Wednesday, 17 April 2013

A Post I Wish I'd Never Have To Write

It’s April 17. As Monday was the third Monday in this month, i.e. Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts, on April 15 the Boston Marathon was held. It’s been held since 1897. Monday’s race, however, will go down in history for all the wrong reasons.

Depending on when you’re reading this, this will either be current news or archive material. The short summary is that two bombs went off near the Finishing Line, killing three spectators and injuring 170 people. The blasts have not been claimed and there is no indication as to the perpetrators or their motives.

Those questions may have been answered by now. Either way, this post is not about questions or answers. Events like these prompt enough ill-informed (at best) speculation as it is: I am not going to add to it. I just want to add a brief outline of how I, as a runner, reacted to the news.

News that I heard whilst staying on campus at Warwick University, by the way, ahead of a conference on Computer-Aided Design, Product Lifecycle Management and 3D printing. I’d got back to my room after a Reception event, hopefully the last such event at which I shall deny myself a couple of beers. I’d had three pints of orange juice & sodas whilst my guest, a client from California but of Massachusetts roots with Irish background, had enjoyed three pints of Guinness. I checked my work e-mail and saw the following note:

Subject: Boston Marathon
<former colleague> is running in this…hope he’s ok

Seemed an odd comment… why wouldn’t he be OK? Fit lad, experienced runner
(although I have since learnt this was his first marathon)… Why send an evening e-mail on the topic? I replied, highlighting the event’s qualifying times and how he’d have to be OK just to make it*…

…then I switched over to Twitter. Saw a tweet from fellow nutter Simon in which he said he was going to bed because he’d read/seen enough. Saw more tweets. Realised something had happened…

…and switched over to the BBC News Channel: at first online, then on the TV. It had taken me a few media but finally the news dawned on me. And hit me. Hard.

You may recall that I’d been to Boston for work last November and enjoyed (yes, ‘enjoyed’) a
great day’s running there ahead of a week of meetings. On the whole, I ran 27.4mi that day. That’s right: 44.12km, 27.4mi. Non-consecutive, I hasten to add. In fact, it was broken down into seven runs:
5.00k run from hotel to the Freedom Trail Run starting point on Boston Common
6.27k Freedom Trail Run
5.00k run back to the hotel
2.37k run back towards Downtown Boston
2.02k run brought to a halt by the sight of “Cheers” (of course I had to!)
7.18k run out to Cambridge – fortunately there were water fountains along the way, post-pint
13.28k run back from Cambridge to my hotel

Yours truly, on Boston Common -
November 11, 2012
Hang on… that only adds up to 41.12k… I’m 3k short… yet I went over it time and again at the time… anyway, let’s not dwell on the details.

I have tried to compare my RunKeeper records with the
official route map. I can’t make full sense of it but one thing I am sure about: at several points on my run I was very, very close to the marathon route. In particular to the finishing line.

That’s a chilling feeling, not dissimilar to what I felt on 9/11, a day I watched unfold with memories of a trip to N.Y.C. and to the top of the Twin Towers just over a year old backed up by a framed photo of the Empire State Building behind the television.

I’ve had a go at a lot of sports in my time, with varying degrees of success. I was once Men’s Singles Champion at Portishead Lawn Tennis Club, I’ve swam a couple of 5k Swimathons, I got to ‘Promozione’ level in Italian amateur football… but, on the whole, I’ve never been amazing at owt. Especially cricket. But boy did I give that a good go. And actually, the sport I was probably naturally best at was skiing, so my lot was to live on the Mediterranean coast. Should have tried water-skiing, I guess: it was a waterskiing instructor that a lass from Sheffield fell for all those years ago, the start of a holiday romance of which I am living proof. Anyway…

Let me tell you this: I’ve never felt part of a community as much as I do now as a runner. And I say this as someone who typically runs alone. It doesn't matter: whether you're running one mile, 26.2miles, 100miles... you’re a runner. We're all on the same side: we run together, not against each other. The nature of the sport makes that possible, it’s no stain on other, more confrontational sports. And I can do confrontational/adversarial/attritional as good as the next guy: heck, I’m from Yorkshire. I had a tennis shirt especially made which reads “If it's not about winning, why do we keep the score?” (a Vince Lombardi quote) – you can buy yours here! But runners…

