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The power of the human spirit in a marathon is greater than a bomb

Posted on 16 April 2013 | 1:04pm

To anyone who knows anyone killed or injured in the Boston Marathon explosions, the headline may seem harsh, but I really believe it.

The last stretch tends to be the most emotional. In 2003 BBC commentator Brendan Foster had texted me to say the cameras were going to pick me out on the last half mile of the London marathon – yes, I run with a phone – so I forced myself to shed a few tears a mile or two short of that. Like many marathon runners, I was doing it for a cause, Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, and in memory of a person, my best friend John Merritt.

In addition to all the emotion wrapped up in all the causes and memories being supported and recalled, marathon runners have all had to train for hours and hours, often alone. Most have endured moments of pain en route. Many have hit the wall, felt they could go on no longer, but somehow found the strength and resilience needed to keep going. And by the end the crowds are sharing in the sense of exuberance and achievement. So that last stretch of road is a very exciting, unified, happy place to be. Which makes it a very good place to disrupt with the view to terrorising the runners, the crowds and most of all the wider public and politicians. 

Before the 2003 London marathon, I was fully briefed on the security operation, because it came with Iraq as the dominant issue of the time. One or two people suggested I pull out. But the Met assured me they had everything under control. I ran with one of Tony Blair’s protection officers, but left him after a few miles, feeling the thrill of beating a fit copper was greater than any concern about security! You do think of things like terrorism when running, at least I did,  and you are conscious of what an attractive target these mass participation events would make. But there is something even more powerful than a bomb in a huge crowd of runners, and that is the power of the human spirit.

Terrorism, whether we like it or not, does make us think and act differently. I am writing this at Heathrow, where the security measures are a direct response first to Irish and now Al-Qaeda and other global terrorist organisations  There will be runners entered for the London marathon on Sunday perhaps having second thoughts. They shouldn’t. Those who do run will doubtless, amid the myriad weird and wonderful thoughts that flood into the mind as the 26.2 miles are ground out step by step, have the odd ‘what if?’ ponder about a bomb lurking nearby. All of which will add to the emotion at the end this time. None of which should stop them taking part, assured it will be one of the greatest feelings of their lives when they cross that finishing line.

  • Anonymous

    Whatever politics they claim terrorists all have the mentality of fascists. They all think of the rest of us as simply the means to their ends – “forward over the dead bodies” is essentially their slogan to the rest of us whom they see as merely “little people”.

    The traditional anti facist response is thus always apposite – “They shall not pass”.

  • Liz Broomfield

    Thank you for posting this.

  • You are such a hypocrite Campbell. I have never heard you once make mention of all the Iraqis and Afghanistan’s whose woman and children were killed by a myriad of bombs and bullets during the wars your country waged against them. Or don’t they count? Are they just collateral damage? No wonder you are an atheist. You cannot handle faith in something beyond yourself other than sport.
    Des Currie

  • Michele

    Brrrrrrrr it’s suddenly gone cold as hell.
    Why do your posts always remind me of Hazel Motes? Don’t tell me, you don’t know :-s

  • Anonymous

    Strange things have been going on – this Texas fertiliser factory explosion, also a fire that they blame on an electrical fault in the JFK library on the same day as the Boston bombings. Copper detectives know when to spot things that are too coincidental to send them on the right way in gathering evidence. Something strange is going on, but we won’t officially hear about it until later.

    And I think the Boston bombings got into the minds of everyone in the UK, hence the gladly muted protests at and after the funeral, I think.

  • Hell is cold?
    Des Currie

    • Ehtch

      Irony Des, irony. You’re not a yank, are you Des, perchance?

  • Anonymous

    Good grief Michele – long time no see, how you doing? All’s well?

  • Anonymous

    Don’t know what the younger brother was up to, he was an average dope smoking Islamic nineteen year old skaterboy before this – maybe his elder brother didn’t mention bombs, maybe told him it was smoke bombs for a laugh or something. The younger brother is well out of the usual profile. Very strange – and as I said, hope we hear the true story, from him, at least.

    Also heard his younger brother ran him over in the initial shootout or something, so something could be read in that.

  • Anonymous

    The point people who argue as you do never acknowledge is that Sadaam had already caused huge suffering of his own and other peoples. Had he been left to get on with it (which I take it is your suggestion) he would probably have continued to do so. Not only that but his continued defiance of UN resolutions would have emboldened others to do so. While no WMDs have been found is there really any doubt that as sanctions became gradually less effective he would have been able to acquire the weapons that on past performance he clearly craved.

    At this point of the argument people generally change tack and say something like “the Iraqis should have been allowed to bring down the regime themselves”. The suggestion is that this would have been a less bloody. Well 70,000 (and rising – even today) Syrians would suggest otherwise.

    My main point is that what the opponents of the Iraq war never do is ask themselves the counterfactual. They just blithely assume nothing could have been worse than the war (perhaps I should say the war that happened) and go on to curse the politicians who were faced with the difficult decisions.

  • Anonymous

    Conspiratorialists wiil always find something “strange” to feed their fantasies.- though I suspect that the idea that the Boston bombings were done to quieten protests at the Thatcher funeral would challenge even the most dyed in the wool conspiratorialist (and if you didn’t mean that then what the hell did you mean?).

    Nothing new here – move along!

  • Anonymous

    Yes, agreed, ref, funeral. That thought did run through my mind too. I love conspiracy theories, get’s the mind going in the World of alternate history, as per, connected to the 1970s World Cup Finals, of all things – “What if Gordon Banks had Played?”

  • If you base actions on a lie the lie doesn’t become truth after a while. That is the rub.
    Des Cuurie

  • For me, truth is what a I require. And if you believe the the truth that Blair and his co-conspirators were telling you in the run up to the war an Iraq, you are one of the fooled. And according to your logic i curse the politicians who were faced with hard decisions? Not at all. I curse those who lied to me.
    Des Currie

  • Michele

    Whether it’s the vile bits of religion or the adjectival use of any word at all you really should avoid taking things too literally


    Hi Eitch, yes, back for a while but away again in a couple of weeks 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Where you off to, anywhere interesting?

    My daughter is still in Oz – thought she wouldn’t want to come back after she tasted it – now she needs to find a partner if she wants to stay there, if she hasn’t already,