In April 2010 I ran my first marathon, in Paris. The build up to it was a long and well trodden path of dark early mornings and wets evenings. It is often called the distance of truth because it is the perfect measure to pitch oneself against and define ones perceived boundaries. 26.2 miles. The dreaded number that instills equal parts fear, fascination and excitement. It is a long distance to travel on foot, whether you're a lithe Kenyan from the running-mecca Eldoret or an average Joe (or Josephine) who runs to permit themselves that extra scoop of ice cream on the weekend, twenty six miles is twenty six miles. The hardest distance to conquer though is a mere six inches, that's the distance between your ears, your own brain. It will tell you that you are insane, it cannot be done, walk a little, you've run far enough. As loud as that voice gets we have a fighter within us that quiets its sometimes thunderous roar. We are runners, and we are stronger than we, or anyone else realises.
Marathons unite people in a way that no other sporting event in the world can. Age, race, sex, creed, sexual orientation, none of it counts on the road. We are family. We are not just united on the day of the event, no, we have been united through all the training and the injuries along the way. When we get to the start line we see ourselves in the faces of everyone lined up, and we are genuinely happy. Our hearts are full with love. We have spent time away from our families to get to this starting line and most of our loved ones will be lining the course to cheer us on when it gets really tough, we love them for believing in us and supporting our crazy dreams. We feel the nerves in the air and talk amongst ourselves, we laugh and pat each other on the backs at the beginning, we pick each other up when we fall and we hug and cry together when we finish as we have run in the footsteps of the fastest men on earth. Where else does that happen? Where do elites and the likes of me get to play on the same pitch? Not the Tour de France, Wimbledon, Football, Swimming, Track, Golf. We run the same distance of truth and there is no difference between a 2:05 run and a 7:05 run, twenty six miles is twenty six miles. We do not want any of the fifty thousand runners to fail or lose out either, we are all one mass plodding through the city like a colourful parade of pain.
Runners are often said to be running away from something or toward something, I have a theory on why we run that is not that common. We like to run. Why? Who cares why. If it's fun and not harming anyone then get out there. Some don't get it of course which is fine, all the more room for me on the trails. I think to try and describe why we do it is like trying to quantify what being in love feels like. I run for the meditative time it allows me. Just last week I had a crazy busy day and managed an hour in between work appointments to get out on the road. It gave me everything I needed spiritually and created space where I had none. It's ironic but the faster I run, the slower life feels.
Spectators love to cheer us too. They do not rise early to catch a glimpse of the studs blazing through at incomprehensible speeds. No, they stand at the side of the road for hours cheering people they do not know. Because some of them will never run a marathon (and may secretly want to someday) we are carrying their dreams too. Just as we see ourselves in other runners, spectators see themselves in us. On April 7th I went to the 30km point of the Paris marathon and cheered the people sometimes called “The Street Sweepers” They are the back of the pack and sweep up all the crap that has accumulated from the people before them. In their faces I saw both agony and discovery. Every bead of sweat a testament to every foot-fall they had made, their eyes full of doubt as to whether they had 17km left in the tank. Heroes, every single one of them, most of them made it to the finish line.
Yesterday our world and community took a monumental hit. As I was texting messages of congratulations to my friend Tim in Boston after his incredible run, he replied shortly after to say there had been a massive explosion at the finish of the race. I jumped on the Internet immediately, the rest is a blur. The past 24 hours has seen an overload of twitter, facebook, news media and source after source of stories, photos and videos. I have avoided it all because I cannot think about it without breaking down completely. I cannot measure how I feel about an eight year old boy being murdered as he waits to cheer his father over the line, as my own eight year old son has done for me in the past. I do not know who bombed those innocent people killing three and injuring hundreds, or why they did it. But I will say this. You cowards have no idea who you are up against. WE ARE RUNNERS. We do not stop, EVER. When one falls we rush to pick them up, when you hurt members of our family we lock arms of a different kind. Our solidarity will be stronger than ever before and our light will shine brightly upon your hatred for all the world to see. We will not stop running, we will run faster, further, stronger, longer. We will not get tired and for us there is no finish line, when you are caught and brought to justice we will still be running through the streets at dawn, hiking up mountains freely, sprinting around a track on dusky nights, we will break world records and personal records. But most of all we will remember, with haunting pain, our fallen brothers and sisters, time will not dim that memory. Our marathons may have more security in the future but our love and camaraderie will triumph over fear and scepticism. We will move forward deliberately and purposefully with sincerity in hearts for the ones we have lost. God bless you all.