SALT LAKE CITY — We didn’t need to exchange words. I grinned at his race shirt, pulled over a dress shirt and tie, and he smiled at mine, worn with a skirt and heels.
In the wake of Monday’s deadly explosions near the finish line of the iconic Boston Marathon, most of the runners I know did what runners do best — they kept moving forward.
They wore race shirts in solidarity. They planned vigils, mapped out memorial runs, discussed fundraisers, signed up for races and just laced up their shoes to run a few miles for people whose lives were forever altered by a horrific act of cowardice.
They vented frustrations and voiced fears.
But in the end, they did something. Runners, after all, are people of action.
They embrace pain on a daily basis, so they’re not going to shy away from this horrific, cowardly act.
Armed with their most valuable piece of equipment — an iron will — they fight their battles, physical and emotional, by simply never quitting.
Running is their sanctuary. Running is how they make sense of the world. Running is where they find peace. Running is their home.
When someone attacks your home, you fight back. And as any committed runner understands, nothing heals a broken heart like more running. Determination, especially in the face of fear, is the only path to a victory of any kind.
So Tuesday morning, we set aside our sadness and our anxieties and we ran.
Some of us ran routes we’d already planned, but with a little more conviction. Others ran specific tributes to the victims of the bombings.
Regardless of where or how far we ran, we put one foot in front of the other with purpose and affection.
The beauty of running is that you don’t have to be supremely talented to have spectacular experiences. If you put in the miles, it will bless you.
Running has improved my life in countless ways.
It’s made me more optimistic, tougher, empathetic, aware and much more comfortable with the inevitable suffering and unpredictability that accompanies life.
I started running because a friend thought it would be a nice way to spend some time together. It started to take on more significance when we decided to run for Pat Tillman, a former NFL player who joined the Army Rangers after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and who died because he did so. It was the first time I felt like my actions, feeble as they were, could honor someone else.
It took running the first Ragnar Relay in 2004 for me to begin to comprehend what aspiring to something everyone else considered crazy could do for your soul. It pushed me to my breaking point, and then it connected me to other human beings, sometimes complete strangers, in the most intimate and spiritual ways.
With every accomplishment, I found myself eyeing a new, even more ridiculous sounding goal. And then one day I woke up and realized running wasn’t just something I was doing.
It was something I was becoming.
As I listened to initial reports on the radio, I closed my eyes and wept especially for the spectators injured and killed.
I could see their grins, hear their cheers and feel the support they offered not just to the runners they loved but to every runner who managed to shuffle past them.
I’ve been the beneficiary of their support. I’ve stood with them, screaming and cheering, basking in the inspiration of someone else’s triumph.
Especially in a marathon, the crowd is as much a part of the race as any runner. I have exchanged smiles, kind words and high-fives with fans along a marathon route, and their support is invigorating. Their signs proclaiming their pride, offering their support and announcing their affection provide exhausted runners with small doses of courage and strength.
The relationship between a marathon crowd and the marathon runner is symbiotic as they energize and inspire each other. I don’t believe that fear will keep runners from races, but I worry it will keep spectators from crowding those sidelines.
I understand the concerns expressed by the families of runners across the country. Runners participating in races around the country this weekend, including the Salt Lake Marathon, sought reassurances from race officials. But deep down they know there are no guarantees.
In fact, there is only one certainty: The only way to reclaim their home is to keep running.
Ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes may have the best words for this moment: “Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.”
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