To the rest of the world, runners are crazy. We wake up at 5 a.m. every morning, risking shin splints, nasty falls, back problems, IT band syndrome, pulled muscles and stress fractures. And for what? To continue our hobby, which non-runners liken to torture.
The media portrays running as glamorous, filmed in slow motion: muscular men smiling at the camera alongside tall women with long hair that flows behind them in the wind.
Running is nothing like that.
It’s sweaty, and painful. A constant conflict where the cramp in your stomach, the lack of breath in your chest and the weight of your legs fight against your willpower and dignity, which won’t let you quit even when everything else begs you to stop.
Why do we do it? We love it. How is that even possible? If you don't understand, then you probably can't. Nobody can. Except for others like us.
When we run past each other in the mornings, we’re exchanging more than just polite greetings between strangers. The wave-and-nod is a sign of mutual respect because we know exactly what the other person had to sacrifice to be right there on the sidewalk moving at a seven thirty pace past us.
In this religion we call running, races are holy days, where we hope that the gods of running will grace us with good weather and a personal record. Like druggies, we start small with mile runs leading into 5Ks, 10Ks, and eventually work our way up to harder stuff like half-marathons and marathons, which are seemingly never-ending stretches of agony, that test both your physical and mental endurance.
If you happen to be a man who finishes the 26.2 miles in under 3 hours and 5 minutes, or a woman who makes it in under 3 hours and 35 minutes, you qualify for a long distance runner’s dream: running in the Boston Marathon.
And, for those lucky few who achieve that, it's among the very best days of their lives.
Unless somebody decides that it shouldn't be and all the ice baths, tempo runs, foam rollers, bloody nipples and blisters that led up to the event aren’t as important as hurting and killing wonderful people.
And I know they were wonderful people. They were runners.
If I had seen them on my daily route, I would have said, “Good morning,” and they would have smiled and said it right back to me. And then we would continue on our separate paths, enjoying the serenity of a quiet city that can only exist while everybody else is still asleep.