Micah Rice: Running community is a strong one

Commentary: Micah Rice

By Micah Rice, Columbian sports editor

Published:

 

My stomach felt sick.

"You have to eat something," my wife implored. "You ran a marathon, remember."

So I pulled myself away from the television and the scenes of carnage. We headed out the door into a city that was in a state of shock.

There was a pub nearby in Cambridge, about five miles from where trauma had replaced triumph at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Barely anybody spoke. The waiters took orders in hushed tones. Everyone was fixated on TVs and images that are as poignant now as on that April day.

These memories were refreshed last week when The Associated Press unveiled its top stories of 2013. The Boston Marathon bombings were the No. 1 sports story and No. 2 story overall.

But what I remember most are how a nation of runners and their supporters rallied in the days, weeks and months after.

The race itself was nearly flawless. I hadn't ran particularly well in my two previous Boston Marathons, but injury-free training and good weather led to a personal-best time of 2 hours, 52 minutes.

I was ecstatic. I met my wife and our friend near the finish line, gingerly walked to the car and started the 15-minute drive to where we were staying.

It was during that drive that the bombs went off.

I showered, then turned on my phone to call friends and family back home. There was no reception. I had no idea that the network had been shut off in fear that cell phones could be used to detonate more bombs.

I turned on an iPad to post a message on Facebook. That's when I learned what had happened. There were already pleas to post something just to let everyone know we were all right.

The following days were tense, the knots in my shoulders more uncomfortable than the soreness in my legs. I didn't let myself feel good about my own race in light of what happened.

As details of the attack became clearer, they brought no solace. We learned my wife and friend had been standing directly across from where the second bomb exploded.

We flew home two days later. In the airport's departure lounge, we were approached by a plain-clothed Homeland Security agent.

He noted my Boston Marathon jacket and asked if we had seen anything unusual. He asked for us to look through any photos my wife took near the finish line. If they showed anyone who looked suspicious, we should call the FBI.

"Don't worry," he said. "We're gonna catch these guys."

The magnitude of what happened didn't fully sink in until I returned home. Like everyone else, I watched the manhunt and capture of the lone surviving suspect. The street celebrations that followed his arrest struck some as distasteful, but not me. They were fueled more by relief than vengeance, I said.

Tragedy has a way of galvanizing groups of people. Competitive runners, fixtures at local fun runs and solitary early-morning joggers make the running community broad and diverse. There's no exclusive standard anyone needs to achieve to gain membership in the club. Just lace up your shoes on a semi-regular basis and you're in.

That the bombs went off well after the elite runners had finished made the attack seem more personal -- the average Jane and Joe were the targets.

Within days, solidarity runs took place in Clark County and Portland. Runners wrote messages of support on their legs before local races. Donations flowed in.

In the long run, good outlasts evil. I and many others will return this April for what will be the largest Boston Marathon both in participation and significance.

We'll remember the victims, the chaos and the violence. But most of all, we'll mark the triumph, compassion and solidarity that endured long after the bloodshed.

And that will be a top sports story of 2014.