Over 6,000 runners took to the roads of New York City’s Central Park on Sunday to run for Boston at the City Parks Foundation Run for the Parks 4-Miler.
The annual event was New York Road Runners’ first race after the bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 15, so the organization, which puts on the ING New York City Marathon, transformed the event into a run for Boston.
Thousands of the runners donned blue “I Run For Boston” shirts, which NYRR provided to participants who gave a $20 donation to The One Fund Boston for families most affected by the attack.
Others wore black ribbons, “I Run For Boston” bibs, Boston Marathon shirts and jackets, and an assortment of Boston fan gear including Red Sox baseball caps, Celtics jerseys and Bruins shirts.
My husband and I were among them, dressed in our “I Run For Boston” shirts, “I Run For Boston” bibs and black ribbons.
Security at the race was a sad reminder of the prior week’s events. All the trash cans around the course and race area had been removed. Instead, volunteers held clear plastic trash bags.
As runners waited in the starting corrals for the start of the race, NYRR President and CEO Mary Wittenberg asked participants to observe a moment of silence for the victims of the attack. It was the quietest I have ever heard a starting corral, save the sniffles I noticed coming from the runners around me.
Nation anthem singer Jojo Karlin, who grew up in Hopkinton, Mass., where the Boston Marathon starts, gave an emotional performance. As her voice cracked under the weight of tears, the crowd of runners applauded loudly to show their support. It was as if 12,000 hands were saying, “We’re with you.” When Karlin landed on the final “home of the brave,” I looked around me and saw runners choking back tears, wiping their eyes, and sniffling loudly. I was too. The emotion in Karlin’s voice sang all the heartache we felt the entire last week—gut-wrenching sorrow paired with the resolve of spirit to carry on.
I was so glad to be in those corrals, to be amongst the crowd. All week long, runners felt like they had to do something. We gave blood, we donated money, we shared words of encouragement, and, of course, we ran.
As the race began, the song “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond played over the speakers, floating over the air in Central Park. Instantly, the crowd’s tears turned to smiles. As the unofficial theme song of the Boston Red Sox, the song has been played in a show of support at sports events all over the world since the Boston Marathon attack. Many runners sang along as they crossed the start.
It was 37 degrees and sunny, with blossoming trees by our sides as we ran a 4-mile loop around Central Park.
I ran hard. I breathed hard. And anytime I felt like slowing, I thought of Boston. I wanted to run hard for everyone who was affected. Not because I thought it would help them, but as an offering. It’s a hold-over from my Catholic upbringing—the notion of offering up your own suffering to relieve someone else’s. So I pushed myself hard. By the finish, my breathing was anaerobic.
It felt cathartic. After a week of watching the news, seeing the harrowing images, hearing friends’ stories, following the manhunt around the clock with the city of Boston and surrounding areas in a lock down, it felt freeing to run with the cold spring wind stinging my cheeks. It felt redemptive. It felt like a ritual cleansing.
Shortly after the finish, I saw Mary Wittenberg greeting runners as they came in, thanking them for being there. I know Mary in my capacity as host of NYRR’s web show, “On The Run.” She snapped this picture of me.
The smile you see is one of pure joy. I was so glad to be there at that moment, with all those other runners, to show ourselves and the world that the best in people will outlast the worst.
Yesterday’s race was an already scheduled fundraiser for the City Parks Foundation, a charity that provides free programs for more than 600,000 people in 800 New York City parks every year. They are donating $1 of every entry fee to The One Fund Boston—that’s one charity making a donation to another from their own fundraiser. That’s in addition to the $20 NYRR collected for the fund for every one of those blue “I Run For Boston” shirts.
I have one more run for Boston planned today, as part of NYCRUNS virtual 5K to raise money for The One Fund Boston. I hope the fund is able to achieve what its organizers hope: to help the families most affected by the attack. They have a long recovery in front of them. Many victims will be in the hospital for months, many won’t be able to work, will have to relearn how to walk on prosthetic limbs, and much else.
With one Boston Marathon bombing suspect dead and the other in custody, most of us are getting back to our lives after a week of horror. We’re going to work, resuming our regular training, resuming life as usual.
But for more than 170 people and their families, life has been forever changed. For many, running will mean a long, slow process of recovery and rehabilitation. Others, will never run again.
I want to keep them close to my heart this year as Boston recedes into the past. I want to remember how free I felt yesterday, knowing that I can run. I always want to be thankful for that.
Karla Bruning is host of On The Run, New York Road Runners’ web show about running. She has finished six marathons, two triathlons and trains with the New York Harriers. Follow Karla at RunKarlaRun.com, The Washington Times Communities, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.