I’ll never forget the first time I drove in the pre-dawn darkness to meet the group of women runners at Kennedy Park in Coconut Grove. I was stunned to learn that a secret society convened every Saturday morning with hundreds of runners meeting to run the route that provided the reward of a spectacular sunrise as we crested the bridge on Key Biscayne.
While the average Miami resident sleeps, throngs of runners and walkers take off, organized by charity, fitness level and general camaraderie. They are outfitted with the latest digital watches, specially engineered shoes, energy snacks and hydration belts. All are focused on accomplishing their mileage and their training for the next race.
Health is a common motivator. Some want to begin a healthy routine or to maintain one. Many of groups train to run events and raise funds to fight cancers or other life-threatening illnesses.
It all is extraordinary. Yet it is so simple. Just one foot in front of the other, over and over and over. And spectacular, with a picture-postcard backdrop with canopied trees, waterfront mansions and, eventually, the route sandwiched between the ocean and the bay, with downtown’s skyscrapers and cruise ships serving as the horizon line.
It is simple, it is special — and it was safe.
Running etiquette protects runners from traffic. The familiar warning, “runners back” will shift everyone to their right, slipping into single file to allow the faster to pass. And like boating, runners always stop to assist anyone with an injury or who has fallen.
Most running events are well organized, with trained volunteers and staff, clearly marked routes and well-placed hydration stations along the course. Police are also a staple along the routes, leaning against cruisers they have wedged into intersections to prevent rogue cars from “entering” the race. The officers are often some of the loudest cheerleaders as runner streak by. Medical personnel are always available for the overheated, and the inevitable injuries.
Everyone is safe and sound. But that sense of safety was shattered by the bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon recently.
Now running is associated with images of carnage, the finish line no longer a symbol of joyful accomplishment, but a place of blood-soaked horror.
We will need to pause to absorb the reality of the irreplaceable losses and the deep pain. We will turn toward one another with compassion and a compulsion to help one another go on. These incidents only succeed in breaking our hearts — open. Injury and inhumanity may sideline us, and we will walk if we have to. But we will continue on — together. Violence does not solve anything, nor does it stop us from going forward.
Every single runner will be there again running that bridge every Saturday morning. No one will stay away because of the bombings. Everyone will still run, and the women in my group will be waiting for me there. We rebuild buildings, we send our children back to school. We hurt, we mourn, but we keep going.
Barbara Byrne, Miami