Around mile six, a little boy ran past me. “No more hurting people” was handwritten in black marker across the back of his shirt. I recognized the words from a photo of Martin Richard, the young boy who died in the Boston Marathon bombing
. The boy who passed me had legs that looked too young and coltish to take him the whole way, but there he was. Running, I decided, for the little boy who couldn’t.
It made me wonder, for the first time, why I
was running. I’d arrived at the start line with an injured hip; I wasn’t chasing a personal record. I’d run this distance before, so I had no new milestone to achieve. Uncharacteristically, I had nothing to prove, and I couldn’t think of any real reason to do this to myself. Still, there I was. Running.
The young runner disappeared into the pack head as we passed a dozen kids playing ukuleles outside of their school. They were awake at 7AM on a Sunday just to give bunch of strangers reason to smile as they ran thirteen or twenty-six miles. A little further along, another boy stood solemn-faced in the middle of the road holding a bright green sign that said, “Touch here for power.” I did, and I ran faster.
I thought about the block around mile three that smelled like bacon, its pajama-clad neighbors sharing coffee we passed. About the man wearing sunglasses who stood next to an inflatable dinosaur with a sign that begged: “Run quieter – I’m hungover.” Volunteers gave us water and Gatorade every few miles, and swept up all the empty cups we left on the ground. A woman dressed as a bee handed out honey-flavored candy on one side of the street; a girl held out her hand for high-fives on the other. All manner of different bodies carried themselves mile after mile after mile. Each had a different gait, a different motivation: people ran for causes, for loved ones, for themselves. Slowly, it dawned on me how rare it is to share a goal and a road with seven thousand other people, and to have just as many people cheering you through to the finish. My throat tightened up, and I fell into step with the runner beside me. I understood.
It isn’t something I do to myself; it’s something I do with you.