Yesterday, when the horrific reports began to roll in from Boston, I couldn’t stop thinking of this photo. When I ran the LA marathon in 2011, it was right around here that I understood it wasn’t as much about me running 26.2 miles as it was about 25,000 runners bringing a city together. As I wrote after the marathon, I realized there was nothing more life-affirming than seeing so many Angelenos from different backgrounds cheering for us—in the driving rain, no less:
The family who were using their feet to hold down a pop-up tent that billowed in the wind like an ascending hot air balloon over a spread of candy. The guy in the bright orange turban who smiled as he sliced navel oranges into segments. The kids who’d made signs for no one in particular, their magic marker letters bleeding into type more befitting a horror film. The man slowly waving an American flag out of his East Hollywood apartment. These were people who you could tell didn’t have much to spare themselves, but had made sure to park themselves on the curb with a cooler of bottled water and a giant bag of pretzels that would inevitably turn to mush.
Even though the spectator numbers were low, it still felt like the whole city was rooting for us (made easier by the fact that our bibs were custom-printed to include the name of our choice). As I neared the end of the race, and the residents of Brentwood passed out whole Clif bars and words of encouragement from beneath their blown-inside-out umbrellas, I realized that they were the people I really should have been congratulating. We were busy and self-absorbed, we had our races to finish, our physical challenges to surmount; they sacrificed a day when the city had ordered its citizens to stay inside, just to make us feel like it had been worthwhile.
It’s been a weird week for the world, and I was looking forward to the marathon so I could put one foot before the other, zone out, and ignore its mounting problems. Little did I know that there would be so many hints along the way about what was going right. In fact, it was spelled out for me right there on the window of CB2 at Mile 13 as we headed into the Sunset Strip: “If you are losing faith in human nature, watch a marathon.”
I hope, amidst all this anger and uncertainty, that we can find strength and purpose in the enduring spirit we’re lucky enough to witness in our cities during these events. My thoughts are with the Bostonians affected by yesterday’s tragedy, but especially those spectators and volunteers who came out to show support and ended up saving lives.
Update: My friend Nirvan sent me this story about Kathrine Switzer, who coined that quote. She was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon.