Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 5 Jun 2001 08:48:42 -0400

Honoring Endurance


Running a marathon is too big an effort to keep to ourselves. Individually we often dedicate our race to someone important to us, then thoughts of that someone help keep us moving when the miles grow long.

A marathon inaugurated on Sunday took this spirit of sharing to a new high. The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon commemorated a single event, and everyone ran to honor the same 168 people.

That number died on April 19, 1995, in the worst terrorist act in U.S. history. Hundreds more were injured in the bombing, and uncounted thousands were scarred by it.

Ground zero of that blast was the Murrah Federal Building. Now resting in its former footprint is the Oklahoma City National Memorial, which is all the more moving for its simplicity.

A reflecting pool replaced the street that once passed in front of the building. The Memorial's centerpiece is a set of 168 empty chairs.

This spot was dedicated a year ago, on the fifth anniversary of the tragedy. Soon afterward a pair of local runners, Thomas Hill and Chet Collier, began planning the marathon that would begin in the sixth post-tragedy April. They brought in Dot Hensley as race director.

"From the beginning," they wrote in the race program, "our vision was to honor the dead and to join hands with the living in striving for a better, healthier and safer future."

The noblest of sentiments. But the hard, practical reality was that the organizers had less than a year to pull together a marathon and to make it a worthy tribute.

The event touched the spirit of sharing in runners. More than 4000 of them -- about equally divided between marathoners and two-person or four-person relay teams -- came to Oklahoma City from 35 states and several countries.

Runners started at the Memorial, near enough to see these words etched into a wall: "We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity."

Oklahoma City has endured -- and continues to endure -- its worst nightmare. An endurance event is a fitting tribute, but the symbolic connection is imperfect.

Thomas Hill said of the marathon, "It's a little painful, but you get over it. The pain fades, and you're left with the joy."

A marathon ends within a few hours. Recovery is much slower, and never to be complete, for the families of victims.

Lining the race course were banners honoring the 168. "When I see the names on the banners," said Chet Collier before running the marathon, "I'll realize the suffering I'm going through is nothing -- nothing -- compared to what the families went through."

Other runners felt the same. Runner's World writer Hal Higdon, in town to speak at the marathon, visited the Memorial after the race.

"As my wife Rose and I left the museum," said Hal, "we walked past the fence where visitors leave mementos. Dozens of runners had left behind their race numbers." Hal had earlier left his own tribute.

The enduring of the April 1995 tragedy goes on in Oklahoma City. But so does the healing, in part through events like the Memorial Marathon.

Carla Naylor completed her first marathon on Sunday. She ran it in honor of her daughter, Madison.

She was a baby the day of the blast, housed in a nearby day-care center that was badly damaged. Madison survived with minor injuries and, fortunately, with no memory of that day. Now six years old, she ran across the marathon finish line holding her mother's hand.

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