Posts Tagged ‘Boston Marathon’
In the early 1970s, John Tarrant, a British ultramarathoner who set world records in the forty- and hundred-mile distances, suffered a hemorrhaging stomach ulcer that occasionally sent him to the hospital for tests and blood transfusions. Tarrant despised the interruptions to his training schedule, and during at least one stay, he ducked into the bathroom, changed into running gear beneath his hospital gown, and snuck outside for a quick five-miler. As Bill Jones recounts in his book The Ghost Runner, Tarrant sacrificed everything for his sport—his work, his family, and, evidently, his better judgment.
Today is the 120th Boston Marathon [this piece was originally published on April 18, 2016], and I’d wager that nearly every runner in the race would understand Tarrant’s impulse. Training for long-distance races breeds a restless need to elevate the heart rate, score an endorphin hit, and achieve what Tarrant called that “magnificent feeling of well being.” Running begets more running, an insidious cycle that can become, over time, a game of high-mileage brinkmanship that blurs the line between dedication and obsession. At the peak of his training, Tarrant was logging 180 miles a week—an addiction, no doubt, but a healthy addiction, at least according to the runners. (The doctors aren’t convinced: by 2015, running-related cardiology concerns had crystallized into something called the excessive-endurance hypothesis; google the phrase and “scarring of the heart” comes up a lot.)
Exactly a month ago I ran the Boston Marathon. Well, sort of. I ran the course. I did so because exactly a month before that, the actual event was brought to an abrupt end by two bombs that killed and maimed. The tragedy sunk into me—a long time long-distance runner— like a demon that needed to be exorcized. My decision to run the course was spontaneous. I was in Boston for business and took some time to visit the memorial that had been set up in Copley Square. I was moved by it. So much so that, the next day, I took a cab to Hopkinton (sort of like my entrance fee), snapped a picture, and started running. I love the starting picture because, with the sun at my back, it looks as if I’m scratching my head in utter confusion.
And I ran. Not too fast but not too slowly either. Miles of soft rolling hills yielded to the temporary visual purgatory of Framingham and then gorgeous Wellesley, where I stopped at the Whole Foods, downed a mediocre sports bar, re-filled my camelback with water, and drank a blueberry smoothie. The day could not have been more perfect weather-wise. Fifties with a light tailwind. I hit Newton and the hills, then Brookline and Boston. When I turned the corner onto Boylston life hummed along as usual, but I could still see the finish line emblazoned across the street. I stopped my watch at 4:09, the exact clock time when the first bomb went off a month earlier. I continued past the finish line to the memorial, whereupon I added my shoes (which I had borrowed from my dad) in an act of personal closure. I had written on them an imperative I live by: “run with joy.” In any case, demon: gone.
The day before I had spoken with Ellen Kennelly, and she generously agreed to meet me at Copley–with food. Ellen is a loyal follower of Eating Plants, a seasoned athlete, and one of the most reasoned and reasonable commenters on the site (we also have a mutual friend in Corby Kummer, my editor at the Atlantic). She is also an amazing vegan cook. Ellen had what I needed most at that moment: food and friendship. As we sat in the grass and talked I ate an avocado and greens sandwich in homemade pita bread with homemade hummus and a couple of amazing homemade black bean and chocolate sports bars. Incredible! And in case it ever matters to you, one can walk through the streets of Boston in socks and nobody will take a second look.
Ellen is not only an amazing vegan cook but, as I suggested, a powerful activist (whose husband, Charlie, is a world-class rowing champion who actively promotes veganism as well). In talking, I learned that she recently wrote a long letter to her alumni magazine (St. Paul’s School) protesting a (ridiculous) piece it ran on “happy meat.” The letter, which Ellen agreed to share with me, is here to download: Kennelly Letter. It strikes me as a model of activism worthy of imitation. Ellen’s vegan conversion narrative will follow soon (and, I hope, Charlie’s as well).