15 April 2013

Boston Marathon: 17 years later, and a couple minutes

Posted by Callan Bentley

On Tuesday in 1996, I showed up very tired for my 8am paleontology class at the College of William & Mary. I had driven all night back to Williamsburg from Boston, where the day before I’d run the 100th Boston Marathon. It was my first marathon (I ran it unofficially – I was what runners call a “bandit”). It was an amazing experience to take on a run of that length, and finish it.  Though I went on to run two other marathons – Big Sur and Adirondack – with better times, I see the 100th Boston Marathon as the pinnacle of my running life. Along the entire route, spectators cheered me on in the most affirmative way. It was joyous and amazing. I had written “CALLAN” in Sharpie across my yellow Chiquita banana shirt, and that was the catalyst for thousands of shouts of personal affirmation. “Go Colin,” they yelled. “You can do it, Callahan!” And I needed the encouragement; though I had trained with a maximum of a 19-mile run before the race, going 26.2 miles was really, really hard.

My spirits flagged around mile 24, and I stopped running and started to walk. I walked for about half a mile or so, until an Irish fellow came along and clapped me on the back, saying “Come on now, let’s finish this thing!” He gave me a smile and nodded his head toward the finish line. With his joyful entreaty, I began running again, ploddingly at first, and then sprinting faster and faster. I felt elated, giddy – In retrospect, I think that was the one and only time I’ve ever felt the fabled “runner’s high.” I crossed the finish line 4 hours and 12 minutes after I started, and the mix of emotions I felt at that moment were at profound levels. I was simultaneously laughing and crying, drooling and dizzy. It was amazing.

I’m so thankful for that man’s encouragement. He made me push myself, and by finishing the race running, he made my day.

Murder is awful, and every innocent life that’s lost is worthy of breaking my heart, but there are so many lives ended every day in awful, preventable ways, that I find I cannot dwell on them to the extent they deserve. Only the most horrific tragedy, like the murder of schoolchildren at an elementary school, can break through this wall of emotional distance that modern culture has encouraged me to build. But today’s bombing of the Boston Marathon, at the finish line, at the bombs went off at 4:09:44 race time, 2.5 minutes before my own (unofficial) finish time, strikes home in a very personal way. It pierces that wall because of the intensely positive experience of being at that exact place myself. That intoxicating cocktail of emotions I felt – I can’t imagine that ebullience suddenly turned completely on its head, and ripped apart, showing the starkest, darkest side of my awful species. It’s so completely wrong.

Athletic achievement, the perseverance, the struggle and success – so much positive energy put into preparing for a marathon, for running it, for helping your fellow humans – and then for someone to take that special moment, and turn it into an opportunity for the most depraved act, … I just don’t know what to say. It turns my stomach.

Of course, my thoughts are with the people who were put in that position today. Just as they were about to experience one of the best moments of their lives, some murderer turned it into the worst; perhaps even the final moment. It is the most incomprehensible barbarity – How can anyone see this action as justifiable? I wonder if the perpetrators will invoke politics or religion as their motivation?