Last week I poured out my thoughts and feelings about being a marathon spectator and family member of distance runners in light of the Boston Marathon bombing. I did it mainly as therapy to help me process my own feelings about what happened, and I expected a couple of my friends to read it and possibly make a comment or two if they were feeling extra supportive that day or looking to waste some more time on the Internet while at work. I was absolutely blown away by the number of hits, likes, shares, and reblogs I got both from friends and total strangers and the amount of touching comments I received, encouraging me to keep spectating races.
I had my first opportunity to do just that this past Saturday morning.
It was a 5K run/walk, not a marathon. It took place in a tiny town of 800 people, not a historic city of hundreds of thousands. You didn’t have to have a certain time to qualify; in fact, you could even show up in your jeans two minutes before the start time and join in, as a couple of my neighbors did. It wasn’t a famous and celebrated event; instead, it was a new, fun run to raise awareness about organ donation, started and organized by one of my husband’s co-workers who suffers from a liver disease.
But it was a race.
It had runners. It had trophies for the winners. It had music blasting from loudspeakers at the start/finish area and an announcer cheering finishers on. It had a mascot (Dottie, the Organ Orange Dot . . . AKA a guy in a goofy orange circular costume). It had a water/fruit stand at the end.
And it had spectators.
Not millions. Not thousands. Not even hundreds. Mainly, the spectators were the people who organized it, a couple of participants’ moms, and runners/walkers who had already finished.
But we spectators stood there, at the finish, unafraid, cheering our friends and family members on. People laughed, kids ran (and placed!), parents pushed babies in strollers, and music played. Some people just walked it for fun without any training whatsoever. Others could be seen pre-race warming up, earbuds in, shutting out the rest of the chaos with their regular running playlists, seriously in the zone. Flags roped off streets and indicated the route. It was pretty much a mini-version of all those marathons and half-marathons I’d loved spectating in the past . . . and it was great!
I wasn’t only a spectator this time. I was also the race photographer. I just opened my photography business this fall, and I’ve mainly focused on portraits. This was my first attempt at event photography, so I’m sure I made a lot of mistakes. I already have several strategies in mind to be able to do a better job next year. But I was there, snapping pictures of all the participants as they crossed the finish line.
There was picture that I knew I was going to take before the race even started. When I scoped out the venue the day before, I noticed that the American flag was still flying at half-mast to honor the victims of the Boston Marathon. I also knew that the start/finish was going to be set up a little ways in front of the flag.
I wanted a picture of that finish line with the half-mast flag in the background.
It’s not a fabulous picture, not going to win any awards. The image looked way better and more moving in my mind than the actual jpeg did when I uploaded the pictures to my computer. The grass looked nicer and there weren’t any random cars cluttering the frame in my mind. The whole process kind of reminded me of those fabulous book scenes I write in a half-asleep state in the middle of the night that turn out just so-so when I try to recreate them the next morning, plucking away at my keyboard.
But this picture means something to me and (I hope) to other marathon runners and spectators. It means we will go on. We will keep enjoying this sport that means so much to us. We will race to that finish line over and over, whether it’s on the course hoping for a personal best or off the course hoping to make it in time to see our loved ones cross the line.
We will not forget. That flag will always be at half-mast in the back of our minds when we participate in these events. But the finish line will be in the foreground, and that’s what we’ll focus on.
Jenifer Brady is the author of the Abby’s Camp Days series. Her new artistic love is photography (http://jeniferbrady.zenfolio.com).