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Christine Skopec/MEDILL

Exhausted after 26.2 miles, I'm happy to meet up with my family.


Boston, runners embrace marathon a year after tragedy

by Christine Skopec
Apr 22, 2014


MARATHON02

Christine Skopec/MEDILL

After rounding the turn by the fire station, runners head towards the finish line at the 118th Boston Marathon.

I ran my first Boston on Monday with 36,000 other runners and more than a million spectators one year after the bombings that shocked the country. Rather than sorrow or fear, I found a close-knit community that was still healing but ready to move forward.

Runners from around the world gathered for the emotionally charged marathon and I feel fortunate to have been a part of a race that means so much to runners and non-runners alike as we remembered those who lost their lives last year.

I will never forget it or the spectacular people I met along the way - the two men who showed me the correct way to eat a banana by peeling it from the bottom, the girl from San Francisco who was delighted to discover we were the exact same height and the mom I met on the elevator of my hotel who was thrilled to have qualified for the first time.

Volunteers were happy to help in any way they could. They guided those of us who seemed to be perpetually lost and offered advice from past marathon experiences. They made me and every participant feel important instead of simply handing out packets or tickets. They struck up conversations with all of us and formed relationships, if only for a few moments. Many had family and friends competing and some are former marathoners themselves.

“It’s just a way of giving back for all the years I got to do it,” said Karen Smith-Rohrberg, a nurse practitioner from Falmouth, Mass., who ran her first Boston Marathon in 1978.

Despite heightened security and additional police units, Smith-Rohrberg said the biggest difference she noticed had nothing to do with security, but the level of interest in the race.

Many people felt a connection to the race because they have run it before or have loved ones who do, but few are able to appreciate just how shocking last year’s attacks were to the Boston community. Emergency responders acted heroically, risking their safety to ensure others received the help they needed.

“It was a pretty gruesome sight down there,” said Joe Montoya, a firefighter with Engine 33, just blocks down Boylston Street where the bombs detonated.

Although it would have been easy to get caught up in the tragedy of last year, most everyone I encountered expressed renewed excitement. Veterans were happy to return once again and first-timers were delighted to be welcomed into the exclusive group of those who qualified for the race.

Boston is a race. American Meb Keflezighi, 38, won this year, but the sense of camaraderie far outweighed the sense of competition. Impressive numbers of police officers, security dogs and bag checks made security a distinctive presence, but none of it seemed intrusive or unnecessary. Friendly officers were genuinely concerned about safety. Waiting in the athlete’s village, the gathering area at the start line, police kept watch from rooftops. I felt protected.

I had a great race because I ran well. My official time was 3:29:31, which averages 7:59 minutes per mile. But there were so many other reasons it was great. I met fantastic people and became part of a wonderful community. Families served homemade lemonade and elderly couples offered wet paper towels for us to wipe off our Gatorade-soaked hands.

 

Some jokesters even offered free beer and cigarettes to all the participants and I saw more than a couple of runners chug down a plastic cup of beer. My personal favorite was the little girl waving a flag above her head who yelled “you can do it because each of you is special in your own way.”

My sister Hannah and a friend kept track of my progress by entering my bib number 15,864 on a website.

I met a fellow runner, his legs hitched up on a table, as I returned to my hotel. It was Jeff Chase's first Boston Marathon as well.

The race had been “tough and awesome at the same time,” said Chase, a corporate controller from Dallas, Texas. He talked about the enthusiastic crowd was and how incredible it had been to see so many inspirational people.

For non-runners, the draw of Boston is harder to grasp. Most people don’t really understand why exactly it’s so special. It’s just a race, after all.

“It’s the super bowl of marathons,” Chase said. I can’t think of a better way to put it.

The trial for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the only living bombing suspect, is set for late this year.

If convicted, “I think he should be put to death. I have no sympathy for him,” said a stony-faced Montoya.

The devastation of last year left many worrying about the future of the race. If Monday was any indication, Boston is not only back, but it’s better than ever.