Defiant Marathoners Reclaim Boston Race Year After Terror

Michelle Kinsella stopped her final Boston Marathon group training run an inch from the Boylston Street finish line three weeks ago and vowed to return.

“We walked to the side of the road,” said Kinsella, a 40-year-old elementary school health education teacher whose home in Milford, Massachusetts, is seven miles (11 kilometers) from the race’s starting line. “We wouldn’t cross it. We’ll cross it on the 21st.’”

Kinsella and 36,000 other runners today will try to cover 26.2 miles from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to the finish line of the 118th Boston Marathon, a year after two bombs exploded at the race’s end point, killing three people and injuring 264. Many runners, including Kinsella, are competing for the first time and with a renewed focus on reclaiming the event’s celebratory atmosphere while remembering the events of 2013 -- along with a small fear of the unknown.

“I run the course all the time, so I’m so familiar with it that there’s a level of comfort for me,” Kinsella said. “But is there a teeny tiny particle of me that has a little bit of nervousness? Enough that I don’t want my children at the finish, yes.”

She will make sure her husband and two boys stay behind and watch runners go past at the course’s 16-mile mark.

With 9,000 additional runners -- thousands unable to finish last year’s race were invited back -- this year’s marathon will be the second largest in its history, eclipsed only by the 38,708 entrants in the 1996 Centennial Boston Marathon.

Former Champions

Defending men’s champion Lelisa Desisa, 24, of Ethiopia and women’s champion Rita Jeptoo, 33, of Kenya will head the field, which also will include former champions including Joan Benoit Samuelson, 56, and Gelindo Bordin, 55, the only man to win the Olympic and Boston marathons. Four-time winner Bill Rodgers, 66, will serve as the race’s grand marshal.

Ryan Hall, 31, who in 2011 ran the fastest marathon by an American at two hours, four minutes, 58 seconds in Boston, is returning to the race for the first time since that performance. He finished fourth in that race.

Beyond the elite runners, who will compete for $1.03 million in prize money and bonuses, the race’s field will consist mostly of recreational runners.

For Val Petre, a 39-year-old mother of three girls from Holland, Michigan, this year’s race will be her second time running in Boston. A year ago, she crossed the finish line and was only able to cherish the moment for about 20 minutes before the explosions.

Somber Scene

Petre and her husband huddled in the lobby of a nearby hotel as stunned runners filled every available space, watched the news and witnessed emergency vehicles swarm the streets.

“It went from a moment of jubilee to the room being somber,” Petre said. “Nobody quite knew what to say. You were just sitting in silence. You’re kind of paralyzed in the moment.”

Last year was Petre’s first Boston Marathon. Her time of 3:29.23 automatically qualified her to run again this year. Like many who ran that day, Petre said the bombings robbed her and thousands of others of the joy that typically comes from the experience.

“There’s a dark, heavy cloud that kind of hangs over the day,” she said. “Normally, runners are out celebrating. There was nobody smiling. There was no laughter. There was just quiet. That’s not normal.”

After the blast, Petre said she struggled with balancing the excitement of her finishing time and re-qualifying to come back this year with the scene that was unfolding around her.

Observation Points

“When you’ve been working for months, you picture that day,” she said. “There’s a little bit of guilt involved. How can I be so joyful, yet there are these people who are struggling with life and death? It will be nice to have the real experience that the day was intended for.”

For this year’s race, more than 100 cameras have been installed along the Boston portion of the route, with 50 observation points set up near the finish line to monitor the crowd. Vehicle traffic was prohibited and parking restricted on many city streets in the days leading to the Marathon, and will be on race day.

The bombs, packed with black powder, nails, bolts and BBs, killed Martin Richard, 8, of Dorchester; Boston University graduate student Lu Lingzi, 23; and Krystle Campbell, 29, a waitress from Medford. More than a dozen of those injured in the attacks lost limbs.

Citywide Lockdown

The explosions led to a citywide lockdown amid the hunt for two brothers thought to be responsible for the blasts. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is being held at a federal medical prison in central Massachusetts, awaiting a November trial. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty if he’s convicted. His older brother, Tamerlan, died in a shootout after the pair allegedly killed Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus officer Sean Collier, 26, in Cambridge and were chased down by police in nearby Watertown.

With the bombings still on the minds of runners a year later, some are taking a more defiant approach to the day.

Joe Turcotte, a 55-year-old Colorado Springs, Colorado, resident, grew up in Marlboro, Massachusetts, and qualified to run in Boston this year for the first time after 30 years of trying. He said he has no safety concerns.

“It’s kind of like a personal affront to your home town,” Turcotte said. “I want to go back and kind of flip off the terrorists. I’m going to go and have a good time. It’s going to be an amazing experience.”

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