Rick Carroll: Above the Fold | AspenTimes.com

Rick Carroll: Above the Fold

The beauty of completing a foot race, whether it’s the local one-mile fun run or a marathon, is that it’s a celebration of where we are in life.

That’s especially true for the Boston Marathon, one of America’s most hallowed sporting events and the holy grail for distance runners. On Monday, however, it looked like a war zone. Trying to understand this, even at the most basic level, is more daunting than completing the race itself.

As a runner, Monday’s news hit home. Running communities are tight, if not a bit obsessive. We follow our friends and fellow competitors by gazing over the latest race results in the newspaper or online.

We socialize at running events, and on race day, we catch up with one another until the next time we meet at the starting line.

No matter how hard I’ve been training or how hard I’ve been slacking, the minutes before the race are the ones when I find myself in that reflective moment, just glad to be up in the early-morning hours, poised to compete in a sport that I began at age 16.

Each time I toe the line, I consider it a celebration of the fact that I’m still doing this sport. That I’m getting slower is a fact of life. I’m just happy to be there.

In 2004, I ran in the Boston Marathon. Of the hundreds of races I’ve entered over the years, it’s the only one I did not complete. Race officials pulled me off the course at around mile 24. I’d taken in too many fluids and was hospitalized with hyponatremia.

But those are the risks we runners take when we toe the line. We might fall ill. We might roll an ankle. We might not run the time we had in the mind, or we might surprise ourselves with a personal best.

And despite these risks, for a lack of better words, we take them, if only to be reassured that we can still run the distance we signed up to run.

Slower. Faster. Nothing is certain. It is an addiction, but it’s a healthy one at least.

The finish line, especially in a marathon or ultra-marathon, is among the most emotional places on the course. It’s where participants embrace their friends and families, those people who made their own personal sacrifices so that we could put in the miles to complete the distance.

The finish area is where we stock up on bananas and bagels and pound fluids like we’re freshmen at a college keg party. It’s where we proudly walk, or limp, with the finisher’s medal draped around our necks. It’s where we hug a loved one and thank them for their support.

If tears are shed, they’re supposed to be ones of joy, whether out of personal satisfaction, running in the honor of a loved one or raising money for a charity.

But for all of the surprises and emotions a race can bring – happiness, agony, you name it – the bombings at the finish line of Monday’s Boston Marathon are unprecedented for the sport and a tragic affirmation that all it takes is one crazed individual or organization to upset many lives.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. It was a foot race, for crying out loud – a gathering of people measuring their level of determination and fitness. Thousands of runners never got to finish on Monday, although not for any reason that they might have feared at the starting line. What should have been a celebration of life ended in an incomprehensible tragedy that goes well beyond not adding a shiny medal to a collection of trophies.

Rick Carroll is editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at rcarroll@aspentimes.com.

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