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A different kind of recovery

Posted by Staff  April 22, 2013 07:49 AM

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100allysonmanchester.jpg Allyson Manchester is one of six Boston Marathon entrants testing Polar personal training gear and blogging about it for Boston.com
Wherever I run – through my neighborhood, on the beach, or in the Boston Marathon – the first three or four miles always serve as a threshold. During that short period, I transition from stress and over-thinking to total peace. I shake out my muscles, settle into pace, adjust to the temperature outside, and enter into a sacred space popularly known as “the zone.”

I found my groove somewhere around mile 4 of last Monday’s race. I absorbed the triumphant energy of little kids passing out orange slices and fun-loving dudes waddling along in cheeseburger costumes. My body forgot that it was running. I turned inward and began to brainstorm topics for my final Boston.com blog entry.

Over the next few miles through Ashland and Framingham, I mentally prepared an entry on race recovery. I planned to share some facts about stretching, as well as make a few wise cracks about the overpriced foam rollers that were on sale at the Expo.

The “race recovery” entry was supposed to be about celebrations and sore muscles. I certainly could not foresee the more profound recovery process that the Boston Marathon would necessitate – not only for runners, but also for the world at large.

I crossed the finish line at 2:44 p.m. Despite the fact that there was no energy left in my body, I threw my hands in the air and started to cry (and thanks to the folks at MarathonFoto, I now know that I am a rather unsightly crier). I was sandwiched between two of my best friends, one who had joined me at mile 22 and another who had scaled a metal barricade on Boylston Street to jump in for the final yards. From the finish line, I immediately hobbled over to my mom, my dad, and my cousin for the biggest hug I’ve received since winning the seventh grade geography bee. I was ecstatic.

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The first explosion occurred at 2:50 p.m. Standing in line for my medal, I was 30 yards away from the blast. I was so exhausted from running that I wasn’t thinking clearly or fully processing my surroundings. The policemen shouted for everyone to run away, but my tired legs wouldn’t allow me to “run” and, even more terrifyingly, I was not sure what direction constituted “away.”

As an English student, I have interpreted many representations of violence. I have written papers on the “post-9/11 novel,” read theory on the word “trauma,” and discussed scenes from films like The Hurt Locker. At the Boston Marathon, however, violence was right in front of me. It wasn’t a distant story or image; I couldn’t analyze it or intellectualize it from my desk. All I could do was snap into survival mode. I found my friends and family. We escaped the area as quickly as possible, confused and terrified by the scene unfolding around us.

One week after the Boston Marathon, I still lack the ability to deal with this event in a logical, fact-driven fashion. Witnessing the act of violence has opened up questions and left me with complicated emotions. I don’t know how to respond when people congratulate me for running 26.2 miles. I don’t know how to process the juxtaposition of the happiest moment of my life and the most frightening moment of my life. I don’t know how to feel when I consider that I was one of the few runners who found her family when the disaster ensued. I don’t know how to come to terms with the deaths of Martin, Krystle, and Lingzi. I am looking for clarity in the chaos, but I am not sure when or how it will arrive.

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Regardless of when or how we recover from this race, I know that the healing will happen. As people who love running and people who love Boston, we always recover.

One of the most important moments in my recovery so far was reading an e-mail from the Boston Athletic Association. The BAA sent out a series of communications in the wake of Monday’s events – some to honor the victims, others to provide logistical information on baggage pickup. I usually do not take the time to read mass emails, but one of the BAA’s subject lines caught my attention: “A message from the BAA to Our Runners.” The address “our runners” struck me as incredibly intimate. Since signing up for the Marathon, I have felt a powerful connection to the BAA and the other runners around me.

In the body of the email, Executive Director Tom Grilk quoted President Barack Obama in saying, “As you begin this long journey of recovery, your city is with you. Your commonwealth is with you. We will all be with you as you learn to stand and walk and, yes, run again. Of that I have no doubt. You will run again. You will run again! And we will run again.”

We will run again. This refrain epitomizes what it means to recover from the Boston Marathon. On a literal level, this phrase brings me comfort as my post-Marathon quad muscles struggle to climb staircases and run for longer than 10 minutes at a time.

On a figurative level, “we will run again” helped me to stay hopeful as I watched my city mourn the death of an M.I.T. police officer and stay trapped indoors for an entire day. I know that the city of Boston will not only run again; we will also be safe and relaxed and happy again.

I also love the phrase because it emphasizes gradual healing. As much as I would love to climb atop the roof of the Cask n’ Flagon during a raging thunderstorm and scream, “This is our city!” (colored with an f-bomb, a la Big Papi), I do not know that I am quite ready for that. “We will run again” means that, while we possess the strength to work through this tragedy, we do not need to repress it or pretend that it can be easily shaken off. In declaring ourselves Boston Strong, we must always remember to salute the pain that has shaped us.

Above all, “we will run again” contains the most powerful pronoun in the English language. When I think about the infinite networks of people who have voluntarily entered into the cause of Boston Marathon recovery, I am humbled and full of love. Monday’s events nearly caused me to lose my faith in humanity. I have probably I dropped the phrase “I’m going to lose my faith in humanity” one hundred times, as I encounter embarrassments like Tiara from The Bachelor, the dollar draft crowd at Coogan’s, and most songs recorded by Ke$ha. To say that I almost lost my faith in humanity on Monday, April 15, 2013 is not a hyperbole. I genuinely almost lost it.

In that dark moment, however, the immediate, heartfelt, and fearless response – of Boston law enforcement, of random runners with tourniquets – turned me into a permanent believer in human love. More than 200 people have actively supported me in the wake of the explosion, from my students at Boston College to the guy who screen-printed my friends’ Marathon Monday t-shirts to the members of the country club where I work over the summer. I am confident that, with the support of each other, we will run again – and we will run faster and stronger than ever.

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The 2013 Boston Marathon didn’t go as planned. Still, we can all find strength in the recovery process. As we begin to run again, remember that this kind of recovery will involve more than $80 foam rollers. The recovery will be messy and painful. The recovery will be gradual. But most importantly, recovery will be collective.

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Look for updates, news, analysis and commentary from the following.
  • Steve Silva, Boston.com senior producer, two-time Boston Marathon sub-four hour runner.
  • Ty Velde is a 16-time Boston qualifier who's completed 12 consecutive Boston Marathons and 25 marathons overall. Ty is now training for his 13th Boston run and will provide training tips for those who train solo and outside, no matter what temperature it is.
  • Rich 'Shifter' Horgan is a 19-time Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team member who runs in honor of his father, who died of colon cancer. He will provide updates on local running events with a focus on the charitable organizations that provide Boston Marathon entries for their organization's fund raising purposes

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