Of all places to ruin and end lives, literally yards from where so many of the more than 24,000 runners worked so hard to embrace a pure and noble goal — to run, and finish, a race. That’s why so many of us started running, putting one foot monotonously in front of the other, moving forward. Of all places to attack the majesty of the human spirit: at the finish line.
The terrifying irony of the bloodshed Monday at the Boston Marathon: Almost nowhere can the epitome of endurance and resilience in a physical endeavor be found more than in the people who train and manage to run the race of the ancient Greeks — 26.2 miles.
Beyond the sponsored elite and the runners for charity, the Boston Marathon is still the crown jewel for weekend endurance warriors, a test of resolve that only the world’s fastest qualifiers are allowed to run.
The most painful thing I ever witnessed in sports was a young woman nearly 100 yards from the finish line of the 2006 Boston Marathon. I had come to see my best friend try to break four hours — a long-held goal of his — and was suddenly caught up in the drama of this woman in a blond pigtail, no older than her mid-20s. Her legs began to wobble, her neuromuscular system shutting down stride by stride, until she began to walk and, finally, fell. She lay there in a fetal position, bawling inconsolably, in the middle of the course. Runners whizzed past. One finally stopped, trying to help her to her feet. But she couldn’t make it.
A golf cart eventually pulled up and medical personnel attended to her and whisked her away, less than 100 meters from her dream. We didn’t know her name, where she was from, what her story was. But bystanders wept because we knew the pain of not finishing what you started, coming so close to your goal and failing.
If you told me there would be bloodied limbs and panicked screams on the same street in almost the exact same area, I wouldn’t have believed you — even in this post-9/11 world.
But there are many others within the running industry who worried a day like Monday could happen. A longtime race official I know who has worked five world-class marathons (Boston, New York, London, Berlin and Chicago), told me this had been many organizers’ fear for years.
“The one opening in the security planning for everybody were the fans; there is no way to screen your fans,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “You can screen your runners, volunteers, media and race officials — you can make them all produce proof that they are who they say they are — but if the arena of competition is a city’s streets, how do you possibly screen every person walking up to the race? You have to buy a ticket to get to the finish line area at many big races, but unfortunately anyone with money could procure one.”