(*Author’s note: this is a new feature on Burnpoetry, chronicling my attempts to reconnect to my once-favorite sport of long distance running.  For the detailed explanation, click on this link.  This particular post is from the day after the Boston Marathon Bombings.  Enraged.  Deeply saddened.  The day of the bombing was a day I’ll never forget.

I won’t forget the day after, either.

Still head-rushing, still awash in bile and sadness and metallic-tasting confusion I did two things together that hadn’t happened in a long time: I wrote and then I ran.  Driven by tragedy, I wrote what may have been the best piece I’ve ever posted on Burnpoetry.  Driven by tragedy, I went out, laced up my shoes and nearly killed myself as I attempted to run 1/26th the distance of the Boston Marathon.  It was all I knew how to do.  It was all the solace I could offer myself.  Below, I’ve added the approximate distance and I’ve also attached my post from the day after the bombings.)

Date: 4/16/2013
Distance: 1.00 Miles
Time: Unknown
Location: The Roads of Lincoln
Self-loathing: The least of my concerns.

I used to be a runner.  Past tense.  Past life.  6 years and sixty pounds and two colleges and hundreds upon hundreds of miles that have faded like so many medals purchased with flashing shoes on hot summer nights.

I used to be a runner.  Past tense.  Past life.

Maybe that’s why the explosions that rocked the finish line of the Boston Marathon yesterday hit me in such a strange, unexpected, place.

Yes, it connected on a terrifyingly human level; a dark pall that settled onto our hearts, a filmy, cloying, oil slick that couldn’t be scrubbed from our minds with all the cleaners or expensive therapy in the world.  Yes, it hammered home fear and pain and confusion, anvil strikes on our slack-jawed faces and pupils dilated to pools of fearful blackness as we watched.  But I expected to feel that.

Yesterday in Boston the lever on some jolting trap door was pulled open and as they fell, we fell.  We all fell.  Stomachs carnival-ride-lurching into our throats and brains and hearts plummeting into a Molotov cocktail that burned red-hot with anger and white-hot with fear.  But I expected that, too.

I felt these emotions in a place that hadn’t been touched in a long time.  A dormant corner of buried emotions and distant nostalgia that had been firmly tied to soles and to souls and to miles and miles of concrete and gravel.

I used to be a runner.  Past tense.  Past life.

And I heard, from two cubicles over, the hushed tones of whispered death-tolls.  And I watched, pieces of my heart ricocheting off the cavity in my chest, office chair suddenly full of pins and needles and uncomfortable fabric that drove me to my feet.  To pace.  To splash cool water on my hot face and to sit once more.

And I felt: a strange, skin-tightening sensation as I watched the brutality unfold.  Smoke and bodies.  Blood and sweat.  And I felt: a stirring, resounding, reverberation of hope and belief as I watched heroes willfully leap into the heat and the horror, emerging with bodies and carrying pain to healing.

I watched as a sporting event was attacked.  As the purity of the most simplistic of complexities, long distance running, was befouled.  As the inner struggle turned to outer glory of marathoning and the pain forged in the heat of pushing oneself to the brink that is solidified over hundreds of miles into a tangible, brutal goal of surviving 26.2 miles turned into something different.  Survival of another kind.

And it hurt.  It really, really hurt.  Man, it fucking hurt.

Watching those runners on the cusp of glory.  And their families, proudly clapping and urging and willing their hard-charging runners down that home stretch.  And the spectators who wanted to show up and show off their city or watch people attempt to overcome the very human limitations that afflict us all or, hell, just bask in one of the near-spring days that make you desperate to be outside.

I watched them do what I used to do and love what I used to love.

I watched them run.

Not from mortal limitations but from their own ugly mortality, that had suddenly come into jeopardy, sneering and bitter.  Not to a personal best or another great story to swap with a few running buddies over a 5 mile jaunt.  Not to that beautiful peak where pain and pleasure and raw emotion co-mingle, as you reach down deep into acid-raining legs and recklessly toss one foot in front of the other, forgetting the real reason you’ve decided to run, but just running anyway.

I watched them run.

From the destruction and darkness that can come seeping out from the worst places in the worst people.  From the hate and ignorance and mind-reeling violence that never seems possible until it’s suddenly strobe-lighting across your screen.

I used to be a runner.  Past life.  Past tense.

Until I saw all the fear and blood and panic mixed together into an unholy concoction of images that were splattered onto the canvas of the Boston Marathon on Monday.  Then it all came rushing back to me.  A jumbled up, criss-crossed pile of sparking wires that were suddenly very raw and very hot.  A painful, mental, inclusion into a group that had come under attack that I couldn’t have seen coming.

I never ran 26.2 miles in one sitting.  I may not fully understand what goes into running for so far and for so long.  But on Monday afternoon you didn’t have to be a runner to understand what was happening.  You just had to be human.

On Monday afternoon, in the midst of the smoking rubble, I saw runners.

I saw runners in police uniforms and flack jackets   I saw runners leap from ambulances and sprint into chaos with no hesitation.  I saw runners helping runners and families running to families.  I saw people running to a new starting line, outside the blood donation centers and I saw the minds of brilliant people running, determined to find out what had happened.

On Monday afternoon we all became runners.

Whomever, whatever, did this may have started running on Monday afternoon.  But I assure you, we’re runners too.  And we will find you.  We will run you down.

I used to be a runner.  Past tense.  Past life.

On Tuesday afternoon, with a heavy heart and a mind that’s spinning on its axis, I’m going to go for a run.

FIN

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