Reflecting on Tragedy

Runners and the country unite — nationwide and in Austin — after Boston Marathon tragedy

After Boston Marathon tragedy, runners and the country unite

Boston Marathon explosion man on ground
Boston Marathon runner after tragedy. New York Post/Twitter

Editor's Note: CultureMap contributor Alexa Garcia-Ditta is a member of Austin's running community who trains with Rogue Running.

It’s hard to wrap your head around what happened at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. A day that was supposed to be about strength, hard work and joy for so many across the country, and the world, suddenly became a day of confusion, chaos and heartbreaking terror that ultimately ended in at least three dead and more than 100 injured.

Whether a runner, race spectator or someone going about your daily routine at home, we are deeply affected by Monday’s tragedy and feel its bigger implications.

As a runner living in a city where lacing up and hitting the pavement is a part of so many of our daily lives, I’ve been trying to put myself in the shoes of those competing in the Boston Marathon. For me, and many family and friends who are runners, this was extremely personal. The months of training, diligence to maintain your diet and sleep routine, and days of aches and pains that come with preparing your mind and body for a marathon all lead up to an overwhelming sense of achievement when you cross that finish line. To say that the feeling can’t compare to anything else just doesn’t do it justice.

 "If any positive can be taken from yesterday it is the reminder that people care." - Jeff Knight, Rogue Running 

But to qualify for Boston? Those athletes are in a class all their own. As one of the six major world marathons, the Boston Marathon draws upwards of 20,000 runners from more than 90 different countries, some of whom work for years for that coveted BQ (Boston qualifier) time.

This year, some 200 athletes from Austin and Central Texas (almost 1,000 from across Texas) traveled to compete. They dedicated themselves, pushed their bodies to their limits, and arrived in Boston to run the race of their lives and celebrate with their families and friends. This week, that humbling and powerful feeling was ripped from underneath them and replaced with fear and tragedy.

Most runners come to Boston with their own entourage of supporters. Then they arrive to find tens of thousands more supporters lining the streets, ready to cheer. In Austin, where a race happens just about every weekend, so many of us know how exhilarating it is to slap hands with athletes as they fly past, or how special you as a runner feel when your spouse, parent or best friend is waiting for you on the other side of that line. This week, the simple act of supporting a loved one was perverted by bombs, death and debilitating injury.

Almost as quickly as the race began, the day became about more than a marathon. Just as we’ve seen selfless people come together for strangers in a time of need, the events in Boston were no different. After crossing the finish line after the explosions, news outlets reported that athletes who finished 26.2 miles unharmed kept running, making their way to the local hospital to donate blood. Spectators who were down the street from the blasts ran toward the smoke to help care for victims.

Here at home, Rogue Running and Gilbert’s Gazelles, two Austin training groups that together sent almost 100 athletes to the race, and other training clubs showed support for one another online and helped connect family members here with runners in Boston. As a runner with Rogue, I sat glued to Facebook, watching as athletes and friends checked in from Boston.

"You [could] literally watch the update in real time as, I'm sure, dozens of people were watching the post simultaneously. You [could] feel the collective sigh of relief when someone checked in and the wrench in the gut when an inquiry wasn't immediately responded to," Jeff Knight with Rogue Running told CultureMap via email.

"The most amazing thing about this was that these are people we spend one, two, or maybe three days a week with. That's it. Yet, over the course of those miles we galvanize a bond that is rarely seen in our tune-out society. If any positive can be taken from yesterday it is the reminder that people care," Knight continued. That's the true spirit of the running community.

It doesn’t seem fair that one of the purest moments you can experience as a runner, or supporter of a runner, is taken so easily. Then again, it’s not fair that young children who were in school to learn their ABCs were gunned down in their own classrooms. Or that avid Batman fans who waited in line to see an anxiously awaited movie became victims of violence not unlike the film on the screen in front of them.

Senseless, inexplicable violence is happening all around us on what seems like a daily basis. But it’s times like these that we uplift one another and must work together to overcome these tragedies. As saddened and personally impacted by what happened in Boston as so many of us are, I’m also proud to be part of a community, and a country, that can come together for strangers in need and support each other when our most precious moments are taken from us.

Austin runners are coming together Thursday to run and honor the victims of Monday's tragedy, and to commemorate the safe return of those who raced. Organized by Gilbert's Gazelles, the event is open to all and will include a three-mile walk/jog at the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail. Runners will meet at The Rock under the Mopac Bridge Thursday at 8 p.m. Attendees are being asked to each bring a glow stick. You can find more information on the Austin American-Statesman's Fit City blog