By Adam Cornell
“Did you finish the race before the bombs went off?” To the child’s blunt, but innocent question I replied, “Yes.” Our elevator came to a stop and we went our separate ways. My wife and I checked out of our hotel and walked the quiet streets of Boston for a time before we left the city.
In the days since I completed my first Boston Marathon I have thought about that child’s question. In asking, she meant did you cross the finish line at mile 26.2, or were you stopped, like thousands who had trained for months, if not years, to complete this most storied of foot races?
I was lucky to have completed the marathon. I was lucky that my wife and mother escaped the devastation from a senseless act of terrorism. Not so for the three dead and 240-plus injured. But did I truly finish? No. Though I defer to others who raced on that Patriots’ Day in Boston to embrace their own definition of “finished,” to me, a tape measure does not define the full meaning of the word.
For me as a marathon runner, the race ends when the full measure of the joyful memories of the entire experience is secured. For me, there is joy in the finisher’s medal and other artifacts of success, but there is also the joy of a post-race hug, proud social media postings, and the celebratory dinner with family and friends of whatever you darn well please. In the days, weeks, months, and years that follow are the proud and poignant reflections of the race itself as well as the happy aftermath. Never more so with the Boston Marathon.
Boston is the Holy Grail of marathons. It is not enough to write just of the thick and enthusiastic crowds that line the entirety of the route, or the thousands of volunteers who make it happen and unfailingly encourage and support the runners from start to finish. Nor is it enough to describe the community of runners who share the rare experience of having made it to the starting line. No, to have run the Boston Marathon is to be embraced by an entire city and enveloped by its love and passion for the historic race. A city that, like me, is still reeling.
The race will stay with me not for the joy of running it, but for the shocking and senseless tragedy that followed me less than an hour after I crossed the finish line. I will remember hearing the unabated wailing of sirens, seeing the blocks’ long line of emergency vehicles waiting to take the injured from the marathon medical tent to local hospitals to be treated for their horrific injuries, and feeling the sense of isolation from being locked down in my hotel room that sat less than a block from the bomb site.
I will remember walking around Copley Square surrounded by police, National Guardsmen, and federal agents. I will remember walking to the hotel restaurant for breakfast the morning after the bombing and observing the guests eating in stunned silence, many clad in their blue marathon warm up jackets signifying their participation in the race. I will remember being overcome by the feeling as I walked to my seat that it could have been any one of us in the room — participants or fans — who could have been killed or maimed. I will think of the innocent victims, of their injuries, and of their families and the physical and psychological scars that will follow them forever.
I did not finish the 2013 Boston Marathon. But I will finish next year. And so will Boston.
Adam Cornell and his wife live in Edmonds. His 2013 Boston Marathon finishing time qualifies him for next year’s race.