Unlike any other sport, the marathon is a contest that pits amateurs against professionals, mixes the genders, and allows crowds to line the entire 26.2 mile course within inches of the athletes. For years the athletic community has maintained the tradition, innocence and simplicity of this pure sport of human instinct; running. Nowhere is that more true than for the Boston Marathon.
There is nothing average about this race. Unlike other popular races where you just need to be Internet fast to sign up, runners must qualify to run the Boston Marathon based on performance in previous marathons. Every runner in Boston is a good runner and tops their age group at other races around the country. On top of that, unlike almost all other U.S. marathons that are run on Sundays, the Boston Marathon is run on a Monday. The race is always the 3rd Monday of April, which happens to be Patriots Day, a uniquely Massachusetts holiday marking the opening battle of the American Revolution. If you are lucky, you can score a Red Sox ticket after the marathon to watch the traditional home baseball game also played every Patriots Day.
Even the fans in Boston are special -- from the starting line crowds in Hopkington to the kissing coeds from Wellesley College that line the part of the course by their school, to the many Boston school kids that have the day off and volunteer every year to hand out water. If you make it to Boston as a runner, you have reached a historic pinnacle. This year was the 117th running of the race.
It was this environment of pure sport, aspiration, exhilaration and community cohesion that led me to decide to propose to my wife, Heather Riley, at the finish line of the 2008 Boston Marathon. On live, local television I pulled Heather aside when we both finished and got down on one knee. Nervously pulling the engagement ring from my shorts where I had sewn it in so not to lose it during the run, I asked her to marry me. She said "yes" to tears mixed with the excitement of having finished the race in great time.
That image of the history and importance of the race, the finish line with spectators so close and so many thousands of people yelling for loved ones will always be etched in my mind.
Today, the image of the finish line is much different. Now I can see the pain of the injured inflicted by a cowardly act. I can see the confusion of elation of accomplishment one second and the painful explosion of fear and damage the next. I can see family and friends searching for runners not to congratulate them, but to just make sure they are safe.
At this point, we know precious little about the incident, but I find it beyond coincidence that the charges were timed to explode at 4 hours and 9 minutes after the start of the citizen race when the highest number of runners would be in the vicinity, crossing the finish line.
Some of my favorite times have taken place on the night after finishing a marathon. Gone are the nerves, gone is the anticipation and wonder as to whether your training was sufficient. But tonight, as Boston Marathon runners take a meal or bed down, they will wonder about the wounded and killed, they will wonder why in a sport so innocent and so historic, someone would want to take it all away.
Our country's citizens have already given up greeting airline passengers at the gate in the name of safety, endured long lines entering football stadiums for thorough body searches, and tolerate metal detectors in government buildings to ensure safety. I can't help but think that this last vestige of innocence in sport may also fall by the wayside. I can only think of the victims and wonder why...