Collateral Damage

As the one year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings passes and runners, volunteers, spectators and the citizens of bostonfinishBoston look towards Monday’s race to bring at least some sense of healing and closure to the horrific events of April 15, 2013, I feel compelled to express my own thoughts regarding that day, and about a feeling among the running world that began a year ago and has grown in intensity as this year’s marathon has drawn close.

What I write may initially madden or even enrage some, but before you take to the keyboard to respond in anger, I ask that you read all the way through before beginning the process of flaming me up and down the Internet.

My contention is this:

The brother terrorists who exploded two bombs on Boylston Street a year ago were not targeting the marathon.

They were not targeting runners.

They were not targeting the sport of running.

They were targeting America itself, and its very way of life.

The marathon, the runners, the sport of running, simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, no different than the thousands who happened to be in the Twin Towers, Pentagon, or on one of the four doomed flights on 9/11.

To be sure, the marathon made an appealing target of opportunity for the bombers, since it was big, public, and as we sadly learned in retrospect, all too softly vulnerable. But to say the bombing of April 15, 2013 was an attack on running is to give too much credit to the terrorists who carried out the attack, and to take too much self-importance for ourselves as runners.

If the Tsarnaev brothers had instead somehow smuggled their bombs into Fenway Park that morning and detonated them in the grandstand, would we have called it an attack on baseball? Or, if they had set them off at the Independence Day concert on the Charles River Esplanade, as they reportedly had originally planned, would it have been deemed an attack on music? Of course not. It would have been another chapter in the war between the terrorists and all Americans, not just baseball fans or music lovers.

But somehow, runners have seen the need to personalize the attack, making it more about them and less about the nation as a whole.

Perhaps that shouldn’t be totally surprising. Runners, for all the good and charitable works they do, can sometimes exhibit a holier-than-thou self-importance when they compare themselves to the rest of the American populace. It’s why we have that smug superiority cooling down after an early morning six-mile run as the neighbor is just walking out to get his newspaper, why we take pride in completing a scheduled workout in spite of a nine-inch snowstorm or a metatarsal stress fracture. But it’s also why motorists sometimes toss beer cans or yell, “Run Forrest Run!” as they drive past us mid-workout.

Of course, we secretly revel in the knowledge that our fitness and enjoyment of a simple act can engender such rancor from those we deem less dedicated or motivated. So it’s not such a great leap of logic to believe that someone could be twisted enough to take that resentment to its ultimate, deadly extreme.

But they didn’t.

The terrorists detonated their bombs at the marathon because it was there, and it was easy. But they could just as well have done it on a packed subway car on the T, or at a sports bar full of Bruins or Celtics fans. Whatever their ultimate target turned out to be, it would have satisfied their need to strike a blow at their adopted country that they had grown to hate.

So yes, on Monday runners, volunteers, and spectators will flood the roads from Hopkinton to Boylston Street in Boston to “take back the finish line,” to put some kind of punctuation mark on this terrible chapter in our history.

But let’s not do it because we’re runners, for running.

Do it because we’re Americans, for America.


3 thoughts on “Collateral Damage

  1. Every runner has had someone come out to cheer them on at one time or another: friends, family, our kids. And lots of people we don’t even know. So when someone explodes bombs among those folks that love and support us, we ARE going to take it personally. It doesn’t get any more personal than that.

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