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Keep moving, through the pain

Among the running community, the anguish of Boston is intense, but marathoners know how to get past adversity

By Michael Hill

1:09 PM EDT, April 16, 2013

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The Boston Marathon resonates deep within my memory. I don't know when, exactly, it got there. My older brother ran distances, gliding around the streets of Atlanta in the days when that meant regular harassment from motorists, long before anyone had heard of the word "jogger." Few of them knew we had a marathon in Atlanta — it was 10 laps around a golf course — but most had heard about the one in Boston.

My brother and I watched delayed coverage on "Wide World of Sports," with Jim McKay telling us of the challenges of Heartbreak Hill. The developer father of a track-running friend named a street where he had built houses Exeter Close because the Boston Marathon then finished on Exeter Street.

When I started running in my post-college years in 1973, I avidly read of the Boston experience, how the newspaper printed the names and numbers of all the entrants, and fans consulted it as they cheered you on by name. It was my dream to one day run the Boston Marathon, and when I got there in 1975, it was a dream come true — even though only one person managed to find my name in the list and yell it out.

I think it cost $3 to enter that first year, right when the race was putting in qualifying times because the field was getting so big, maybe 2,000 runners. Women running was still somewhat controversial. That was the year that local runner Bill Rodgers ran to the height of American marathoning, stopping twice to tie his shoe.

The next year, my training interrupted by illness, I wrote about the race for Runner's World magazine. To get my press credential, I found race director Will Cloney just before the start, mentioned the letter I had written him, and got on the press bus with, among others, Bill Rodgers, who was resting up for the 1976 Olympic Trials.

It's all different now — a field of over 25,000 paying $70 entrance fees covered by a coterie of international press, every step on live television. But it is the same: the same 26 miles and 385 yards that has been run for over a century through the heart of Boston, the same richness of spirit that is unequaled in marathoning anywhere in the world.

I ran Boston eight times. I ran good times (2:32 in 1979), bad times (2:56 in 1981) and some mediocre times. But I always had a great time. Among my many marathons, nothing came close to Boston. The crowds that line the route from Hopkinton to the Back Bay are the cognoscenti of marathon watchers. They aren't the partygoers of First Avenue in Manhattan of the New York Marathon. In Boston, there is a connection between the runners and the fans, whether they are the screaming students of Wellesley or a 75-year-old in Newton, watching with his son and grandson — a feeling that we are all part of a great tradition, an exuberant celebration of a athletic achievement passed on from one generation to the next.

It has been 30 years since I last ran Boston. I always knew that I cherished it, but I did not realize how much until the tragic bombing Monday. The news reports reduced me to tears at times. It was as if someone has bombed a combination of the Louvre and Disneyland, a place of stunning human achievement that maintained an innocence and joy so often absent in our sports, in our culture.

I mourn with those whose loved ones were hurt or killed. And I mourn with the people of Boston, with the running community and with the entire country, as this is a national institution that has been scarred.

What we must do now is take our lesson from the marathoners. You get to around mile 20, 21, 22 and it hurts. It hurts like hell. But you reach down deep within yourself and find something and keep going. And, though it seems like it takes forever, soon enough the pain is replaced with joy.

Let's find that joy again at the Boston Marathon.

Michael Hill is a former longtime Baltimore Sun reporter. His email is hillforg@aol.com.

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