Monday, April 15, 2013

Tragedy At The Boston Marathon: An Emeritus Runner’s Story

Fr. Dale Matson

Running is the last of the true amateur sports. It is a transformative experience for untold thousands of people including me. I was about 42 when I began walking a mile a day. I had been killing myself with cigarettes, alcohol and obesity. My first mile took 18.5 minutes and I thought I would have a heart attack.  I was middle aged and embarrassed to see myself as I passed by store security monitors. I bought the most cushioned shoes I could find to dampen the jarring of each footstep on asphalt.  For most marathoners, a marathon was not the original plan. The initial goal for me was to stop killing myself with self-destructive behavior. It began with walking a mile, then more miles. Then it was jogging a mile. Twenty years of cigarettes needed to be expelled from my lungs. Food became fuel and I thought how great it would be if I could run for an entire hour. Then my goal was to run for three miles under nine minutes per mile. I entered 5K and then 10K races. I finished in last place in my age group in my first 10K.

Then it occurred to me that a marathon was possible. I began training for a marathon using Jeff Galloway’s running book. I had gained running friends and lost weight. In 1991, a friend who trained with me and I drove up to Merrill Wisconsin for the American Odyssey Marathon. It was a hilly course and I had not trained on hills. By the thirteenth mile, I was walking as much as running. People yelled out to me as they passed by asking if I wanted a ride. One mile from the finish line, a thunderstorm came up and washed the finish line away. I went into a bar to ask where the finish line was and they said I had crossed it. I was the last finisher.

I could barely get out of my car when I arrived home. My wife of 21 years said upon greeting me, “Why do you do this to yourself?” It was such a proud moment for me and she could not take it away. We were divorced two years later. I moved to California and my new running group sustained me as I adjusted to a new job and a new life.

I continued to lose weight and finally got back to my high school weight. The Fresno running group made me faster. There were injuries along the way and solitary running until I healed. In 1994 I ran the California International Marathon. At 17 miles, I was at an 8:01 mile pace. As a 50 year old, I had to be at 8 minutes per mile to qualify for the Boston Marathon. At that point I decided that it was worth the risk. It was now or never. I finished in 3:29.  I ran Boston in the centennial year (1996), and again in 2001 and 2004. At Boston I was only ordinary as a runner.

Today, on this terrible day, I thought about the thousands of runners who were diverted from the course after the explosions and did not cross the finish line. My heart sank knowing that most of their stories were like mine. Boston is not really about elite world class runners. The Boston Marathon is about people like me who push themselves to their absolute limits just to be an ordinary Boston finisher. All other marathons are only qualifiers for Boston.

This story is for those residents and runners in Boston today. I know your story is similar. May God comfort those who mourn and give resolve to those who will do what it takes to finish on Boylston Street next year. While the horror of this year will not be forgotten, the eternal story of the Boston Marathon will always be triumph over suffering.        


Theron said...

Awesome! Thanks for linking to your story. I'm inspired. Unlike you, except for four years between college and seminary, when I worked in a wood shop, I've always run...since junior high. I saw Salazar win New York when I was a kid running cross country, and said, "I'll do that someday." Which I did in 1995--USMC while in seminary.
I know 8:01 miles are not elite...but Fr. Dude...that rocks! Back to your high school weight...that's been a key. I'm 30 pounds past the days when I could through down 5:40 miles in a 3 mile race. I'm afraid that's what its really going to take to BQ. (Or at least down to 165).
I see this bombing, like you, as an attack on hope, perseverance, on the joy of being made in the image of God. So, I've been pushing, training for a marathon on the trails above Aspen, loosing my obligatory 5-7 pounds before a marathon...but maybe its time, in honor of the slain, in honor of the wounded, to break on through, and BQ.

Dale Matson said...

I ran the Boulder Back Roads Marathon about the year 2000 when my son was at UC Boulder. It was in September and the weather had been in the 80s all week. The night before the marathon, it snowed 3 inches. It took an extra cup of coffee that morning but I was ready to go.