Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Runners, and Bostonians, Bent But Not Broken

Bostonians are a resolute, determined bunch. I often joke that the city’s motto should be “Without Us, You’d Be British” to honor our damn-the-consequences role in starting the Revolutionary War. 

Patriots’ Day, a holiday in Massachusetts (and Maine, since it was part of Massachusetts until 1820, and, strangely, Wisconsin) to commemorate the Battles of Lexington and Concord that essentially started the war, is the lesser-known celebration that occurs on Marathon Monday. Battle reenactments occur in both towns shortly after dawn. (In my community newspaper reporter days, I was glad to cover much less exciting towns.)

I thought of this Monday afternoon, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. My gut reaction, as I put it on Twitter, was that bombs in trash cans weren’t going to scare us any more that redcoats with muskets. Like many others, I also expressed the notion that runners -- by their nature a persistent bunch used to facing adversity and overcoming obstacles -- wouldn’t be scared either.

The “scowl and bear it” attitude that most outsiders interpret as Boston’s dour lack of friendliness is, I would argue, actually a sign of our collective determination. No, we’re not the nicest folks on Earth, but we do look out for each other, and the majority of us do so without asking for anything in return. (Not even a smile.) That’s why so many people were willing to open their home to strangers Monday night, or donate blood even though the American Red Cross said its stocks were full.

Runners also possess this selfless determination. We cheer on strangers. We nod at every fellow runner we see on the road, no matter how crappy we feel. We encourage those new to the sport, remembering the same excitement, anticipation and dread we felt as beginners. As we leave water stops, we offer to share half-drunk paper cups of tap water that we’ve probably dripped sweat and backwash into, knowing that other racers will politely pass but also knowing that it’s the nice thing to do.

Right now, both Boston and the running community and shocked. Heck, I was nowhere near the finish line on Monday, and I still couldn’t hold back tears on Tuesday’s lunchtime run through Natick and Wellesley.

But we will recover. We will heed the stoic, steadfast examples set by Munich, New York, London, Madrid, Bali and countless other cities that emerged from tragedy as better, more vibrant places. We will continue to gather for Sunday long runs, for urban 5Ks and trail races and at the Boston Public Library and the JFK LIbrary. We will honor those who died or suffered life-altering injuries by refusing to behave any differently. We will keep on living, and running, forever cognizant of what has happened but refusing to let it change us.