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Running community will keep the torch lit for Boston

My Aunt Jo, who hailed from Chicago, had an expression that was legendary in our family. “We must affix the blame,” she’d say every time anyone

did something that caused trouble or trauma.

When I was a teenager, I didn’t know what to make of it. My aunt has been gone for eight years now, but if she were here today — particularly in the aftermath of last Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon — I’d tell her I finally understand what she was trying to get across.

Still, I’m not at all sure it’s the most important thing on which to focus.

Of course, identifying those responsible for the heinous April 15 attacks on Boston and the worldwide running community was the first order of business, and the authorities moved swiftly to determine who built bombs in pressure cookers, put them inside backpacks, left them in Copley Square and detonated them just as the largest group of marathoners was approaching the four-hour mark at the finish line.

One alleged bomber, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died in a firefight with police Thursday night, and a second, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was captured after a massive manhunt that virtually shut Boston down Friday. The brothers’ names and faces have been all over the news. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will have his day in court, but the bombers’ motivations may never be fully known.

Meanwhile, the families of three human beings whose bodies were ripped apart with nails and ball bearings will have to wake to the reality of their terrible losses every morning for the rest of their lives. And there are dozens of athletes whose injuries will prevent them from ever competing again.

At first, like many others, I wanted to “affix the blame.” But soon I realized I was much more interested in telling the stories of those who ran or were spectators at Boston — or whose friends or family members were affected by the blasts — than I was in excursing about the who or the why of the crimes.

My own running buddy and her son were in Boston last week. I waited for three long hours on deadline for this newspaper to find out whether they were alive or dead. I knew both had finished the marathon, but since I hadn’t heard their voices since the explosions occurred, I obsessively checked my email and phone for messages all afternoon, trying to learn their fates. It was torture, and I was scared — but in the end it turned out they were physically unscathed.

So many others weren’t nearly as fortunate. For them, the name “Heartbreak Hill” will forever connote exactly that.

For a moment — but only a moment — the Boston bombers sullied the reputation of the most famous marathon in the world. The race on Patriot’s Day, America’s oldest 26.2-miler, is the holy grail of our sport, the marathon everyone wants to run. Yet despite last week’s atrocities, it’s clear to me that Boston will rise again.

At first, we in the running community got mad. The bombings knocked us down, but they won’t keep us there. We’re the kind of people who recognize our vulnerability and our mortality, but we lace up our shoes and hit the road anyway. We will again after Boston. Most of us already have.

Focusing on the negative isn’t our style. Lifting each other up is. As one runner I interviewed put it, “We won’t let them control our joy.”

Whether you finish a marathon a month, chunk out three miles a week or just run around the block, you are part of the running community. Any non-runner who’s ever mapped out a route, brought water to a race, cheered from the sidelines or rubbed a runner’s sore calf muscles belongs to us.

To the Boston bombers, I would say this: Whatever you were after, you have failed, because we refuse to submit to intimidation, and our resolve to run free is stronger than ever.



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