On Sunday morning I huddled in a hotel kitchenette in Rotterdam, attempting (unsuccessfully) to post my weekly curation of food, nutrition, and health articles from Paul’s ipad. Paul, in the main part of our hotel room does his final preparations for the day’s marathon.
We head out into the day, each with jobs to do. His, to run 42.2 kilometers; mine, to be positioned at pre-determined points along the race course (15, 25, and 35kms) to hand him fluids and gels. I had practiced my route the day before, taking the metro from point to point, figuring out how to be on runner’s left, timing how long it took me to get to each place and whether I could get there by his predicted fastest times.
I always find race morning nerve wracking, and highly emotional. I usually have an upset stomach. I have seen how much work went into this day, how many miles have been run, how many pairs of shoes have been burnt through, and I want it to go well.
I wait near the start line for Paul to finish his warmup, collect his warmup gear, and say, “Have fun! Run fast!” as I always say before he starts a race. I have a lot of time to get to my first point, but the crowds, which I did not have to deal with on my test run, worry me a bit. I shove my way through a sea of people to get back to the metro, and then push my way on. I am one of 925,000 spectators along the course.
Getting on to the metro was one thing, but getting off is another story altogether. Train after packed train arrives at the station I am at, and all of these people are pushing to get through the exits, scanning their metro cards one at a time. It takes me a good ten minutes to get out of there, anxiously checking my watch all the while. I cram my way into a space on runner’s left, and watch for Paul. The first hand-off goes smoothly, and I sprint back to the metro to head to the next spot. This one, at 25km, goes smoothly as well.
The last spot, at 35km, I know is going to be a bit of a trick. The metro station is a ways away from the race course, and if I am going to make it in time I am going to have to run. So I do, with people waving and making jokes about the marathon course being over there, and I make it just on time. After a while I see Paul. As I hand him his last bottle and his last gel, he shakes his head and tells me his day is done. Something has gone wrong, and he is finishing the race out of sheer stubbornness. My heart sinks.
I head back to the finish line and work my way through the crowds to get to our pre-determined meeting spot. My job is done, the need to rush is over. The crowd is immense. Runners, support crew, journalists, photographers, elderly people, babies, all out to be a part of this sporting event. And the runners, even those for whom the day didn’t go exactly as planned, are amazing. Have you ever run 42.2km? I’ve run half of that, and it was quite enough for me.
We freshen up, check out of our hotel, and head to Amsterdam for a night of consolation and fun. It wasn’t the result we were after, but we are alive and well, enjoying where we are. We drink beer, eat fries, meander along the canals, and have a spectacular evening.
The next day, when my plane lands back in Stockholm and I turn my phone on, I hear about Boston, and my heart breaks. Having just been in Rotterdam for a marathon, having been in a sea of spectators, having been in those crowds, I can’t even begin to wrap my head around this senseless act of violence and what it must have been like there.
Our friends Murray and Jen, both marathon runners, live in Boston. As Murray so eloquently put it, “The marathon is a celebration of the human spirit, of positive living, achieving our dreams, triumphing over adversity, raising money for those less fortunate, and bringing our community together.”
My heart goes out to Boston, to the families of those who were killed, and to those who are injured. My heart goes out to the race organizers. To the runners. To what this could mean for marathons and similar events in the future.
What can we do but rise above, love each other, and keep on running.