“What if something happened on the race course?” I wondered as I walked from the athlete’s village in Hopkinton to the start line, a mile away. The race officials for the Boston Marathon last April had led the runners in a moment of silence to remember the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary and as I walked to the starting corrals, I was behind a woman who had the names of the 26 victims on the back of her shirt. She was running a mile for each of them. Those somber thoughts touched me, but also made me remember that the Boston Marathon is a big event. Would it ever become a target? Thoughts of snipers in the trees flashed through my mind, and I quickly dismissed them. It does no good to dwell on those fearful thoughts, especially since I had no idea how safety precautions would be taken to protect runners and spectators on something like 26 miles of public roads.
I had no way of knowing, of course, that a few hours later the marathon actually would be a target as two brothers left bombs in bags near the finish line.
My family and I were well out of harm’s way by the time it happened, but in the days and weeks and even months that followed, I’ve had a lot of time to think about safety and security, fear and freedom, and what it means to me as a runner and as a mother. Last week, when New York City Marathon organizers announced that additional security measures would be taken next month when 47,000 runners take to the streets of New York, I had some mixed feelings.
Obviously it is important to keep people safe. Obviously. I am more than willing to put up with bag checks and pat downs if it means that I don’t have to think quite as much about what I would do with myself and my three kids in the event of a tragedy. I am grateful to know that there are people who have thought about how to handle the unexpected. The peace of mind I get as a mom from that kind of preparation and precaution is worth packing light and waiting in lines to be frisked even though there are no guarantees that the safety measures will prevent tragedies from happening.
But as a runner, well, I crave freedom and simplicity. Running is freedom and simplicity. It should be unencumbered in body and mind. And all those bag checks and prohibited bags add baggage to the simplest of sports. What has been a celebration of the human body’s ability to endure and move forward has been tripped up by the fear of copycats and terrorists.
I wish that, somehow, the good feelings that arise as thousands of spectators cheer on thousands of runners as they try merely to do their best in a difficult task, would overcome any hate or confusion that motivates people to harm others. I wish we would all be free to cheer each other on without looking over our shoulders. I wish that the spontaneous delight of running and cheering could be as simple as that: running and cheering. No baggage checks, no pat downs.
However, even with the tightened marathon security, I am sure there will be no lack of spontaneous delight from either the runners or the spectators. If anything, the new measures will remind people of how amazing it is to have the opportunity to run and to cheer, and they will be happy to simply be there. And in the end it is that feeling of camaraderie and community that makes us stronger and more resilient not the additional security.
photo credit Lizzie Heiselt