Matthew Mitchell is a student in the Master’s Degree Programme in Media and Global Communication at the University of Helsinki. Matthew is running marathons to raise awareness for Parkinson’s Research. In his thesis Matthew is researching the potential power and influence individuals have through new media to affect social change.
Marathon days are by nature triumphant. They require a commitment from all who participate, their payment first for qualifying, and then for finishing. I spent my past 6 months training amongst the snowy trails in Helsinki and Siilinjarvi, preparing for the 2013 Boston Marathon. I have experienced Finland’s winter wonderlands and run and skied in -22 degree (celsius) weather, in forests and on the Baltic Sea.
The most inspiring part of race day for me is the humanity that is on display. Runners from all walks of life, from all over the world and at all levels challenge themselves to achieve something they initially thought impossible. The marathon is a metaphor for life as it exacts a heavy toll and in return grants a sense of accomplishment that rivals any other. Persistence is compulsory. Heart is demanded of all.
The Boston Marathon, the king of these challenges of the heart, mind and body is a goal to be aspired to, and many do, some for their entire running lives. I have run marathons in New York City and Paris, archetypal races and cities in their own right, but having now experienced Boston in arguably its most unforgettable running, I must acknowledge that it stands alone.
I ran Paris and NYC to qualify for Boston. I was always told it was the quintessential running experience. And now I know why. The Boston Marathon is run on a Monday, which is a state holiday “Patriots Day” and every year, the Boston Red Sox play a home game at Fenway Park starting at 11:05 am. When the game ends, the crowd empties into the streets to cheer as the runners enter the final mile of the race. This tradition started in 1903. The entire city is a part of the race.
This year’s race was maybe the best example of a city coming together.
I was clear of the finishing area and re-connecting with loved ones when the two bombs were exploded on Boylston St. In fact, I was not aware of the bombings until I was reconnected to wifi and the world of social media was telling me what happened and asking if I was ok at the same time. It was a surreal experience to be so close to a tragedy and to only learn about it from someone a thousand miles away via Twitter on my iPhone.
Individuals on the ground had broken the news to the world through their smartphones, and our world changed once again. Over the next few hours the details of the horrific events unfolded. I felt a flood of concern, support and love from friends and family. Through social media and cell phones loved ones were notified that we were all safe and sound, such a blessing on such sad day of senseless violence.
In the days and weeks following we saw the courageous work of first responders and ordinary heroes in the midst of fear and chaos. Bostonians, runners, supporters and volunteers taking care of one another, sharing thoughts and hugs in quiet moments on the train, on the street, in cafes. We are healing and we need each other for that.
Boston presented us with an act of fear. As runners and as humans, we were not intimated, it has only united us further, strengthened our resolve, connected us more deeply as a community.
Read also Matthew’s earlier blog post “Sometimes running is more than just running”.