One thing that I had not appreciated about the Boston Marathon until I attended the expo before the race was the prevalence of the unicorn as a symbol of the race. The Boston Marathon jackets have a unicorn symbol on them. The medals have a unicorn symbol on them. The ring that I purchased has a unicorn symbol on it. I see the unicorn as a symbol so much that I am quite certain that I must have received other material from the Boston Athletic Association earlier that had the unicorn symbol on it that I had simply not noticed. Or it did not make enough of an impression on me to really focus on the question—what is the meaning of the unicorn?
I still cannot say exactly what the meaning of the unicorn is. I don’t think I ever found what might be considered an “official” answer. But I did see a number of interpretations while I searched online. I forget whether we were at the expo when I searched or at the dinner for athletes or on the subway back to the hotel for Sunday night. But the “when” really doesn’t matter. The explanation that appealed most to me and that I remember the most is hat matters in this case. That explanation was that it symbolized the unattainable.
No one—that we know of—has ever seen a unicorn.
Think about the first marathon—legend has it that the guy who ran the distance died right away. So, we could sort of say he achieved it but not really. Or at least not with a value that he was able to extend beyond the run itself.
Think about the number of people who actually run marathons and who even are able to run marathons. Many people I know simply say, “I could never run that far.” I tell people that if they really were interested and really set their minds to it, they may surprise themselves. Depending on a person’s philosophy of running, it is possible to believe that the human body evolved to run long distances at a relatively slow pace. For some of us the pace is much slower than others, but the key is that our bodies do seem well suited for sustained cardiovascular activity.
Even among the people who think they cannot or truly cannot run a marathon distance, there are some who never will be able to qualify for Boston. The ties that one needs to qualify are not incredibly fast—compared with the best in the world. But the standard is high. The standard is high to make it a challenge. Many will never be able to meet the challenge of running the distance at a certain time even if they can run the distance. This makes the Boston Marathon like the unicorn—just beyond the reach of so many.
Even those who qualify to run it may never meet the goals they set for themselves at the race. I have one friend who was on his third try. On his first two tries he was unable to complete without walking despite having a personal best time that is far superior to mine. He achieved his goal of making it through Boston without any walking on his third try. He reached it but it had remained just beyond his reach for quite some time. I made one goal—no walking, although I did not think that walking was very likely—but missed my PR by 91 seconds and missed running the 3:10 I was at least wishing for by almost 6 minutes. I have not let the non-attainment of that goal haunt me in any way, but it does demonstrate once again the challenge of the course itself and keeping goals just beyond the reach of the runners who participate.
Now, as I commented in the last entry about where I would actually find my finish line, I find that other things are not attainable. Or have remained just beyond my reach. Who would have predicted that there would be two men who took actions that made even reaching the finish line an unattainable outcome for so many. An unattainability that would never have been predicted. One that I am sure frustrated runners who were affected by this type of unattainability. A reflection of the anguish that those who have searched for unicorns or sought otherwise unattainable goals have felt over time. At least my goal setting is under my control. And my choice of what to seek, how hard to push, how to balance my pushing versus other life priorities, has been under my own control. The decision to run again—mine. The decision to race and not just run for exercise—mine. The decision to race much longer distances that I ever imagined in high school—mine. The decision on what to run in the next one year, five years, or ten years—mine.
For those who were permanently injured and must live with amputations or other injuries from which they will never fully be made whole—there may be things that will not be attained or that become much more challenging to attain. Many more unicorns in their lives. And this is a use of unicorn that does not reflect their beauty and purity but that reflects the fact that they remain just beyond reach.
For the runners who did not finish and may never have the resources to return—a unicorn added to their life.
I doubt the attackers would have thought about creating unicorns. But there are undoubtedly many more unattainable goals now than before this year’s Boston Marathon.
And yet, many have been inspired. To set new goals—attainable or not—to qualify, to run the race, and to finish. All the things that remain just out of reach for so many have not become things that many will seek and some will find. And for some, just having the opportunity to seek will be enough.
I have sought through these entries to come to a place of stability. A place of peace. A place at which I feel like I have reached a point where I can let go except for when others bring it up. And when others bring it up I do not have an immediate, visceral, and all-encompassing reaction. I believe I am most of the way there.
As I noted in my entry about the finish line, a final finish line for the race experience may be something that is unattainable—so my unicorn. But I think that I am at a point of believing that the unicorn is just around the bend in the next cave. Or hiding in the next part of the woods I am exploring. Or will be spotted on the next open grassy knoll.
It is time to move on with my goal mostly achieved. The writing has helped. The friends I have have helped. My family’s patience has helped. And it is time to move beyond Boylston Street. To live out my mile 27. And if there are to be unicorns to seek—to seek other unicorns and leave this one as part of my past.
© 2013, Kevin D. Frick