The concept of choice is one that is fraught with all manner of pressures, both internal and external.
In my line of work, choice is something that we often give people. In my humble opinion, it's often given in a way that is unfair and that restricts their right to (real) choice. Asking: 'do you want to stay home or go to Tim Hortons for coffee?' is not the same as asking 'what would you like to do today?' Asking: 'do you want pizza or pasta for dinner' is not the same as asking 'what do you want for dinner?'.
But I don't want to talk about work today - I want to talk about choice.
Today is Boston marathon day. There are very few things in the running community that compare to today. Runners have trained, sometimes for years, for the opportunity to simply qualify to run Boston. That alone is a feat few of us will ever accomplish. Once qualified, runners begin training for the race. Being a spring marathon means that runners train over the winter. Runners living in cold climates must run 3+ hour runs through the cold, the wind, the snow and the ice. Through is all, they dream of joining the ranks of those who have run before them. When they head home after the marathon, they will be the owners of a blue and yellow Boston medal and they will most likely have a bag of Adidas running clothes that bear the logo and the recognizable colours that signals to other runners that yes, they have run Boston.
This year's race is a little different.
The weather is calling for heat. Thirty degree heat. In April.
Because of the predicted heat, on Saturday, the Boston Athletic Association made an unprecedented announcement. Runners, should they chose, can opt out of racing and defer to 2013. In order to do this, they must pick up their race bib in person (i.e. they can't have already dropped out for injury or other reasons and use the heat as a way to get into Boston next year), they cannot run the race (or part of it) and they must let the BAA know they are deferring.
Can you imagine?
Before the option of deferral, runners had two choices: run the race or not. If they chose not to run, they might never have another chance at Boston.
Now they have two different and (I believe) more difficult choices: run the race or defer.
Some people argue that runners, real runners, should be able to run through anything. It's wimpy to drop out because it's hot. Suck it up princess. Be a man. Run the damn race or move your sorry ass out of the way to let the real runners through.
I argue that it's that kind of thinking that gets runners into trouble.
Running is a hard, uncomfortable sport. Every run we do pushes us into an uncomfortable zone and we have to push back and keep moving forward. We get used to pain, to discomfort, to heat, to cold, to nausea, chafing and all sorts of other things that seem ridiculous to non-runners.
The trick is knowing when it's time to push through and when it's time to back off.
Most of the time, the answer is to push though. But sometimes, the answer is indeed to back off.
Boston would not offer the option of deferral if the weather were calling for high winds, driving rain or snow. Runners run through that stuff and they suck it up. Heat is different. Heat can be deadly.
Most Boston marathoners are elite, hardened athletes. Most of them will run the race today and be fine. There are 5,000+ runners in Boston who are not seasoned marathoners. They got in the race for reasons other than qualifying - they raised money, they were given entry bibs etc. Many people will take 5+ hours to run. Many people have medical conditions. Many people are not conditioned to running in extreme heat in the middle of the day. Many people probably shouldn't run.
Last Friday, if they chose not to run, they had to walk away from their Boston dream. In other words, without the option of deferral, many people would chose to run, whether they should or not, because it might be their only chance.
On Saturday, that changed. Now they could make a decision based on knowing their fitness level and their ability to run a marathon in the heat. And they could decide knowing that there will be another chance to run Boston.
Personally, the thought of training for four months and then not running is heartbreaking. I trained for 3 1/2 months before I was forced to drop out of my marathon - and that broke my heart and nearly broke my spirit along with it. Imagine sitting in a hotel room in Boston yesterday trying to decide if you should run or not? Imagine wondering if running a marathon is worth the risk to your heart? To your body? Imagine going home and having to tell everyone you decided not to run after all? Imagine having to train all over again next year?
Most of the 25,000+ runners will be out there today despite the heat - and I will watch with respect and awe.
A few runners will have made a conscious choice not to run - and part of me will respect them even more than I respect the runners who are running. They chose their health over a race, the race of all races. They chose for themselves despite the little voice in their head saying 'suck it up it's Boston'.
To all Boston runners - those who are running and those who are not. You are all heroes today.