Freeze column: Anticipation, anxiety and finally anger

  • Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 12:41 a.m.

For a runner, the Boston Marathon is almost mythic. Not just to those who anticipate participating someday, but also to those who run on occasion or who just follow great sporting events.

Boston Marathon day is something that I look forward to every year. It is big, on the same list as the New York City Marathon, the Daytona 500, the Super Bowl and the World Series.

My schedule was set so that I had nothing else to do but watch as Direct TV’s Universal Network showed the greatest runners in the world competing in the oldest and most prestigious marathon, and I wanted to see every minute of it.

It is very hard to get entry in the Boston Marathon because of very strict qualifying standards. Based on age and gender, a good runner might chase that qualifying standard for years, often never achieving it.

But if you do get in, you have then attained the status of having “qualified for Boston.”

Next comes as much as a year or more of training, getting ready to toe the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass., and chase your dream for 26.2 miles until finishing in Copley Square in Boston.

My own Boston Marathon dream began in 1979, shortly after I began running. My first marathon came in 1980, and I immediately wanted to run it fast enough to qualify for the great Boston race. Qualifying standards were so tough that I didn’t get in till 1987. I was on top of the world when I got the acceptance letter, and set about to train even harder to make a good showing. I knew other runners who had been there, and more were going that same year.

My effort was decent with a 3 hour, 11 minute finishing time. For sure, Boston is a hard race. I was lucky enough to find former Salisbury runner Don Henderson along the course and we finished together. I still have that photo, and a marathon jacket and sweatshirt that I will always cherish. Each subsequent trip back to the great marathon added to the mystique.

Up to then, Boston to me was just a huge city up north. I flew up on a Saturday before the race and lost myself in the aura of world-class running. There were expos and seminars at every turn, and welcome signs everywhere for runners just like me. They came from big cities, small towns and many corners of the world.

Running heroes like Bill Rodgers, sometimes called “Boston Billy” for his propensity at winning in Boston, were available. Famous for his snacks of Oreos spread with mayonnaise, Rodgers was the Mickey Mantle of running. I met him, though I’m sure he remembered me for a minute or so until the next person got his autograph. It didn’t matter, I loved it all.

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Local runners Kelly Lowman, Adam Cornelius, Dr. Kathi Russo and Julie Holder were there doing all of these same things. Lowman had deferred from last year when pregnant runners were advised not to participate during a heat wave. Cornelius was also there for his first Boston, and Russo continued her amazing run of seven straight entries (she met Rodgers this time around). All four crossed the finish line ahead of the blast and thankfully are safe.

I first heard about the blasts around 3:30 p.m., and my thoughts immediately raced to the safety of our local runners. The TV pictures showed the same finish area that I was familiar with, but this time with runners and spectators lying injured. When I was there, I was thinking about crossing the finish line, getting some refreshments, watching some others finish and feeling good about the achievement. Monday’s finishers will remember much more.

Those who finished on Monday can’t ever feel as good about their achievement as they deserve. That has been taken away from them by this horrific act. Word came later that it was probably a terrorist act, timed to hit right when a large number of runners would be crossing the finish line and the spectators would also be at a peak.

It has been hard to focus on much else for me since the tragedy happened. I taught a class at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis on Monday night, and we discussed what will happen next. Word came that the London Marathon, even bigger in participation than Boston and scheduled for this Sunday, might be affected. I hope not.

Just for me, and I hope for you too, we can’t let acts like this change our lives. If we do, they win.

My thoughts and prayers remain with all the those killed and injured, and their families.

But one thing for sure, Monday’s events changed the perception of the world’s greatest marathon forever.

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