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Reporter’s Notebook – A Tainted Finish

POSTED April 17, 2013 11:14 a.m.

Monday, April 15 did not start for me as it did my friend and running teammate Cathy McClelland or Oakdaleans Vanessa Walton and Tom Burchell, or Jesse Santana of Riverbank. I did not board a motor coach in my sneakers with a race bib pinned to the front of my shirt in anticipation of running the 117th Boston Marathon.

My Monday began with an immediate look to my smart phone to check on the details of the coveted race and calculate how long until the runners hit the ‘Start’ line. ‘Boston’ for many runners is the Super Bowl or World Series of running. Not just ‘anyone’ can run Boston. It’s not that simple.

As the day unfolded I learned from a park bench (as my daughter played with friends) what many had already heard … the Finish line was bombed.

I write these words just hours upon hearing and watching a bit of the tragedy. There are many words, views, speculations and perhaps even conclusions which will likely happen between now and when this hits newsstands on Wednesday a.m. In this moment however I feel it important to share some thoughts and feelings from the perspective of a runner.

So, if you have begun reading with hopes of sensationalized words or speculation … I am sorry you have fallen upon the wrong newspaper piece. Quite simply I am a mother, a daughter, a writer and a runner.

As a runner, more specifically as a ‘recreational’ runner with her sights set on completing a few full Marathons in the not so distant future, the news of Boston broke my heart on many levels. Indeed we must never make light of a tragedy which costs people their lives or results in casualties. Naturally my first thought went to the people I knew who were there. I clamored to learn of their safety, I gasped as I saw the photos of the Finish area and then the reality of what so many were robbed of hit me.

The training required to run a full marathon is both taxing and time consuming. There is nothing natural or innate about requiring your body to move continuously in sneakers for 26.2 miles. The amount of hours put into training runs, recovering from injury, analyzing your food for fuel and gear - not to mention time away from family is endless.

We each run for varying reasons, few take it for granted. It requires discipline, perseverance and dedication. To run Boston however is a completely different animal. You can’t just wake one morning and decide you’re going to ‘run Boston.’ You must first qualify. To qualify you must finish a previous ‘qualifying Marathon’ and then hope that you are among the top finishing times in your age group. For example the Marathon qualifying time for my age group women 45-49 is 3:55. In other words, I would need to complete a 26.2 mile run in less than 3 hours and 55 minutes. That is an average pace of 8 minutes and 58 seconds per mile. In other words you have to be fast and not just fast for a little while, but fast for a long time.

Admittedly, when one hears the number “close to 27,000 runners were in the field” it seems like a large number. This number, however, is comprised of runners from all over the world including Olympic Athletes and the running Elite.

I also need to mention running is like any sport that a family spends a lot of time at. To our children the atmosphere is familiar. Many grow up at finish lines and Expo days watching mom or dad pick up their race essentials or crossing the finish. So you take this moment, this one not so simple race which defines so much for a runner with a dream, a family outing, a time when efforts are celebrated and then … this.

In this moment my heart breaks for the runners at mile 21 who were swept up because some crazy person, group or whomever decided to bomb the Boston Marathon. It breaks for the innocent loved ones waiting patiently for four-plus hours to finally celebrate what their runner had dedicated so much time to. And ... it breaks for the runner who may have sustained injuries which will now keep them from returning to their one and only love of sport.

I will admit, if I remove myself from this long enough I can recognize to many that it is simply ‘just a race.’ There will be others. Without fail my head, the head of a runner, cannot help but go back to mile 21. Mile 21 where perhaps a mom of three began talking herself through the final 5.2. Mile 21 where a perhaps a retired grandfather began thinking of his family at the finish.

Then of course there is the Finish. That sign is the most glorious and welcome thing you can see after 26 miles of ‘being in your head.’ Those six letters are like water after days on the desert. So as I think of those approaching as the first bomb detonated I pray they recover. I hope for their health and then I just simply … pause.


Teresa Hammond is a former reporter, now circulation manager for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at thammond@oakdaleleader.com or by calling 847-3021.


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