The race will be secondary Monday for the first time in the history of the Boston Marathon. Close to 40,000 runners, including more than 600 from Minnesota, will represent a show of strength as the healing from last year's terrorism continues.
Choose a runner: four athletes tell their stories
Stories by Bob Timmons, Star Tribune
The world’s most revered marathon will run Monday from the idyllic New England village of Hopkinton to the heart of downtown Boston, just as it does every April.
This time, the spirit of the race also will run through Minnesota.
A wave of 615 runners from across the state will line up for the start of Monday’s Boston Marathon, uniting with a half-million spectators and runners in a massive display of pride and support for an event still recovering from the searing wounds of deadly bomb blasts at the finish line last April.
Of those Minnesota marathoners, 212 are back in Boston to reclaim their race, one year after they were witness to chaos and carnage of the terrorist attack, the first on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001. They are back to finish what they started. They are back with raw emotions, insulted to this day that their beloved tradition has been tarnished. They are back to honor a city that had to mourn three deaths and 260 injuries, many of them serious, from the blasts.
“The running community will support and will come back bigger and stronger than ever in defiance of what happened and in tribute and support for the victims,” said Jim Driscoll of Medina, who finished his 26th consecutive Boston before the bombs went off. “I have no doubt about it. That is the Number 1 reason for that race to be run.”
From Warroad to Austin, from Fergus Falls to Stillwater, the 615 Minnesotans are part of a field of 37,000-plus participants, second-most in Boston history to the marathon’s 100th anniversary race of 38,000 in 1996.
“Take all of the previous years and then take last year ... to be in that race this year, it’ll be one of the most memorable races of all time,” said Dick Beardsley, perhaps Minnesota’s most famous marathoner. Beardsley, who came within two seconds of winning Boston in 1982, will be there in spirit on Monday. “It’s going to be a sporting event like the world has never seen.”
In the aftermath of the attack, Bostonians rallied. Their compassion and resolve cast light into the dark days that followed the pressure-cooker bombs and the manhunt for the suspects. That display of “Boston Strong” was a counterforce. It instilled hope, too, that the city’s venerable race would endure.
Minnesotans responded with urgency. Twin Cities in Motion, which puts on a series of running events including the Twin Cities Marathon, saw a spike in registrations and volunteers for local races, said Executive Director Virginia Brophy Achman. The organization dedicated its Medtronic TC 1 Mile race last May to Boston, donating $10,000 to the One Fund, which provides aid to bombing victims.
Driscoll said last May’s 1 Mile was a tonic. Boston marathoners were encouraged to wear the race colors, the blue and yellow.
“To lace up the shoes, to put the Boston gear back on two weeks after the race, it was very emotional.”
Minnesota will have the 16th-most participants among states.
Some of the 212 returnees are among the 5,633 who were unable to finish last year when Boston police barricaded the finish area. All of those runners were invited back by the Boston Athletic Association this year, no qualifying needed.
About a mile from completion, first-timer Mike Johnson’s run ended with confusion and sirens instead of finish-line flags and cheers.
“It was surreal,” said Johnson, 47, of Stillwater. “I was caught up in the emotion of the people that were around me and dealing with the unknown. … A person nearby was hysterical. Just to be around someone like that just hits the heart. I wasn’t full of fear, but I was full of emotion.”
Johnson will be back Monday, motivated to finish on his terms. Even those who crossed the 2013 finish line have felt a calling to run Boston again.
Tim Snell, 35, of Minnetonka said his urge to return swelled in the hours after the attacks, even though he was well-removed from the horrors at the finish.
The third-fastest Minnesotan to cross (2 hours, 36 minutes), Snell and his wife, Ashley, decided to stick to their vacation plans — four more days in the city. Boston’s response in the following days calmed him. “They understood life goes on. We can’t be paralyzed by this,” Snell said. “It was great to see, and made me feel like in time we’d be able to move on.”
Dan Foster, 49, of Edina, had been done for about 40 minutes and was having lunch several blocks away with his wife and two boys when the bombs blew. Today, the “what-ifs” linger. What if his wife, Julie, and their boys had stayed longer at their viewing spot, near the second bomb blast? What if the bombings continue to haunt their youngest son, Jake, who struggled with what he watched unfolding blocks away?
“The kids had a lot of questions, as far as the reality of what happened. ‘Why?’ ” Foster said. “They had questions about the safety of the hotel, the airplanes.”
The weight of events hit Jake, then 12, when he returned to school. Teachers were emotional and embraced him. His son’s reaction was, “This was a big thing. This is scary,” Foster said.
Foster will have his family support on Monday — from home. “I think they are OK mentally with me going,” he said. “They’ll be in good shape.”
This year’s field includes Minnesotans new to the race who are equally determined to help start a fresh chapter in Boston. Having qualified last June at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Jennifer Flavin, 28, of Minnetonka, is headed to Boston full-speed ahead. The resilient reaction in Boston she saw from afar deepened her desire to run, “to celebrate life and the opportunity that we get to go [to Boston],” she said. “I am not scared at all. Not intimidated.”
The runners’ ethos will be on full display Monday: swirling sentiments of pride, determination and commitment to a way of life.
Cindra Kamphoff, 38, will be there — one of the returnees — and particularly attuned to what it means to be part of this year’s marathon.
Kamphoff, who has a Ph.D. in sports and exercise psychology and teaches at Minnesota State University, Mankato, has been studying a handful of Boston 2013 runners.
She has connected with people who have bounced back, and with some who are clearly still suffering and battling post-traumatic stress symptoms.
There are those who are still upset and have trepidation about returning to Boston.
“What I tell people is, everybody deals with it differently and had a different experience at the race,” she said. “I felt it took me a good three weeks to feel good again.”
Kamphoff had finished the race and was back in her hotel room when the explosions hit a couple blocks away.
“I didn’t know about the bombs, I didn’t want to go there in my mind,” said Kamphoff, who would watch the mayhem unfold from her hotel window.
Bursts of information through TV and social media added stress and confusion. “I kept thinking of the best-case scenario instead of the worst-case scenario.”
Now, more than a year later, Kamphoff said the marathoners’ mind-set makes them ideally suited to handle the emotions. “They’re achievers. They like structure. They follow through. They are dedicated people.”
This year’s race has challenges other than emotional ones. There are new security measures for runners and spectators.
No bags are allowed in certain areas near the start and finish, and runners’ “drop bags” have to be marathon-official: clear, so gear is visible.
Kamphoff said runners are prepared for this new reality. The race has changed, and they will, too. “I think it gives you another example of how we have to be adaptable. It’s not something we can change, so we have to figure out how to deal with it.
“Who but runners can do that? Why would we put ourselves through that? I say, bring it on. That is the mentality of runners. We run through discomfort, we run through a winter that is harsh, hard to train through. It just shows we can’t be stopped.”