What’s great about marathons in general is the lack of competitiveness. For world-class runners, they can be an occasion of fierce rivalry, sure. But for a runner like me (and I imagine this is true for the vast majority of runners), an ordinary runner whose times are nothing special, a marathon is never a competition. You enter the race to enjoy the experience of running twenty-six miles, and you do enjoy it, as you go along. Then it starts to get a little painful, then it becomes seriously painful, and in the end it’s that pain that you start to enjoy. And part of the enjoyment is in sharing this tangled process with the runners around you. Try running twenty-six miles alone and you’ll have three, four, or five hours of sheer torture. I’ve done it before, and I hope never to repeat the experience. But running the same distance alongside other runners makes it feel less grueling. It’s tough physically, of course—how could it not be?—but there’s a feeling of solidarity and unity that carries you all the way to the finish line. If a marathon is a battle, it’s one you wage against yourself.
I can imagine how devastated and discouraged the people of Boston feel about the tragedy of this year’s race. Many people were physically injured at the site of the explosions, but even more must have been wounded in other ways. Something that should have been pure has been sullied, and I, too—as a citizen of the world, who calls himself a runner—have been wounded.
This combination of sadness, disappointment, anger, and despair is not easy to dissipate. I understood this when I was researching my book “Underground,” about the 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subway, and interviewing survivors of the attack and family members of those who died. You can overcome the hurt enough to live a “normal” life. But, internally, you’re still bleeding. Some of the pain goes away over time, but the passage of time also gives rise to new types of pain. You have to sort it all out, organize it, understand it, and accept it. You have to build a new life on top of the pain.
Why? I can’t help asking. Why did a happy, peaceful occasion like the marathon have to be trampled on in such an awful, bloody way? Although the perpetrators have been identified, the answer to that question is still unclear. But their hatred and depravity have mangled our hearts and our minds. Even if we were to get an answer, it likely wouldn’t help.
To overcome this kind of trauma takes time, time during which we need to look ahead positively. Hiding the wounds, or searching for a dramatic cure, won’t lead to any real solution. Seeking revenge won’t bring relief, either. We need to remember the wounds, never turn our gaze away from the pain, and—honestly, conscientiously, quietly—accumulate our own histories. It may take time, but time is our ally.
For me, it’s through running, running every single day, that I grieve for those whose lives were lost and for those who were injured on Boylston Street. This is the only personal message I can send them. I know it’s not much, but I hope that my voice gets through. I hope, too, that the Boston Marathon will recover from its wounds, and that those twenty-six miles will again seem beautiful, natural, free.