Running’s an odd thing. It’s at once intensely personal (even the most hardened club runner loves those solitary long runs) and intensely communal (the only sport in which complete beginners can run in the same race as elites – I’ve run in the footsteps of Haile Gebreselassie). Unless you’re at the top of your game, you compete against yourself – you celebrate a Personal Best not how many people you beat.
Running is also a community. I have gained great support from other runners, when learning to run, training, injured, running in races … When tragedy and horror struck the Boston Marathon yesterday, yes, I couldn’t help but be more shaken, overwhelmed and upset than I am by other acts of atrocity, other senseless violence across the globe. Because this was runners; worse, for me, this was runners at the back of the pack, my runners. So, sorry – I hate all acts of violence. I condemn all bombs and other devices. I would be horrified, personally, whatever country this was in.
I sought out other runners in the online community. Walkjogrun, an organisation I’ve known, followed and used to track my runs for years said on their Facebook and Twitter feeds “Today our love, our passion, our therapy was brutally attacked. Tomorrow, every runner should unite and run to show them they didn’t win”. Many people said they’d do it. Some people said there was a movement to run in a race shirt – any race shirt, if you had one. I thought this was a wonderful idea, and I did it. Even though I’m not doing a lot of running these days, even though I’m slow, even though some people would call it jogging, I identify as a runner, and I think I always will.
Today was the hardest run of my life. Harder than my five half-marathons. Harder than that day when I tore my calf muscle and nearly fainted on the pavement. It turns out to be difficult to run when you’re blinded by tears and choked by sobs. Yes, clichés: turns out they’re true.
I wore my hitherto unworn, unlaundered, keeping-it-as-a-mint-souvenir T-shirt from the first Birmingham Half Marathon. It has snot and tears on it now. I ran a beautiful route through my two favourite running parks and round my neighbourhood. I spoke to one other runner. A postman in a van and two cyclists gave me thumbs up. A couple of cars bibbed their horns. Some walkers looked me in the eye and smiled. Two dog walkers stood aside respectfully as I wept in Highbury Park. I didn’t do it for that, obviously. I was pleased to be alone in the beautiful spring parks. I did it to honour the fallen, to honour those who might never run again, to honour the families and friends who support the community of runners. I did it to stand side by side with runners around the world. I feel I did something by doing that, something for myself, something for other runners, something to show those who visit atrocities upon the innocent that the running community will keep running, will keep strong.
There’s been so much opprobrium and criticism when I and others have expressed opinions in public recently, so I’m going to say this at the risk of looking defensive: I don’t want to make this political. It doesn’t much matter to me who did this. Yes, I care about other atrocities around the world, as I mention above. I also wrote this as a private meditation. It’s on my blog because I wanted to put it on record. This one’s not about the reader statistics.