Bombings will test Boston runners

Image: Boston Marathon runner consoled by his friends (© John Mottern/Getty Images)
Future Boston Marathon runners face a myriad of emotions and challenges after the bombings.
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Dr. Will Mayer is a sports psychologist from Southport, Ct. He has run six marathons, including Boston two times with a personal best of 3:15:46.

There is no way to predict the psychological responses of those that ran in the 2013 Boston Marathon. For sure, there was a range of emotion that was experienced by the runners that day as there will be a range for Boston Marathons to come.

The extent of psychological damage is determined by both the situation in which each runner found him/herself when the explosions went off and their own personality factors. How do these runners go forward?

Some have and will experience fear and anxiety, others sorrow and even experience survivor’s guilt; a sense of asking oneself why I was spared harm. There were the runners that had completed the race. Did they remain in the area? Did they say to themselves; “Thank God I was already done.” or “Why not me?” or both.

Was there a sense of pride for finishing or of guilt? There were those that were stopped short of the finish, with less than a half-mile from the finish and many within two miles.

When someone gets that close, they are usually experiencing a deep sense of satisfaction as they know they are going to finish. For those runners, there was likely an initial sense of deep disappointment after being stopped and not being sure why. I expect that some runners resisted being stopped, not knowing what potential danger lie ahead.

Of course, there were those that were at the point in the course in which they were physically impacted or visually witnessed the scene. This is the group that is likely to need the most formal therapy. Only they know what remains in their psyche as they try and process and work through the images that are etched in their mind.

Runners who have been deeply impacted by this event have to be honest and not be afraid to reach out for help and support. There will be many that need formal therapy and there is no shame in that. The shame would be to deny oneself the opportunity to heal. These runners should not isolate, but rather join with others to remain part of a supportive community. Do not suppress the feelings that have been generated by this event. Sharing is an incredible step in healing.

There will be some that will never be able to shake this event and will not return to the marathon or Boylston Street again. At the same time, there will be many that will return with a focus. A focus to remind the attackers, the victims, themselves, and the rest of the world that this is their race. It belongs to the city of Boston and the running community and no one is going to take that away. That they will pick each other up and remain strong, supportive and resilient.

The Boston Marathon requires the majority of runners to qualify for it, which increases the prestige and special nature of the event. There is an atmosphere from the start at Hopkington throughout the rise of the hills and heading down the homestretch that has felt more special than any other marathon I have experienced.

Whether you are purely a recreational runner or fall into the more elite category, runners are generally a supportive group that can experience pride together. Running a marathon is like being part of a community. Strangers volunteer their time and stand on their feet for hours handing out water and sports drinks as they accidentally get splashed. Spectators line the street to cheer. Runners encourage each other with support and sportsmanship. The Boston Marathon community shows as much enthusiasm for the event as any other.

The question has been asked: Should runners from the 2013 Boston Marathon be granted the opportunity to compete again, without having to qualify? I strongly believe that the Boston Athletic Association should allow any racer, especially those that did not finish, a one-time guarantee that they can compete in the future, be it next year or in a following year. It should be the runner’s choice to decide if running will be therapeutic.

When asked if I will run it again. It took me no time to respond that I would be tremendously honored to run it again and run it strong with my head held high and a look of pride. I have signed up for a future marathon with the goal to get myself back into marathon shape. If all goes well, maybe I will qualify for the prestigious Boston Marathon again.

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