A Boston marathon vet ponders the vulnerability of those who run, those who watch

By Tom Weber

MPR News

The thing that strikes me is the vulnerability.

You’ve just trained for the race of a lifetime — with a few exceptions (one of which I took advantage of to run Boston in 2008), you have to run fast enough to qualify for Boston. This is the peak of your training. And as you cross the finish line, you know you’ve done it.

The race officials are very good at shuttling people through. Once you finish, there’s another quarter-mile of walking to get you past the medical stations, the water stations, the food stations and the place where they hand you your medal for finishing. That line moves fast. Runners don’t really lollygag around the finish line; spectators do.

The last stretch is exhilarating, packed with marathon fans and baseball fans. The city is alive. News reports said about half the runners had made it across the line before the explosions happened, so these were not the elite athletes. These were more likely to be regular folk. Maybe this was their first Boston marathon, or maybe it was the only marathon they ever planned to run. Maybe they had a crazy idea a year or three ago that evolved into this day.

Once you’ve done Boston — in a time that no one cares about because you finished, dammit — you have no need to show off your skills. You. Just. Ran. Boston.

But as you sprint or hobble or just barely get down that final stretch, you’re spent. You are in the middle of a path, the center of attention, and you’re as physically gone and as vulnerable as you can imagine. Yet it’s the most exhilarating moment of your life because You. Just. Ran. Boston.

And it’s not just you. Your family is there. Your friends are rooting for you (I’ll always remember the email my colleague Tom Scheck, also a Boston alum, sent to the entire newsroom the morning I ran).They know how big a deal this is, and they love you so much as you cross that line. There’s arguably more pride in them than in you. Showing that much love for another person also brings a bit of vulnerability. But isn’t it wonderful? Your loved one/friend/sibling Just. Ran. Boston.

There’ll be reports in coming days about the vulnerability of marathons, of the difficulty of securing something as open-aired as a 26.2-mile road race. But as we ponder the exact point in the route where this happened, I’ll be thinking about other kinds of vulnerability.

Tom Weber is co-host of The Daily Circuit.