Boston Marathon: Experience over accomplishment

My son doesn’t care how many marathons I have run, or if I graduated from college, or if I earned a driver’s license, or took my own first steps years ago. He cares about the individual experiences of each moment, everyday.

Steven Senne/AP
Runners run along the route of the 118th Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass., on Monday, April 21.

I often consider finishing five Boston Marathons among the bigger accomplishments in my life. As I watched highlights of the race appear in the news Monday morning, I pined to be in the starting corral of my favorite road race.

New motherhood and family life in general have hindered me from running the marathon in recent years. I last ran the Boston Marathon in 2012, roughly eight months before my son was born (another great accomplishment). 

Since then, my life has both sped up and slowed down considerably. I have quit full-time work to stay at home with my son, and now spend most of my time on my feet chasing a toddler.

On race morning, I loaded my son in the stroller and took off for a short run, wearing my Boston Red Sox baseball cap and my 2009 Boston Marathon running jacket. 

As I ran, I longed to be in the runner’s village near the starting line of the marathon in Hopkinton, Mass., full of runners anxious to start the race. This year, there are 36,000 runners registered for the race, roughly 10,000 more runners than last year, including thousands running again who were held back from finishing after two bombs went off at the finish line in Boston last year.

Instead of thinking about not taking part in this year’s race, I started thinking about places along the course that I have loved to pass year-after-year. The quiet stretches of roads passing reservoirs and ponds; the rolling hills that turn into iconic “Heartbreak Hill” in Newton, Mass.; the welcome signs for towns along the route; and the crowds at Wellesley College (the noise of the students cheering choked me up from half-a-mile away).

Beyond the accomplishment of finishing the Boston Marathon, there is the experience of running the Boston Marathon that far outweighs the joy of having a medal placed around your neck at the finish line.

I have a chance to teach my son that accomplishments should serve as a reminders of experiences, but not the entire point of trying new things, learning new skills, or tackling tough challenges.

We should live to experience life, not to check items off a list.

Over the last year, the people of Boston have accomplished a lot. They have mourned victims of last year’s bombing, improved the security infrastructure, and helped their own population, the national running community, and the country as a whole grapple with an act of terror that tried to tear it apart on the day of the marathon in 2013.

More important, though, the last year has been full of loving experiences and expressions of care from the people of Boston that have led to us recognize their accomplishments.

Likewise, individuals affected by the bombings have accomplished more than many could have imagined a year ago. Focused on healing, we have seen those injured in the blasts embrace life in new ways and become models for all of us about how to experience life without taking it for granted.

We encourage our kids to help nurture them, and it’s important for them to not look to accomplishments alone to measure their lives, but all of the smaller experiences that lead to those accomplishments.

Right now, my son doesn’t think of his life or mine in terms of accomplishments. He doesn’t care how many marathons I have run, or if I graduated from college, or if I earned a driver’s license, or took my own first steps years ago. He cares about the individual experiences of each moment, everyday.

He lives for the wind in his hair when we head out for a run with the stroller, and a visit to the park, or a chance to run down the sidewalk on his own.

As an adult, sometimes I feel that if I have completed enough small tasks over the course of the day, I can say I accomplished something.

Meanwhile, I experience thousands of wonderful things throughout the day; Hugs, laughs, learning something new, and babbling nonsense with a toddler. 

In simple arithmetic, the experiences far outweigh the accomplishments. So, shouldn’t we aim for those more often?

On race day, as runners trace 26.2 miles through towns along the race route and run into Boston’s Copley Square, there will be hundreds of things to experience along the way. 

Let’s use this as a way to teach our kids that it is the full course, and not just the finish line that brings us joy.

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