…even though I run alone, I have my Twitter community. When I cross a runner, whether I’m running myself or just meandering along, I feel they’re on my team. I smile in their direction, I know what they’re going through and I’ve an idea of what’s motivating them, even if I have no idea as to whether they’re on a recovery run, a long run, a speedwork run… or whether they’ve just nipped out for 30’ and aren’t thinking in those terms. This is something I’ve spoken about before on here: how it’s
so much easier to empathise for runners because factors such as distance / conditions / climb are so much easier to grasp than the quality of a tennis opponent, the combined ability of a football team you’ve come up against… how sharing such experiences is particularly important in the context of friendships, especially male friendshipswe can all read “Born To Run” or “Keep On Running” and “get it”, without team colours blurring our views. It’s just the way it is – and not just for me. It’s the reason all runners are hurting for Boston. Not that hurting for Boston is something over which runners enjoy a monopoly: it is a human tragedy more so than a sporting one. But it is a tragedy that struck at the very heart of what we do. Not that you have to race to be a runner: but, if you’ve ever crossed that line, whether at the end of a 5k or (I presume) a marathon, you will know how it feels. Sadly, running a big-city marathon knowing members of your family are waiting for you at the end may never feel the same: even in the absence of fear, there will be room for memories. But we keep on running. I
t’s what we do.

A kind and clever soul has started a social media campaign inviting London Marathon
runners to cross the finishing line on Sunday with #handsoverhearts:

I’m not running London. But, as I might have mentioned, I’ll be running Manchester the following week, a fat lad from Sheffield seeking to conquer t’other side o’t Pennines in his first marathon. And I will cross that finishing line with my hands over my heart. I will do so in Manchester and, should I ever be stupid enough to contemplate a second marathon, a third… you know, should I ever be stupid to go down this route again, I shall do so forevermore. We run as a team, we win as a team – and we hurt as a team. In the words of Twitter - #runnersunite.

One last comment. One of the three fatalities was an Martin Richard, an 8-year old boy who was cheering on his dad in his hometown race. His sister Jane has lost a leg. No doubt many other children were hurt but these are the names and faces that have captured the public imagination and every front page I’ve seen today, not least because this touching photo of Martin has emerged:

If any photo comes to epitomise this tragedy, may it be this one - not a gruesome shot
As you may recall, I’m running Manchester for Sheffield’s Children’s Hospital Charity: indeed, many thanks to the forty-six donors who’ve sponsored me to tune of £563.62 so far, carrying me comfortably beyond my £500 target. Feel free to join them, of course. But I’m not mentioning this for the money: I’m mentioning it because of that connection I feel with the Children’s Hospital, borne out of what they did for me, for my cousin Gabs, for what they tried to do for my younger brother… and because of the hurt I still feel. Its a connection that extends to children beyond that hospital and beyond my city, as per my reference to a friend’s son in a recent post. I will think about my brothers and about Thomas as I run Manchester: and now I will think about Martin, too. And I will cross that line with my arms firmly across my heart.

That’s all for today, Folk. But, unusually for me, I’ll be back within 24 hours. And I
’ll be in a more buoyant, defiant mood. I have to be!

Yes, big day tomorrow. Not for the world at large: but for little me, yes.

What do you mean, ‘why’? Surely you know?!?

Ah well… you’ll just have to drop by to find out. I won’t waffle on and on and on – I promise.

Oh, and I’m still only halfway through “Keep On Running”, which fellow Manchester runner Phillip Kelly kindly recommended. He mentioned it on Twitter and, within thirty seconds, I’d ordered it on my phone. Whether you’re a runner or someone trying to fathom our madness, you should do the same.

* the colleague who e-mailed me on Monday night has since reached our former colleague on LinkedIn. I was genuinely not worried because I expected him to have been long over the finishing line by the time the bombs went off: in my mistaken mind he was a hardened marathon runner, not a marathon virgin like yours truly. Here is that brief exchange:

> this was the only way I could contact you Joe - I hope you are OK? Sad day in Boston. Crazy world.
> Yes we are ok, I was 30 seconds past finish line when bomb exploded.

Id better not write down the words that came out of my mouth when I read that. Chilling. Joe
s story has since been told on

1 comment:

  1. Lovely, Giacomo. We know Joe. My brother also knows Nicole Gross whose photograph in a state of schock, in the midst of blood on the sidewalk, has made an impression. Both she and her sister were serious athletes, serious runners, and seriously hurt. (Her sister has had part of her leg amputated and both are still in hospital.) It is a very small world. The human world. The runner's world. I know exactly what you mean about that sense of community, which is unique to that sport. Runners can be very competitive--your quote from a Georgia football coach would surely have resonated with my high school cross country team's top runners--but they are most competitive with themselves and very much supportive of others. Sadly, there have been many incidents of terror throughout my lifetime, but this one definitely felt connected to me in a way that I haven't always felt. What can we do? Keep living. And running. Thanks for the very nice post.