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After attack, runners must go on

An unidentified BostMarathrunner leaves course crying near Copley Square following one explosions Monday. | AP Photo/Winslow Townson

An unidentified Boston Marathon runner leaves the course crying near Copley Square following one of the explosions on Monday. | AP Photo/Winslow Townson

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Updated: May 17, 2013 6:36AM

The finish line of a marathon is supposed to be where the pain finally mixes with the pleasure. Your weeks and months of hard labor and the near-torture of completing 26.2 miles almost — almost — melt away when you cross that painted stripe and can finally start walking without guilt.

There is, in many ways, no better experience in the world. And now that experience will never be the same.

Before Monday, the beauty of a marathon finish had layer upon layer. In places like Boston and Chicago and New York, the top layer is that this is the one world-class athletic field open to the masses — a weekend warrior can compete on the same playing surface as the most elite competitors on the planet. If you put in the training and the effort, you can cross that same finish line as runners such as Haile Gebrselassie and Paula Radcliffe, even if you are two hours behind them.

Then there have been the additional layers, most of them provided by the community of runners and the people who support them. When you run the Chicago Marathon, you are literally cheered every step of the way by people you never met. When you stagger down Columbus Drive, your goal in sight, you’re treated to the kind of applause that Joe DiMaggio heard every working day of his life

After you finish in Chicago, you shuffle slowly through a gauntlet of congratulations. You get a Mylar blanket, a banana and a precious finisher’s medal. You continue to shuffle to Buckingham Fountain to meet up with family, friends and friends and family of friends.

I’ve finished two marathons with no one to greet me but strangers. It was nice. I finished two others with my wife and children and siblings and nieces to greet me. It was wonderful.

I can’t imagine what will become of that experience after Monday in Boston. Whoever did this did what all terrorists do — striking at a place where we’re most vulnerable. We will no doubt respond by taking away that vulnerability, and that means a festival will become an armed camp.

Barricades will replace a hallway of happy faces, urging you toward the finish. Controlled spaces heavy with gun-toting personnel will replace the welcome arms of the people who truly got you through the race.

Everyone should be sad and angry after Monday, but the runners’ community should be more sad and more angry. And there is one way we can fight those feelings:

Line up and race. Take back the finisher’s tape, again and again and again.

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