The finish line at the 116th Boston Marathon on April 16, 2012. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)
To get to Boston in 2009, I went by way of Philadelphia. I don't remember much about the end of that marathon, mostly because I had started too fast and by the end I was more stumbling than running, but I remember how much my legs and lungs burned, and what it meant when I qualified for the People's Olympics.
The Boston Marathon was a sort of victory lap for me, as I suspect it is for many others. 26.2 miles is a long lap, but if there's an environment for it, it's that race in that city. I was in awe of everything. I had never seen more yellow buses than the ones that picked up runners in the center of town and hauled us out to the starting line. I sat next to an older man and arrogantly, foolishly thought "ah, well, here's a guy I can beat" only to find out that this was his eighth Boston, and he had won his age group six times.
The crowd of runners was immense, but the jovial mass of spectators along nearly every inch of the course made me do something I don't often do during races: smile. How could I not? Most races have pockets along the course where crowds run three-deep. In Boston, the crowd ran at least four-deep almost the whole way. Think about how many people that is, along both sides of a 26.2-mile course. That race is with me, literally, almost everywhere I go. I have its bumper sticker on my car. It's a line on my résumé.
Most came to watch yesterday, I expect, to take part in the accomplishing of so many small dreams. The vast majority of runners who cross the line at Boston aren't going to garner international renown, but they'll have seen a dream through from conception to fruition. So many dreams realized in one day is a sight nothing short of breathtaking.
It was almost equally breathtaking, though, to watch those dreams get cut short, and some dreams vanish forever as the explosions ended and ruined lives at yesterday's finish line. How sad that an event meant to showcase triumph instead turned to horror. Grit and wrought determination were supposed to win the day, but someone spineless came away with it.
People have voiced fears over what will become of major marathons. Will spectators be blocked from view? How many will be allowed to watch? Will people even be allowed to bring bags?
It's hard to watch anything lose its innocence, but if anything can stand taller after a tragedy, it has to be the Boston Marathon. Is there a town with more fight in it than the home of the Boston Red Sox, and is there a group of people with more will than a group of Boston Marathon qualifiers?
I don't think I'm alone in thinking that those robbed of their dreams this year will roar to life in 2014, that those who had their town taken from them for a day will leave an inerasable mark the next time, and that those who felt their sport was used to aid fear will make sure that, in 2014, each pair of shoes in the stampede will aim to trample terror.