Running Boston is one of those “bucket list” experiences.
Like many runners, I had dreamed of crossing the finish line of the oldest and most prestigious marathon. One of the things that makes Boston special is that you must run a “qualifying” time in another marathon. As Boston became a popular bucket list destination, the qualifying times got harder, making it that much more desirable.
In 2011 I ran my first marathon, and in 2012 I qualified for a bib in the 2013 Boston Marathon.
The marathon weekend was everything you could ask for. I met one of my running heroes, the weather was perfect, the race was big and fun, and I finished.
And then the bombs went off. My wife and I were in our hotel room with a birds-eye view of the chaos of the finish line. We watched helplessly as people ran for their lives, listened to the wail of the emergency sirens, searched anxiously for details on the Web, social media and television. Friends reached out and we assured them we were safe, though we did not feel safe. We were terrified.
That terror never really subsided during the hunt for the bombers. I obsessively checked the news, and on the final day when people in Watertown were locked in their houses, I was locked on the television. I felt relief when they captured the remaining bomber. Suddenly, the whole thing seemed over. The news cycle moved on.
But after a few weeks, I realized it wasn’t over for me. I found myself poring over the stories of people who were injured by the bombs. I read every word of the special Boston bombing issue in Runners World. The aftermath was constantly on my mind.
So I decided to run the Boston Marathon again.
It was easy to lace up the shoes and get after another qualifying marathon time. I ran with a sense of purpose larger than my original bucket list goal. I wanted to go back to show support for the victims and the spectators. I wanted to go back to clear my head of all the bad things and fill it with something good. A few months later, I requalified and bought my plane ticket, and I set running and Boston thoughts aside until the end of the year, when it would be time to start training again.
Training has always been a solitary undertaking for me. I run by myself, listening to music or podcasts. I have a few friends and colleagues who are also runners, but we never ran together. But when I looked at training for this year’s Boston, I felt a need to be with other people. So I joined a group of runners who were training for Boston.
It started out kind of rocky for me. Imagine never going to a party and then suddenly going to parties three times a week. Parties where you don’t know anyone when you arrive. I kept wondering: Am I doing this right? Am I talking too much? Not enough? Is this pace too fast? Not fast enough?
Eventually, I got the rhythm down. It helps that we were running outside during one of Minnesota’s most brutal winters. Remember that day when it was 10 below with nasty winds? We ran that day. We ran the icy paths, through drifts of snow, into biting gusts, and always up and down hills to prepare for the famous Heartbreak Hill on race day.
Over four months I changed from a guy who is running Boston to a member of a group running Boston. My daughter called it “adult cross country” and I started calling them my “running buddies.”
Occasionally, we talked about the bombings, but mostly we talked about things that friends talk about: weekend plans, new jobs, the Gophers, a parent’s death. We also talked about the setbacks and successes of training for a marathon.
Last Wednesday in the sleet and hail of mid-April, we did our last training run. As we finished up, the wind stopped and the snow came down in giant flakes and even though it was ridiculous, it was beautiful. I realized that this was a small gift that came out of the horror of the bombings — a group of running buddies beating back the Minnesota winter one more time.
I’m going to run Boston today and I’ll be there not just with the survivors, the spectators and the runners. I’ll be there with my friends.
Jim Bernard is senior vice president for digital at the Star Tribune. He is at firstname.lastname@example.org.