In My Opinion

Sorensen: No one runs this marathon alone

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comApril 16, 2013 

I turn on the TV or the computer and see the face of the boy who died in Boston on Monday. I read the newspaper stories about the deaths and the terrible injuries and put the paper down and stick a legal-sized yellow pad atop the words and pictures.

I’ll pick it up again. I’ll continue to read and to watch until I find the story that tells me the perpetrators are in custody and alive. This wasn’t a crazy spontaneous act. This act was criminally crazy, calculated and cruel. I want to know who did it, why they did it, and have they seen the pictures of the dead, too?

What’s more incongruous than two loud bombs near a marathon finish line?

Most of the marathon runners I know are introspective. I can’t imagine somebody who talks all the time committing to a 26.2-mile race and the often solitary training that goes with it.

I’ve run two marathons, both in Charlotte. I never think about the first. I developed shin splints while training, continued to train and, after the marathon, was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my left shin. Moms who walk at the mall would lap me.

The second race was different.

After spending the summer with me in Charlotte, my kids returned to Minneapolis and their mom. I was worthless. As long as I was suffering I figured I’d use the pain.

I’d been running 15 or 20 miles a week. A friend set up a 20-week schedule that would prepare me for the marathon. I needed a goal, and the goal was to break four hours. The schedule included hill work, speed work and a long run of 22 miles. My friend is mean.

He has run the Boston Marathon, as have other friends and acquaintances, all of them faster than me. When they talk about the experience, they’re transformed. Boston is to them what Augusta National Golf Club is to fans of golf.

The race is on Patriots’ Day. Kids don’t go to school and most adults don’t have to work. The Red Sox play at 11:05 a.m. Marathon events begin between 9 and 10:40 a.m.

Fenway Park and the finish line are perhaps a mile apart. Bars are jammed with fans who watched the game or the race. Runners are distinguished by their gait and the race number still pinned to them.

Customers waiting to get in a bar often step back to accommodate the runners and later might buy them a beer.

My second marathon began on a cold, drab, rainy January morning. Spurred by the crowd and confident after 20 weeks of training, I took off. The first few miles were downhill, the wind at my back and a red carpet rolled out in front of me.

The red carpet was rolled up, the wind turned around and the hills were leveled. A bus drove past every 30 seconds to pick up runners whose legs had betrayed them.

I hated the bus. It taunted me. I looked in the window and saw appetizers, champagne and flight attendants.

At the 10-mile mark I opened a little plastic bag full of secret African stuff my friend had given me and sucked it out. I have no idea what was in it. Magic, I hoped.

Perhaps because of the magic I found a rhythm. But I lost the ability to calculate. Was I on Mile 18 or 22? Would I break four hours? I couldn’t do the math.

You know what was beautiful? People cheered. Who gets cheered?

“You can do it!” they’d yell.

I was on Mile 23, I thought, when the finish line appeared. There was a clock and yelling so that had to be it. I crossed with 13 seconds to spare.

The friend who trained me gave me a hug. I don’t hug guys, and he doesn’t. But this felt right.

I walked around with a dumb smile, worn out legs, and, soon, a beer.

My two sons were still 1,150 miles away. But I could tell them about the race and hope they’d understand.

I don’t join clubs or boards or groups, never go on road trips with the fellows and always look for a seat at the end of the bar.

But at that moment, I was part of something.

In Boston, we all are.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119;; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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