April 15, 2013

LETTER: The Boston Marathon: A running monument sullied

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To the Editor:

The Boston Marathon, for me and those who run, is arguably the most iconic running event in the world (arguably even more so than the Olympics). The explosions at the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15 have shaken me to my core, grabbed my gut and heart and pulled it out and have left me saddened and so very confused.

I consider the marathon in a class of running of its own — one that transcends the 5K, 10K, half marathon, etc. People who run marathons are known as “marathoners” and go “marathoning” — they have their own noun and verb, something that no other racing distance has. Perhaps most notably, the preparation and training that go into running a marathon is massive, incredibly specific and exhausting, such that most can only conceivably run two marathons in a year.

Because of the amount of time and effort that I and others put into the marathon, training for the marathon and running it in general is the closest thing I have to a religion. Every day runners test their spirits and bodies, ritually punishing them and suffering during workouts like the great runners before us. Almost every decision I make on a daily basis has to fit my criteria for running. And I believe fervently that if I listen to my body, spirit and will, I can accomplish great things.

Boston is certainly one of the most prestigious running events in the marathon world, and is the oldest annual marathon road race in the world. Each year more than 20,000 marathon pilgrims retrace the footsteps of John McDermott, Clarence DeMar, Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar, Katherine Switzer, Desi Davila, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Geoffrey Mutai and others. In Boston (and in any race for that matter), these runners test their will and bodies to prove to themselves and others that they are capable of great things, and to prove that the limit of human will has not yet been discovered.

April 15, 2013 will be another event in Boston’s history that will test the will of humanity. One of our most holy shrines and rituals to running has now been attacked and sullied by the actions of a truly evil person or group of people. Explosions detonated at the finish line have so far killed three and injured countless more. The entire course and day of the Boston Marathon has been stained, from the Hopkinton, to the Hills of Newton, all the way to Boylston. The event will never be the same.

I remember the first Boston Marathon I went to in 2001, in which my father qualified. I remember pacing him the last six miles to that Boston qualifying time and being so excited and proud when he crossed the line as a “Boston Qualifier,” a badge of honor for any runner. I remember traveling to Boston and standing for seven hours at the finish line — across the street from where the explosions today took place — eagerly waiting for my father to finish. I enjoyed every minute of that experience, and I think about the people on April 15, 2013 doing the same thing.

I remember thinking: “I would want to run this marathon someday.” Ten years later, I earned my own Boston Marathon qualifying badge, and traversed that iconic marathon route. It was truly a transcending experience for me and transformed me as a runner. I remember performing the pilgrimage again in the blistering heat of 2012 and then celebrating with hundreds of thousands in the awesomeness that is the Boston Marathon. Again, I think about those affected by the events on April 15th, 2013.

Why would someone want to do this? This is one of the most peaceful celebrations of the human will and spirit on the planet. People from all over the world come together with a common and simple goal. They relish together in suffering, but more importantly, the people of the city and the participants of the marathon come together to help one another accomplish this amazing feat. Why would anyone want to destroy such a noble celebration?

As I write this letter, the Boston Marathon, more than ever, continues to be a test of the human will, spirit and body; but I do not know what it will be in the future. That is not for me individually to decide, but for all the pilgrims who travel to Hopkinton on Patriots’ Day. Despite this event, I refuse to believe the limit of human will has been discovered.

The Boston Marathon will be held next year, but it will have a different tone. Again, I do not know what this tone will be — but it will be shaped by the running pilgrims who travel to Boston. I want to be there to shape Boston so that we remember its rich celebratory past, and so that we remember that this attack cannot phase our desire to participate in what I consider the holiest event. I hope I see you at the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Alexander Looi ’12