It shouldn’t take courage to run a race

Getting a number to run in the Boston Marathon is like getting a golden ticket to tour Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.  Or it is for a guy like me.  Since the likelihood that I would run a qualifying time and earn a spot that way is laughably remote, the only other way to run in the world’s oldest continuously-held marathon is as part of a fund-raising team.

Months and months before the 2012 Boston Marathon I decided to give it a shot.  The husband of a colleague and good friend had run it the year before in such a capacity, and she offered some tips.  I contacted a local hospital to which I have both a personal and professional connection and asked about joining their team.  I got a nice response back telling me that they’d add me to their e-mail list and would let me know when they were accepting formal applications.

That was the last I heard, and I didn’t end up running.  “Oh, well,” I thought, and signed up to run the 2012 Maine Marathon instead.  And then we found out we’d be adopting the Squirrel and that her due date was within 48 hours of the race.  I contacted the race director, and my registration was rolled over for this year.  So to date I’ve never run a full marathon.

I happened to be out of the office at the time that the winners of the men’s race crossed the finish line yesterday, and was standing in front of a big television watching them run the last few blocks.  I marveled with the people standing near me at how fast they were going, how at mile 26 they were going faster than I could hope at mile 2.  I watched intermittently over the coming hour or so as more people crossed, all with better times than I would hope to have.

The coverage of the finish line was interspersed with shots of a reporter talking with runners as they climbed “Heartbreak Hill,” a notoriously tough stretch of the race.  Despite never having actually run Boston, I still looked at those people and thought “That could be me.”  I smiled in recognition at the goofy-looking compression sleeves and brightly colored running gear and imagined that I would join them someday.  And then I headed back to my office and returned to work.

Shortly thereafter one of my best friends (who would have run the New York Marathon last year had it not been cancelled by another, wholly different tragedy) sent me a distraught text message about the marathon.  All I could do then was feel awful, and wish that I’d had reason to be at the hospital where maybe I could be accomplishing something.  (Sadly, I have some experience of feeling woefully impotent during terrorist attacks.)

A year and a half ago I questioned whether Runner’s World had exercised particularly good judgment when it printed a collection of essays about how people had used running to respond to the attacks of September 11th.  It felt forced to link a commitment to running to a catastrophe of that nature.  There was no connection between the two.

And now, horrifically, running is indeed connected to tragedy.  Suddenly Runner’s World has a horribly legitimate claim to covering a national tragedy.  Which is just incredibly, incredibly wrong.

It should not be an act of courage to lace up your shoes and run a road race.  It should take dedication and fortitude and stamina.  It should require perseverance and a willingness to push through pain.  But it shouldn’t demand bravery, a willingness to overcome fear for your basic physical safety.

And now, in some way, it does.

Of course, that’s what’s so despicable about terrorism.  (Beyond, of course, the profound evil of murdering and maiming innocent people.  What further commentary need be offered about that?  All people of decency can agree.)  It takes something that should require no courage and suddenly demands it.  It shouldn’t be an act of courage to dine out in Tel Aviv.  It’s shouldn’t be an act of courage to buy groceries in Baghdad.  It shouldn’t be an act of courage to earn your paycheck in a skyscraper in Manhattan.

And then it becomes one.

Which is the ironic failure of terrorism.  Because of course people will continue to dine out in Tel Aviv and go to market in Baghdad and step on the elevator in New York City.  Where previously they did so without thinking, now they do so in a quietly defiant way.  Because people will refuse to obey the dictates of the depraved and craven, and will go on living their lives.  They will locate the courage within themselves.  They will keep running marathons.

It’s a beautiful day outside Boston today.  I think I’ll go running.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. Call me selfish, but I’m just eternally grateful you didn’t win the WW golden ticket and run this year.

  2. I decided to go ahead and post this at the main page. If anyone else is inclined to comment, I politely request you do so there.

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