Forest Hills Runners came into existence in April of 2011 to fill a need in Jamaica Plain that some residents may not have even known they had - the need for free community running for all. The idea for FHR came from my previous team in Brooklyn, NY, which I joined in 2009. The team, called North Brooklyn Runners, was a fast-growing group that rapidly became family - a family that always accepted new people and never pushed anyone away. A family that supported everyone who took part and helped them to improve day by day and run by run. This sentiment, which I felt so strongly from all the members of the team, was not an innovative one. It was the same feeling I got from the running community as a whole whenever I went to a race, whether it was in Munich, Germany, Abington, Pennsylvania, or Boston, Massachusetts. It's the same feeling I now get as a member of the Forest Hills Runners.
There is something magnificent about runners that sets them apart from soccer players or hockey players or basketball players, from dancers or volleyball players or ruggers. There is a feeling, I have come to believe, that you will be accepted no matter who you are as long as you are willing to do one thing: put in the time and the effort. If you’re willing to go out there and put in the miles, you will be accepted with open arms no matter how peculiar, odd, quirky, or amazing you happen to be. Everyone is let in and there is always space to run - even at the Boston Marathon where there is a starting corral even for those who didn't qualify or raise money for a charity - the famed “Bandits” - the ones who have no bibs and simply want to experience the rush of 26.2 miles of running.
The running community and the Boston Marathon are two of the most inclusive things the world has to offer.
That’s why, when the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon finish line a little over an hour and twenty minutes after I’d crossed the finish line, I started running again away from the blasts because I figured that if someone was willing to bomb the marathon, the whole city was about to go up in flames. I didn’t run to the hospital to donate blood; I didn’t go to the finish line to help tamponade bleeding; I went to a bar where I had organized a post-race event for all my runner friends in town and those who were visiting for the race, and I sent out an email and social media blast to invite everyone I knew to come there to be together. At the time it felt selfish, but I’m starting to see that it was actually intelligent and that what we did there in that bar by bringing people from Boston and New York together, transplants and homegrown runners and nonrunners alike, was exactly what running stands for. Running is about including everyone and about bringing people together.
I think that’s why the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing makes so little sense and why I haven’t been able to sleep since I heard the two bombs go off from two blocks away and made the decision to go meet runner friends at a post-race event rather than going to the finish line to join hundreds of other medical professionals better trained than I in triaging patients.
Because when I think of my 26.2 mile run through Boston in my very small Union Jack shorts and my Franklin Park Coalition singlet, all I see are smiling faces and all I hear are happy voices. All I remember are tens of thousands of happy people taking time out of their holiday to cheer for people they had never met before - for complete strangers they might never see again - screaming their lungs out only to show someone else that they see they are doing something magnificent. Cheering for strangers because that’s what running inspired them to do. And on Marathon Monday everyone became a runner by taking part in the incredible spirit of the marathon.
And someone tried to ruin that: someone who has likely always felt left out tried to take that from us; someone who has been kicked around, who people were unkind to, who likely had parents who didn’t listen to him or her; someone who wasn’t a runner and never felt they could be a runner tried to destroy running for all of us by associating it with this heinous and destructive act.
We can’t let that happen. We have to remember the smiling families with four generations sitting together in front of their houses in Hopkinton, Framingham, and Natick; the hundreds and hundreds of beautiful Wellesley girls who scream loudest when you high-five them as you pass and mouth “I love you!” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”; the diehards who understand that heartbreak hill is about tearing your heartbreak out and leaving it behind and scream us up it and into the final 10km of the race; the Boston College kids whose laughter is infectious and whose screams are gutteral, deep, and uplifting; the crowds six and seven and eight people deep along Beacon Street before the last bit of quiet of the tunnel beneath Massachusetts Avenue; and finally the exiliration of turning onto Boylston to see the finish line there in the distance almost a mile away. And it wasn’t just the fans who were there for the runners. I was having a bad day myself, my hamstrings cramping up at mile 16 to the point where I had to frequently stop over the last few miles of the course, and yet many runners who finished in the top 200 or 300 in the race handed me glasses of water and gels to keep me hydrated and fueled. This is true inspiration. This is a reason to live. This is a metaphor for how we should live our lives - pushing ourselves harder than we ever thought imaginable while being there for others.
This is what will live on and this is what we will continue to see more of if we focus on the beauty of what happened on Marathon Monday, on Patriots Day of 2013, and not on the horror of those bombs. And if we do remember the horror we should remember that the person who caused it felt left out, felt like he wasn’t a runner, like he didn’t belong. We must never let that happen again. We must strive harder to be inclusive, must be kinder to one another, and we absolutely must keep running and keep being runners because running is for all.