LONDON – Few sounds are more deafening than that of 34,000 marathon runners turning completely silent, standing totally still, defiant in the face of terror.
The deep silence, 30 seconds so profound, poignant and full of emotion that time seemed to stop, was for Boston. It was London’s way of saying, “You are in our hearts and in our minds.”
Only a few chirping songbirds paid no attention. Overhead in the limpid blue sky, a helicopter thumped somewhere in the distance.
But otherwise, the start line of the London Marathon was utterly quiet Sunday. Many of the runners bowed their heads, lost in thought, looking at their feet that would soon carry them 26.2 miles. Phones rang in the crowd. They went unanswered.
“I just thought of Boston and how terrible it was and it really hit home how exposed we all are,” said Bazz Basu, who completed the marathon dressed as an astronaut.
Then a blown whistle brought the moment of remembrance to an end. The multicolored ocean of people erupted with applause and cheers. Because life must go on. There was a marathon to run and to finish.
To experience so little noise from so many people felt magical, a privilege. It was a big group hug to Boston from a city that has also experienced terror firsthand – Hitler’s bombs in World War II; home-grown suicide bombers in 2005 – and responded courageously. As souvenir postcards in London say: “Keep calm and carry on.”
Carrying on wasn’t easy. But it had to be done. In pounding London’s pavements, in reclaiming the streets, the running community showed it will not be cowered. If the bombers who killed three people and wounded more than 180 at the Boston Marathon hoped to cause lasting fear among runners, then the London Marathon showed that they failed. Each footfall on this glorious spring day proved that London’s decision to go ahead with its race just six days after the twin bombings in Boston was the right one.
“My mum has been in floods of tears, saying ‘Please don’t go, please don’t go,’” runner Kat Smith said before she set off. “I wanted to do it more than ever, to not run away from it because it was scary, to prove to myself that I would not let something like that stop me.”
Many runners confessed to more than the usual amount of nerves. Some told family members to stay home, just to be safe. Others said friends canceled plans to come to the race to cheer them on. Even an ocean away, in London, the Boston bombings planted inevitable seeds of doubt and concern.
Being herded together in such a large crowd, does that make us a target? Could someone have hidden a bomb in the tens of thousands of bags that the runners stuffed with clothes and gear at the start? Police officers with explosive-sniffing dogs checked around the bins that quickly filled with discarded bottles and other rubbish.
“You have that fear in your mind. You’re thinking, ‘Is there going to be a bomb?’ All it takes is one crazy person or two. That’s the true killer – that there’s nothing you can do,” said Greg Takacs, who ran in Boston on Monday and then in London on Sunday, finishing both marathons in less than three hours.
But like the frost that clung to the rooftops in the early morning, the paranoia slowly melted away as the day passed jubilantly without a hitch. The massive crowds – rows deep, hundreds of thousands strong – and the thick vein of runners strung out for miles on the city’s roads bathed London in a positive vibe.
By running with perfect strangers or by standing shoulder to shoulder with them along the route, people showed that they still trusted each other not to do anything evil or awful like the Boston bombers. And that was good to see. Many runners wore black ribbons on their jerseys in honor of the Boston victims, which was good to see, too.
The sense of togetherness was so strong that Takacs said he found himself sharing drink bottles as he ran – “It sounds gross, sharing spit with someone you don’t even know.”
“I really felt that community,” he said.
He also thought about the victims in Boston.
“Sometimes, you think, ‘Oh, my calf hurts.’ And then you think there are … people in Boston who have no calves, because they were blown off.”
Costumed runners added to the party feel. Pretty much all the super heroes were there – Wonder Woman, several Supermen, Buzz Lightyear. There were many men in dresses. Flocks of human chickens. A German in a Mr. Tickle suit, another dressed as a telephone, and at least one woman in a nun’s habit with giant plastic breasts. One couple came as Harry Potter wizards with a running twist, with costumes identifying them as “Run Weasley” and “Stumble Dore.”
Joe Elliott, 26, said he ran the fastest marathon by someone dressed in a three-piece suit – 2 hours, 57 minutes, 30 seconds – and had the top button on his shirt done up the whole way. “I felt like I was melting.” He dedicated the run to the people of Boston.
In sum, London had fun. And, in doing so, it inspired.
After the horror of Boston, it felt like millions of steps were taken back to normal life.