Running is my therapy, it’s my drug and, more than anything, it is my friend. And so I had not noticed my solitary running habits until Monday afternoon, when I got the news from Boylston Street.
Today I need to run. A right, two lefts, and another right, up from South Philly, through Rittenhouse Square, to the Schuylkill River Trail.
I have always been a solitary runner. I didn’t compete in high school or college, and I have been “too busy” to join a running club since moving to Philadelphia five years ago. I rarely follow a training plan, figuring that my body will let me know when it needs to go fast and when it needs to sleep in.
I don’t have any running partners — instead, my friends fumble out excuses as to why I wouldn’t want to join them on their run. “We’re not real runners,” they say as they head out the door for an evening jog.
I have completed several local marathons and half marathons, usually riding my bike or taking the subway alone to the start — and, after collecting my bag at the finish line, making the same solitary commute home. I sign up for races because racing is fun and because, since running my first Boston Qualifier in 2008, I have felt like I was part of something.
Running is my therapy, it’s my drug and, more than anything, it is my friend.
And so I had not noticed my solitary running habits until Monday afternoon, when I got the news from Boylston Street. I felt sick to my stomach in the way you do when you realize someone you love is two hours late and hasn’t called. I needed information.
It must be an accident. No runners were hurt, right? The race was nearly over, wasn’t it? I needed to respond to the texts and calls from concerned friends and family who wondered if I was running this year, if I was okay. I wasn’t okay. None of us was okay. I needed to run.
I am a “squeaker,” as a recent Runner’s World article so appropriately coined those of us who sneak into Boston with mere seconds to spare. I signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon as soon as I was released from the watchful eye of my college rowing coach. I ran no longer then eight miles at a time before showing up, without a watch, and sneaking in under the 3:40 qualifying time by 20 seconds.
I vowed at age 17 that I would run the Boston Marathon when my mother, an avid runner, lost her battle with cancer before she could accomplish this goal herself. I had a picture of her running taped inside my bib when I crossed the finish line in Philly that morning, and again when I crossed the line in Boston the next year.
My story is not unique. Every person who sets out to run a marathon has something larger than herself driving her. Whether they finish in six hours or two, or not at all, people who run believe in something. How could we lace up at 6 a.m. every day, or spend months rehabbing a tweak, or stand at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill without having some sort of faith? It doesn’t matter in what, or why. And now I realize that it doesn’t matter if you’re all alone or in the middle of the chase pack: Runners believe. And as a result, we form a congregation. A community. A family.
I am unable to run today, due to one of those stubborn tweaks, and as a result I have felt helpless as I listen to the news streaming in from Boston. All day I searched the Internet for local events to honor the victims. I made up an excuse to swing by my local running store. But I am also realizing that if I could pull on my blue-and-gold race shirt and hit the trail to find a moment of clarity and peace, I would do so, alone, and I might not realize my reliance on, my pride in, and my adoration for this sport and the people who love it.
In the aftermath of this loss I am learning that there is no such thing as a solo runner. All of us who run or who cheer on the runners we love are part of a family. And as a family, I am certain that the running community will surround the victims of the 117th Boston Marathon and together we will find the faith to heal. But for now, we just need to run.