As a competitive runner, it was my goal to finish a marathon. I have always been rather skinny with long enough legs — a combination as good as any to attempt the task. And after more training and pain than I thought my wiry frame could endure, I triumphantly finished a 26.2 mile race back in 2009.
Months later, I spoke with my old high school running coach, who had several marathons under his belt. "There are two types of marathoners," he said at the time. "Those who have run Boston and those who have not."
The Boston Marathon, which will be held Monday, is the world's oldest marathon, having first been run in 1897. It attracts athletes from nearly 100 different countries and draws half a million spectators annually. It's also the only marathon to have qualifying standards.
Athletes must finish another marathon in a certain time relative to their gender and age in order to run in the race.
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I soon made running Boston my personal goal. My road there proved relatively long, as it is for many. I completed that first marathon the year I entered college, and was finally accepted into the Boston Marathon two more marathons and three years later, around the time I was preparing to graduate.
That marathon — targeted by bombers — left me with unforgettable impressions of heartbreak and reaffirmation.
The weekend before, my family and I surveyed the great city. We viewed the site of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Old North Church, Paul Revere's House, Harvard University, Fenway Park and many more historic landmarks within Beantown's borders. We interacted with local shop owners, waiters and passers-by. We were surpised how friendly the people were. Despite the city's massive size, it somehow felt like a large neighborhood, "where everybody knew your name."
Then Patriots Day arrived, and the gun to begin sounded. There are a handful of moments in life I will never forget, and one of them is crossing the starting line. The course immediately slopes downward, giving one a magnificent starting line view. As I peered down, I saw thousands of runners from all across the world bouncing up and down with each stride. Clad in a multitude of colors, they created a vibrant, pulsating wave of energy. Spectators scampered up onto hills and hung high from trees in order to gain a glimpse of a remarkable display of humanity and a wonderful moment in time.
It took some time to stop smiling, as fans cheered my every step. Hordes of students from different colleges along the way screamed and hollered. I briefly stopped at Wellesley College, an all-girls school known as the "scream tunnel." Deafening cheers and kisses galore are offered to any runner interested, and I continued on with a swooning heart.
Soon after, I passed Dick and Rick Hoyt, the father-son duo who epitomize the essence of sports. Dick, 73, has pushed his son Rick, 51, in a wheelchair through over 1,000 races. Rick has cerebral palsy. The two were not able to finish last year's race, but will run in their 32nd consecutive and final Boston Marathon on Monday.
The final set of hills left my muscles demanding rest, but the crowds, now three to four persons deep on either side, urged me onwards. As I finally turned the corner onto a bright and sunny Boylston Street and made those last long strides to the finish, I was nothing short of euphoric.
A little over an hour later my family and I heard what sounded like the rumblings of thunder from up high in our hotel room. We saw smoke and individuals running down the street and silently watched the news along with everyone else.
Suddenly my own race became very small.
I recall being initially relieved, as we learned a family friend had been standing between the two bombs when they exploded but survived and made his way up to our hotel room, still shaking. As the aftermath slowly revealed the extent of the tragedy, many emotions passed through me. I moved from stunned, to heartbroken, to angry that so few could ruin what a great many had worked so hard for.
As we continued to see the response of brave individuals and city authorities, though, I ultimately grew reaffirmed. Reaffirmed that the kindness and hospitality I had been shown over the last several days was real and true. As those near the finish ran into the smoke to save the injured, and medics and first responders came to assist in any way possible, and runners kept running through the finish line to donate blood, it became clear to us all that the world was still a great place.
I will not be back in Boston for this year's marathon, but I know that it will be a beautiful day. A crowd of 9,000 runners will fill the course. Fans will line every foot of the 26.2-mile route. The Hoyts will be back for one more time, and the city of Boston will thrive and pulsate with that same remarkable energy I felt one year ago.
In a marathon, there are great moments and there are tough moments; there are times where your heart swoons and times when it breaks; there are moments of hope and moments of despair. Perseverance is required to finish the race.
As the runners kick down Boylston Street this year headed for home, so too does the city of Boston. Both will have persevered, abandoning heartbreak and achieving redemption. We are all a part of this colorful, pulsating wave of humanity. Monday, our greatness will be fully on display.