Marathon (the drama) with Hurricane Sandy (the tragedy). The tragedies will not be forgotten, but the traditions of the marathons will continue. In spite of the souls lost, there are more patriots today in Boston than there were yesterday.

Categories: Boston Marathon

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