"They have messed with the wrong family," decreed one Twitter user just minutes after the news of the Boston Marathon bombings broke. "I feel like they have attacked my family," said another. For non-runners such talk coming from across the globe may appear hyperbole. Family is quite a strong statement, but for runners it's true.
As a marathon runner I know this all too well. On Twitter there is a huge running community, providing positive support and encouragement in your training and nothing but warmth for your achievements. The common currency is the sharing of the highs and the lows of running that everyone can relate to whether they are an elite runner or a five-hour marathoners. They are a group of people who enjoy life and love to talk about running. Last night in the aftermath of the finish line bombings, they were instantly using social media to fight back against whoever attacked them.
The first reaction of the online running community was to try and find out if their fellow runners competing in Boston were safe. They may never have met these people in person, but they will know their marathon personal best times, their targets and how their training has gone. Tweets cascaded onto my timeline as soon as rumours of bombings started to appear as fellow runners attempted to track down members of the community and announced their safety.
The next element of the fight back was a practical one for runners; help those who are tired and weary after running for many hours and ensure they can get to a safe, warm and comfortable environment. The community retweeted official advice from the Boston Marathon Organisers and the authorities. They organised for Boston inhabitants to take in runners who were stuck without kit or money, and encouraged others to remove their wifi passwords so that runners could access the Internet via their smartphones after mobile phone networks failed.
The third phase of online activity was to responsibly put a check on the numerous unhelpful rumours on Twitter in the aftermath. This helped act as a filter for what was being said officially, and what was not. They also, in their great numbers, showed defiance to whoever did this with a lot of chatter focused on making Sunday's London Marathon a gathering of runners fighting back against terror. Many talked of not being defeated. In their typical manner, the running community sought to use the awful circumstances to bring people together, with hashtags such as #runnersunited and #prayforboston leading the way.
It's no surprise for me to read reports this morning of many runners completing the marathon and continuing to run to the nearest hospital to donate blood. These are hardy men and women, devoted to accomplishing their goals. It's their positive mind-set and determination, along with an online community second to none, which gives me hope. It's also the reason that I will be able to explain to my young children, who themselves stood on a finish line last Sunday as I completed the Brighton Marathon, that good will always overcome.Suggest a correction