If you want to understand the nature of the United States, how we respond to attacks and how unwilling we are to back down from terrorism, look not at this year's Boston Marathon, but to next year's.
I'm willing to bet the 2014 running of the nation's oldest and most-revered 26.2-mile footrace will not just break but smash its own record for the number of Americans who apply for a slot. International runners, too, will clamor to be a part of the next race, which will be held on the next Patriots Day, to celebrate the meaning of freedom and the lives stolen and damaged this week.
Monday, as the carnage unfolded and the news announcers intoned, interspersed with my raging desire to destroy the culprits with my bare hands, was one thought: "---- them, I'm running Boston next year."
I bet a lot of people, from dedicated racers to confirmed couch potatoes, had that feeling. I hope, even given the difficulties involved, we all follow through. I want 100,000 or a million or 10 million people to show up at the starting line, then struggle to the finish line. I want us to show up the haters and killers and prove what dedicated, freedom-loving people can accomplish.
Standing between me and my last (and only) marathon are 31/2 years, 35 pounds and one endless, pesky Marlboro relapse. My running has dwindled from 40 miles per week to, oh . . . 12 miles, by which I mean six miles, or on a bad week three. Or none.
But we should all run Boston next year, because we don't let killers win.
I haven't given up working out over the past few years. I've just substituted weightlifting for 90 percent of my running, which means I've turned my (never smoothly aerodynamic) body into a conveyance so unlimber and bulky that propelling it 26 miles via leg power will be like trying to race a Dumpster with no sail in the America's Cup.
But we should all run Boston next year, because terrorism cannot triumph.
I'm not exactly sure how we're all going to manage it, because when it comes to the Boston Marathon, not just anyone can enter. In general, you have to be really, really fast.
For a 42-year-old man like me, the requirement for a spot in the race this year would have been to run a previous marathon in 3 hours, 15 minutes. To put that in context, I ran the Kiawah Marathon in South Carolina on my 39th birthday in a shambling tear-stained 4:44. With a tailwind.
But Boston makes exceptions. There are special rules for people who run to raise a lot of money for charity and people who buy expensive tickets the race gives to its sponsors.
In most cases, though, being fast is the way in. And thanks to the increasing popularity of the sport, spots have been harder to come by. In 2011, the 20,000 spots for qualifiers were full eight hours after registration began. Changes helped, but this year the race was still oversubscribed.
I've always respected that running Boston means being a quality marathoner. But next year, just this once, the organizers ought to add starting flights for which the qualifying time is suspended. Everyone who wants to should be able to do those 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. I picture cops from every state securing the route, and participants from every walk of life, crossing the finish line.
I imagine hundreds of thousands, even millions, accomplishing this feat, a race that lasts 24 hours or 48 or 72, honoring those attacked Monday and shaming those who would launch such attacks.
We should make a point even violent fools blinded by hatred can understand. We should all run Boston next year.
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.