By Greg Finstad
SNRAS associate professor and marathon runner
(The following is an account of the April 15 events in Boston, Mass. Greg Finstad was a runner in the Boston Marathon.)
The noise was so loud I couldn’t hear Andy talk unless he spoke next to my ear. Andy Holland, another Fairbanks marathoner ,and Alison Meadows, an ex Fairbanks runner, and I were in a bar not far from the finish of the Boston Marathon partaking in post-race recovery fluids and rehashing the day's run.
A short while ago from outside the bar I had called my wife to let her know I had finished the Boston Marathon and was fine except for a few muscular reminders I was too old to be running 26.2 miles. While we were talking we heard a flurry of sirens of emergency vehicles and my wife commented “That doesn’t sound good.” She was right!
The bar was full of gold sport jerseys or aquamarine blue warmup jackets, the official colors of Boston Marathon issued shirts and jackets. The mood was one of celebration. The majority of the bar patrons had just finished the Boston Marathon or were there to support runners of one of the most exclusive and traditional running events in the world.
While Alison, Andy and I were conversing with shouts and hand signals, I happened to glance up at a television which was tuned to CNN news. To my astonishment, an image of the finish line flashed up on the screen, which was around the corner, filled with chaos and emergency vehicles with a newsbreak that there had been explosions. The noise level in the bar dropped, people crowded around the TV sets or were fixated on their cell phones. There was no official word yet on what had happened, but many of us immediately suspected a terrorist event. Simultaneously, everyone in the bar, myself included, began making phone calls to family and friends to let them know we were OK or to find out status of fellow runners or friends. Andy, always the social networker, quickly ascertained most of the Fairbanks runners were OK.
I had started running and competing in races about 10 years ago. Thirty pounds heavier and puffing to walk the dog, my daughter had shamed me to get in shape by first jogging and then running. To my surprise I took to it and became fairly proficient and began entering local running races. To make a long story short I wanted to culminate my short, but sweet running career by participating in the exclusive Boston Marathon.
The Boston Marathon was first run in 1897 patterned after the marathon race in the revived 1896 Olympic Games held in Athens. The run was to accompany the new Patriots' Day holiday in Massachusetts to symbolize our long march toward freedom by duplicating the route of Revolutionary War Patriots on their way to battle. After 117 years the Boston Marathon still embodies the rise and struggles of America with men and women of all races and religions formed into one cohesive populace moving forward, one painful step at a time, in the direction of a more perfect democracy. We may never know, but the Boston Marathon may have been targeted because of this symbolism and to shake our celebration of freedom in America.
I have run other marathons, including the Equinox, New York, Chicago and others, but for me there is no other race quite like the Boston for two reasons. First, it is one of the most prestigious (the Super Bowl of running) running races in the world and I have to say gives one special bragging rights. For one that started running competitively so late in the game I consider qualifying and running the Boston Marathon as accomplishing a major lifetime achievement. Secondly, there are the unparalleled Boston spectators, or should I say supporters. Bostonians seem to take special pride in coming out and supporting the runners. They do more than cheer you on, they sincerely believe it is their responsibility to support and be there for you along the way. There are thousands of children lining the route wanting to give runners a high five as they go by. It gives a grumpy, old Alaskan special pleasure to give a kid a run-by high five and his eyes go wide and fist pump the air as he looks to his parents like he had just touched a sports star.
This year my legs started to cramp up at mile 14 and I had to occasionally stop on an uphill or downhill section to work out a muscle cramp. I have ALASKA monogrammed on my shirt to give supporters a tangible moniker to cheer for instead of the usual go “gray-haired guy with exceptionally white legs.” The crowd would encourage and compel and some would actually plead for me to continue running again. Dozens of people would loudly cheer when I did start up again only to be picked up and encouraged on by the next group. A star athlete is often interviewed by a sportscaster after being on the winning World Series or Super Bowl team. The sportscaster would usually ask “How does it feel to have won?” and the star athlete would usually umm and aah and respond “unbelievable, unexplainable, can’t find the words.”
I know what it feels like to play and win the Super Bowl. The people of Boston are the reason why. For 26.2 miles they are there for me (and 24,000 other runners), to support, to encourage and to celebrate a mob of men and women of every color and culture struggling to finish a difficult task the best we could.
The bombings that took place on April 15, 2013 in Boston were particularly disturbing for me and should be for the rest of the country. Not that I was near the finish line when it happened or my post-race celebration was cut short; rather the bombs were not meant for a hard target, instead they were intended for the families of Boston; my support group. Having always lived in the western U.S., I had always heard that East Coast people were crusty, forceful and particularly uptight. From my Boston experiences I had found the locals to be crusty, forceful and uptight, but you knew that no matter how difficult the times lay ahead they would be the ones to encourage, to support and to stand by you all the way to the finish line. I hope that I can measure up and reciprocate the support I have been shown by the people of Boston. After the bombings local people would identify me as a marathon participant (must be the Post Race Grandpa Shuffle) and they apologized for the horrific events and demonstrated concern that runners would not come back to run future marathons.
I had not intended to run the 2014 Boston Marathon. But now I am. I have to give back the support the people of Boston have shown me. It’s the least I can do.