Commentary: He Can’t Run Boston; He Won’t Stop Running

I’ll never, ever run the Boston Marathon.

I’m too old. I’m too slow. I’m too heavy. I break down too easily. I don’t have the patience — let alone the endurance — to cover 26.2 miles of pavement and tolerate the aches and pains that will surely follow.

But I’ll be damned if some coward with a grudge and a bomb will stop me from running.

Monday’s televised scenes from Boston — two explosions seconds apart at the marathon’s finish line, three dead, scores injured — have set me to anger. This wasn’t a blow struck at the elite running community. This was directed toward the mass of recreational competitors for whom qualifying for Boston is a lifelong goal, an achievement worthy of the level of celebration that would have, should have, been the culmination of all the miles, the sweat, the effort, the aspirin, the family support.

This was directed at people like me.

I took to running late in life. I joined a class leading to my first five-kilometer race 10 years ago as part of a physical fitness goal for my 40th birthday. I found I enjoyed the peace and quiet that comes with it, the time to be alone with my thoughts and plans, my music in my ears, the future no more in focus than the next few yards down the road.

I’ve since learned some things about myself. The miles mattered more than the time, which simply ceased to be as the strides accumulated. Pain wasn’t something to be feared, but respected and conquered. With greater distance came greater self-confidence, a desire to achieve more.

Over the past few years, three miles have grown to four, five, six, eight, 10, 12. With another milestone birthday in the wings, I set and achieved a goal of running my first half-marathon six weeks ago. I’ll do it again seven weeks hence, well before anyone dares employ a blowtorch to ignite the candles on my cake.

The people who ran the Boston Marathon, whose four-hour finish times put them in a murderer’s crosshairs for no greater crime than coincidence, the people for whom running is a release, an expression of freedom, were — are — me. We hold similar goals. We enjoy similar satisfactions.

I can’t begin to enter the mind of the cretin owning the self-absorption to believe he (she, it) has the right to bomb that freedom into submission. That level of evil, of cruelty, of misguided purpose, evades me.

An 8-year-old boy. What sort of person lets belief, anger, fanaticism, whatever, take the life of an 8-year-old boy?

I mourn for that child and the others who died, for the injured, the recovering and the grieving. I seethe with fury over those responsible for this crime, await the justice that will visit them.

And I also hope that, in time, the people most affected by Monday will be able regain the liberation that running provides. Be it alone or with peers, in a small group or among thousands, it offers priceless moments.

I’ve watched the water of a rural New Hampshire river rush by as I ran opposite its current. I’ve been cut off by a moose, scared away deer and chased free-range chickens out of my path. I’ve pounded a treadmill for hours in the company of a big-screen TV.

I’ve yearned for warmer weather and a return to the outdoors. I’ve touched my sweat-stained baseball cap in greeting to anyone I encounter willing to share the moment. I’ve told a police officer guarding my half-marathon route that I’ll be back in two hours, only to be teasingly chastised for arriving 20 minutes ahead of my promise.

Running is my refuge. It is my joy.

I own it. It is mine. Only I, not some misguided lunatic, will determine where it will take me, how far and with whom, if anyone at all.

I’ll never run the Boston Marathon. I would gladly if able, but I’m simply not good enough, nor will I ever be. However, I doubt I’ll ever be able to run anywhere without thinking about Boston.

It will infuriate me. It will motivate me. It will encourage me. It will propel my right foot, then my left, along another route, toward another destination. It will never stop me.


Greg Fennell can be reached at or 603-727-3226.