The endurance of pain

Nobody claims that running is an easy sport. Hitting the right splits during a fast 800-meter interval workout is tough. The last few miles of a long race will test a person’s physical and mental limits. Successful runners are those that embrace the pain, who can manipulate the apparent physical exhaustion for one final effort. Running is painful. Start a race too fast; you’ll pay for it. Try to run through an injury; you won’t forget it. But as runners know, the pain in the journey is what gives meaning to each new accomplishment, what inspires us to set the next goal. In the wake of a personal triumph, the effort was worth it.

As runners, we understand this. Get up early for the long runs in the dark, and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment all day. Push through the hill midway through the race, and you’ll never forget that PR. Hit the track for extra speedwork, and you’ll have that much more confidence on the starting line. Yet the pain is internal; only we know how badly we want it. Only we know how hard to push ourselves to make it hurt. The cathartic drive to run for an escape from the stresses of life gives an outlet to push ourselves in pursuit of a challenging and meaningful goal. The pain we experience is internal, and can be overcome with a determination to reach one’s potential.

A year ago, our vision was tragically shattered in a matter of seconds. I can still vividly remember reading the headlines of a most unthinkable tragedy that many could not believe had actually happened. The pictures of the victims and first responders confirmed worst fears: running was under attack. As we learned of the horror of the Boston Marathon bombings, we were shaken by the reality that evil and violence had assaulted our first mantra of running: that we control the pain we feel. All of a sudden, a senseless act of terrorism stole the innocence of controlling what running means to each of us.

In the months that followed, we saw entire communities arise to support the movement that would come to be known as “Boston Strong.” We heard the stories of those who witnessed the attack firsthand, and we reached out to the survivors. Boston became a rallying point for strength, as the entire city galvanized to honor their own. The running community around the world united to share the pain of a city, and many were inspired to keep running, to keep training, and return to Boston the following year.

This year thousands of runners will descend to the familiar streets and hills of the 118th Boston Marathon. “We all run Boston” names the slogan for this year’s race. Every runner has a different story, but this year everyone also has a common cause. This year we run for the victims and the survivors, the police officers and medical responders, those who heard the blasts, and those who cried from afar. Almost immediately after last year’s tragedy, a public announcement was made that race would be run again as scheduled the following year. Next week, whether we are toeing the starting line in Hopkinton or running in our hometown, we are all running for Boston. We all run Boston to honor the victims and survivors. We all run Boston to prove that the spirit of the marathon will not be destroyed by violence. We all run Boston to take back the runner’s right to control and overcome the pain we endure. We all run Boston to remember the day we watched in horror, all of us frozen in time. Runners have an odd obsession with time. We count our accomplishments in minutes and seconds; we synchronize our watches; we keep an eye on the clock. But some wounds, even time cannot heal. At every race, I see at least one runner wearing a shirt with some form of the motivational adage: “Pain is temporary; pride lasts forever.” I am proud to be a runner. And next week, everyone will be proud to run with Boston. That pride will never fade. But this time, the pain is going to last a while too.  AN


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