Thursday, May 2, 2013

Triumph and Tragedy in Boston

John Toth provides a runner's perspective on recent events

Inside the LS1 building on campus, across from the Language Arts Division office, we have a glass display case that features news articles and cartoons and public announcements. One of the weekly features is an on-going series, "What I Have Been Reading," which allows a different faculty member each time to share what's on her or his nightstand.

The most recent addition to this series comes from English Department member John Toth, whose response was so thoughtful and poignant, that it merits repeating here.

As many on campus know, John is a very serious runner, and is working on a life goal of running a marathon in all 50 states. That's pretty cool --- I always was happy just to have been able to visit each of the U.S. states, let alone do something that sustained (and healthy).

Many on campus know him, but for those who don't, here's a recent picture.

He was kind enough to let me post his "What I Have Been Reading" essay not just in the display case (where it will be up about a week or so, until the next person rotates into the slot), but here, as well.

The rest of this comes from Mr. Toth:

On my first trip to Boston to run the marathon, I read 26 Miles to Boston by Michael Connelly, which chronicles the history of the marathon as well as author’s personal journey from the start in Hopkinton to the finish line on Boylston Street in Copley Square.  The tragedy during this year’s Boston Marathon brought the work to mind as well as my own experience in 2009 and 2011 and suggested both the elastic and fragile nature of memory.

2009 was an epic fail.  Overcooked the first half and stumbled through the last 13 miles.  I was the lone walker in a river of runners flowing past the Citgo sign, Fenway Park, and other iconic landmarks of the city.  Friends I was supposed to run with were half an hour in front of me crossing the finish line.  Memories of the entire trip are clouded by frustration and shame.

2011 provided redemption:  my fastest marathon time on a course without a significant drop in elevation.  Achieving that kind of success there made the accomplishment even more cherished. Boston is a relatively flat, yet challenging course.  The name Heartbreak Hill suggests the physical and emotional torment that many have encountered after the 20-mile mark. Perhaps even more indicative of my performance is my splits. A successful marathon is measured by even or negative splits--the ability to run the second half at the same pace or faster than the first despite the fatigue. My second half was only one second slower than the first—perhaps the closest I will ever come to reaching perfection.  

Despite my exhaustion, crossing the finish line was pure exhilaration, an unqualified triumph.  I wanted so desperately to capture that moment. I turned around to gaze down Boylston Street and the Boston skyline.  In my euphoric state, I imagined that the skyline would always be a reminder of a hard-fought personal victory.

However, the events of Patriots’ Day this year have caused my memory to take on the character of a palimpsest.  Superimposed on my memory is the image of the same view of Boylston Street that serves as a backdrop to explosions capable of throwing a runner to the ground.  My image of triumph shattered by violence, as the bodies of runners and cheering spectators were torn apart by nails bits and other insidious shrapnel.

My heart goes out to those who lost life and limb and suffered other physical injuries.  However, the psychic damage inflicted on all those involved by this act of terrorism should not be overlooked.   Instead of a day that will be remembered with unbridled joy, fear and horror will define their experience.         

For runners, a day that should be a memory of personal accomplishment will always be tarnished by tragedy.

Los Angeles Times

The Antelope College blog is curated by Charles Hood, English. He can be reached at Professor Toth may be reached at This blog does not reflect the official positions of the Board of Trustees or Antelope Valley College District.

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