Sunday, April 21, 2013

Be Vigilant, Not Fearful

Be vigilant, but don't live in fear. One of the questions that the press was asking as soon as the events took place in Boston was about the implication for other events. My answer: None! We pay attention to what's going on around us. We have great first responders trained to deal with emergency situations. But we're not going to let a couple of young punks change our lives.

Like in Boston, Americans come together at times like these. We won't live our lives in fear, and we'll continue to work toward our goals. There is more good than evil in this world. The people of Boston proved that on Monday by pouring out their hearts and homes to the guests in their city. Now, runners across the nation are proving it as we run events to help with the recovery in Boston. Bostonians, Americans, Runners! Great people!

Lots of runners who qualified at the marathon here in Grand Rapids will be in Boston again next year. Many more will qualify here this year. 

I'll see you at the finish line in October.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston Marathon 2013

This recap I wrote on Tuesday on the way home was published as a guest column on the M-Live site (Grand Rapids Press)

Don Kern is the director of the Grand Rapids Marathon, and has run the 26.2-mile races in all 50 states -- plus Washington D.C. -- twice. He is sharing his experiences at Monday’s Boston Marathon

By Don Kern
Monday afternoon, I stood at the 26 mile mark of the Boston Marathon, and with great pride watched as Francine Robinson ran by me on her way to a sub-4 hour, personal best Boston Marathon.

I ran down the sidewalk toward the finish, then walked, then was stopped by the wall of spectators. I cut through a store and out the other side, and as I walked around the block to get past where the finish line was on Boylston Street the text message came over my phone telling that she had finished in 3:59:23.

I was proud, excited.

Seconds later a loud explosion happened. I thought maybe it was a construction site or something, then a few seconds later a second explosion happened.

A Boston cop hurried by and was on his radio. "Two bombs by the finish line" is all I heard him say.

I was on the phone, trying to locate Francine, she didn't answer. She had just finished within a minute or two of the blast. I left a message, sent a text, and tried to find my way around the block.

Immediately, cell phones were in action everywhere, and getting calls in and out was next to impossible. TJ Suchocki managed to reach me and became my relay person for messages and information.

After repeated attempts at text and calls, Francine and I reached each other at the family reunion area.

The City of Boston reacted in the most remarkable fashion on Monday. As soon as the blasts went off everyone took action.

Runners who were stopped before turning onto Boylston were immediately met by Bostonians pouring out of their houses, offering help, drinks, their houses and their bathrooms to confused sweaty-and-getting-cold runners. Boston police, FBI, National Guard, and what seemed like every ambulance in New England were on the scene immediately. Businesses that were open welcomed displaced runners and spectators in out of the cold.

Our rental car was stuck under the Prudential Center, which was part of the locked down portion of the city. As we walked around a few blocks looking for a place to get in out of the cold a young black girl saw Francine's medal and said, "God bless you, I'm glad you're safe," as we passed each other on the street.

We found refuge at the Cheesecake Factory and stayed for quite a while, eating and drinking and hanging out with other runners. Everyone was on Facebook and checking up on each other via text messages. Phone service was spotty, with all the bandwidth jammed, but the occasional call we could get out was relayed to family and friends.

People pull together in the face of these events.

Our friends Carol Neckel and Nancy Wooley invited us to spend the night with them at their hotel. On the way there, a woman who was helping us with directions saw that Francine looked cold and offered to give her the sweater she was wearing.

Farther down the street a group of guys saw us walking and stopped us just to make sure that we were OK and that we didn't need anything.

The event was tragic, yes. But it is times like these that remind us that there's more good in the world than bad, and that Americans will come together when we're met with adversity.

The Boston Marathon on Monday was filled with tears of joy and with tears of sorrow. With confusion, with resolve, with strength.

One of my favorite quotes of the day: If you're trying to defeat the human spirit, marathon runners are the wrong group to target.

Thank you to all my friends and family who have expressed their love and concern. I treasure you all.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Pilgrimage to Mecca

At least once in his or her lifetime, each Muslim is expected to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca, the sacred city of Islam.
On my "Life List," there's an item that reads, "Make a pilgrimage to Mecca." No, I haven't converted to Islam or anything like that. But I am a marathon runner. In my world, I'm in Mecca right now.
Which is known in these parts as....
It's the annual pilgrimage that happens every April by marathon runners from all over the world. It's a Patriot's Day celebration of our sport.
Many thousands have purified themselves through much sweat and physical training. Many have trained their bodies hard just to get here. Others have sacrificed and raised funds to help others by finding cures for diseases and other physical problems.
Tomorrow morning, they'll take part in the annual ritual. The 26.2-mile journey from Hopkinton to Boston.
I'm not running tomorrow -- but I have enjoyed the race before. In 1996, for the 100th running, I was picked in the special lottery held to select runners for the "open division." Even as a fairly new runner, the magic of the event didn't escape me.
There's a respect here. A love of the sport unlike anywhere else. It's special. Can't wait for the starting gun.