Sue Gruner feels guilty.
Finishing a Boston Marathon had always been on her runner’s bucket list. It represented a once-in-a-lifetime chance to traverse the 26.2 miles that defines the sport.
So as the 47-year-old Hampshire woman approached the race’s finish line under sunny skies Monday afternoon, Gruner felt herself smile. Then she started to cry.
The euphoria of reaching the end can only be understood if you’ve been there yourself. The emotions that have been pent up for hours suddenly escape when the finish line first comes into sight. The miles you’ve covered and the torture you’ve put your body through suddenly seems worth it as your journey – once considered impossible – comes down to a matter of steps.
So for Gruner, who was finishing her third marathon in less than a year, the tears were more than understandable. But funny things happen to your mind and body after 26.2 miles. Things get blurry.
You can’t figure out why you do things. Gruner can’t explain why she was running down the right side of Boylston Street, having crossed the finish line when the first bomb exploded on her left, throwing everything into utter chaos.
None of it makes sense. For those of us who weren’t in Boston, the grisly photos and video clips sicken us. Linda Bailey, the Lakewood woman who crossed the finish line 30 seconds before the first bomb detonated, said she had only seen such carnage in the movies.
But now, it’s real. Engrained in her memory, tarnishing what should have been one of the most memorable moments of her life.
My memories of crossing the finish line of the Chicago Marathon last year came rushing back to me Monday. I remember turning off Michigan Avenue and approaching the big red banner with huge white letters with F-I-N-I-S-H printed across it. A race official running next to me with a megaphone, yelled, “You just finished the Chicago Marathon.”
My wife, who was only a few minutes behind me, had promised me that she was going to cry once she reached the finish. Other friends who had competed in marathons had told me just to let it all go. To yell, to scream, to cry. To do whatever I needed to to celebrate.
Like Gruner, my body hurt. The bottoms of my feet burned. Gruner’s quads felt like they were on fire. Her surgically repaired knee was screaming for her to stop running. But after you’ve come so far, your mind ignores what your body pleads for.
Monday should have been a day of great celebration for Gruner. But at least for now, she can’t accept that.
“I feel really guilty for being happy for something I worked so hard for because of so many horrific things that happened to so many people,” Gruner said Wednesday, her voice cracking with emotion. “It’s just so unfair that somebody or whoever did this....I just don’t understand. So I didn’t want to celebrate. It seems selfish to talk about.”
In time, Gruner may allow herself to cherish her accomplishment. But not now. Not yet. Not when so many of the emotions she feels are all still so fresh.
Gruner loves to run. She loves the friends she runs alongside and the support she feels when she covers a race course.
So it will be those feelings that will allow her to move on. To keep running. She is unwilling to allow one horrible day – as explainable and confusing as it is – to keep her from creating new memories.
Sunday’s London Marathon will go on as scheduled. On Tuesday, Carey Pinkowski – the executive director of the Chicago Marathon – issued a statement re-affirming the race’s dedication to make the 45,000 runners who participate feel as safe as possible at a time when many who registered for the race in Feburary may be having second thoughts.
Gruner and her husband had planned to remain in Boston until Friday. Instead, they returned home on Tuesday, still shaken by Monday’s god-awful scene.
If given the chance to quality for the Boston Marathon for a second time, Gruner would gladly return in an effort to try and erase the images that fill her head: The smoke, bricks falling off buildings, the sounds of law enforcement officers telling her to keep running when everything inside her told her to stop.
So perhaps that’s the message here: Not to allow what we saw take place in Boston convince us to stop. Not to allow the actions of a select few to determine our life’s course and to press on as hard as that may seem to do right now.
In time, everything we cherish will slowly come back, giving us the resolve to move out of the shadow of unforgettable tragedy and closer to the smiles and cheers that push us closer to crossing items off our own individual bucket list.
“I will continue to run,” Gruner said.
Words to live by.
• Jeff Arnold is a sports reporter with The Northwest Herald. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @NWH_JeffArnold.