'Run for Boston' helps runners everywhere cope with marathon horror

Runners across the US – and the world – have responded to the Boston Marathon bombings with a determination to 'keep on running' to show solidarity with Boston and the victims.

David Goldman/AP
John Tackett of Atlanta (l.) weeps during an organized moment of silence and memorial run to show solidarity with victims of the Boston Marathon bombing Tuesday in Atlanta.

A day after twin bombs hit the Boston Marathon, Atlanta runners turned out by the hundreds for a vigil and a “silent mile” run in support of Boston and the bombs' victims, and as an act of solidarity among runners nationwide.

As police search for clues and suspects Wednesday, an outpouring of support continues not only in Boston, but across the United States, with runners and athletes, especially, finding unique ways to celebrate and support America's most revered marathon and its host city.

The events are one small way to live the sentiment, “Keep On Running, Boston,” as the T-shirt says. But for many participants, the runs are also a way to process, as a community, how an act of violence could strike a race that has come to epitomize normal people doing extraordinary feats – an act of essential solitude often undertaken on behalf of charity or in the memory of others.

These runs for Boston are “a way of re-creating the past so that you can transform it from senselessness to sensibility, creating a new path that makes sense and creating this thing together,” says Michael Katovich, a sociologist at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

Such outpourings of grief and mourning are not unusual in the wake of national tragedies in a country built on faith and perseverance. But the fact that the bomber hit a sporting event known for community-building and charity work struck a particularly jarring chord, and differentiated the reaction from other recent tragedies, including the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, where primarily outsiders came to create massive teddy bear memorials.

“The Boston Marathon is the holy of holies for runners, and now they’re messing with the thing that everybody loves, and anybody who has an appreciation for what the Boston Marathon stands for takes this personally,” says Chris Field, a College Station, Texas, marathon race director and creator of the “Run for Boston” Facebook project. “Runners are doing what runners do, and that is putting our shoes on and getting back out there, even when we get knocked down.”

“Run for Boston” expects to hold hundreds of runs across the US and even in Banff, Alberta, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The runs are expected to draw anywhere from dozens to handfuls of runners, including one runner in Mountain View, Calif., who vowed to give “an extra hard kick for the last 1.4 miles in remembrance.”

Participants are being asked to post photos to the "Run For Boston 4/17" Facebook page, and the images will then be published as a coffee-table book and sent to the Boston Marathon organizers.

This morning, several hundred runners set off from California's Santa Monica Pier on a hastily arranged marathon. Runners in Waco, Texas, planned a running vigil this evening, turning a regular Wednesday night run into something deeper and more profound.

“These marathon races are held for a reason, to support a cause, and runners aren’t going to stop working for the cause, even though this is ruining our security that we feel in our nation,” says Cissi Garrettson, the social secretary for the Waco Striders Running Club. “We’re running tonight for the memory and to honor those that were lost, and to show our respect for the running world. We need to stand together and continue to run.”

Marathon participation has continued to grow, as have the cash totals raised for charity from the events. And much like runners in Boston raced to hospitals to give blood after the bombs, stranded New York City Marathon runners volunteered in superstorm Sandy-struck communities last year after the storm flooded large parts of the city’s boroughs and canceled the race.

According to Guardian correspondent Owen Gibson, the late London Marathon organizer Chris Brasher nailed the unique spirit of the marathon after returning one year from the New York City Marathon to report, "To believe this story you must believe that the human race can be one joyous family, working together, laughing together, achieving the impossible. Last Sunday, [thousands of people from 40 countries], assisted by over a million people, laughed, cheered and suffered during the greatest folk festival the world has seen."

To have such communal, inspiring events struck by senseless violence shocked America and the world. But, in some ways, the marathon community might be better equipped to deal with the emotions than others.

“As you look at the act of running, there is this kind of very physical thing about running, that it will just eat up all those negative emotions that we have a hard time dealing with or don’t know how to express,” says Jill Scott, an expert on public mourning at Queens University in Ontario. “I can’t think of a better way to mourn than to run.”

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