Boston and The Tribe Known As Runners

Terror has visited my tribe.

Attacked at its most hallowed event, my tribe responded with all of the grace, solidarity and heroism I would have expected, had I somehow been able to foresee a tragedy like this coming.

My tribe – a tough, gritty group of human beings – is unlike any other I know of. Fanatically democratic, meritocratic and individualistic, they revel in coming together by the thousands to “race,” knowing that none of them have any chance of winning. And then many stick around to cheer until the last runner crosses the line, because our sport is often more about completion than competition.

We train – mostly in solitary conditions – for months to run an obscenely long distance in three or four hours, paying for the pleasure, and often we are doing it just to qualify for a chance to do it again under still more difficult circumstances, at an even higher price.

We are not rational.

We are not normal.

We are The Tribe Known as Runners. And the tragedies of the past week have shown our tribe’s true colors in a way that makes me infinitely proud. In the face of mayhem and carnage, many did not hesitate to jump in and act as ad hoc EMTs. After running 26.2 miles, many ran 2 more miles from the finish line in order to donate blood. And many wore their blue and yellow marathon jackets all week, to demonstrate their solidarity and force of will.

Stephen Colbert probably put it best:

“Here’s what those cowards really don’t get: They attacked the Boston Marathon, an event celebrating people who run 26 miles on their day off, until their nipples are raw – for fun. And when those bombs went off, there were runners, who after finishing a marathon, kept running for another two miles to the hospital to donate blood.”

Our tribe has no national, ethnic or linguistic borders. No limitations based on age or sex or ambulatory prowess. Hell, you can even be a member of this tribe if you are in a wheelchair or have one or more prostheses. In fact, when it comes down to it, there is only one qualification for membership in the tribe of runners: desire.

I am not a great runner. Hell, I’d be hard pressed to even say I am a good runner. But our tribe has no skill requirement. You call yourself a runner? Fine, you’re in.

Sure, Boston has a qualification requirement. If it didn’t, there’d be like 2.5 million people trying to squeeze up Heartbreak Hill on Patriot’s Day. And that wouldn’t be any fun; there’d be no one watching.

Personally, I’m so slow I’ll never be able to qualify for Boston, unless they create a Aging Clydesdales category. But that’s ok. Because I have run Boston vicariously for many years. I watch members of my tribe run it, I hear stories about it, I visualize what it would be like, and through the mystical powers of imagination and tribal culture, I experience it, I know it, I enjoy it.

So, when the Boston Marathon was attacked last Monday, like members of my tribe all over the world, I felt it deeply and profoundly. Yet I also knew that we would run through the pain, that we would recover from this injury and come back stronger.

That’s just how my tribe is.