Anniversaries of tragedies always conjure up conflicting emotions. Just as the painful memories finally start to recede, the details of the event are carefully re-examined, forcing those involved in the misfortune to once again confront the horrors of that day.
Such is the case with this year’s Boston Marathon, which should be a triumphant time for the 25,000 or so runners competing in the world’s oldest annual marathon. However, the pall of last year’s terrorist acts, which killed three people and injured 264 more, still lingers over the participants. The one-year anniversary of last year’s race is Tuesday, with the 2014 version of the race scheduled for April 21.
“I recently spoke with one of the runners from last year’s race and she said she couldn’t face going back,” said Garry Payten, a San Francisco resident who ran his first Boston Marathon last year. “I think it’s really going to hit us hard when we get back out there.”
Payten is one of about 20 racers from the San Francisco Road Runners Club who will participate in this year’s Boston Marathon. While some of those runners acknowledged their doubts about the race — ranging from security concerns to new restrictions at the start of the event — an overwhelming sense of solidarity has compelled them to return to Boston.
“I wouldn’t call it defiance,” said Elizabeth Pederson, who completed last year’s marathon just a few minutes before brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev allegedly set off a series of pipe bombs near the finish line of the race. “But I think we want to show them that they can’t take this race away from us.”
Some are returning to the marathon after lengthy hiatuses, while others are racing despite initially believing they wouldn’t return to Boston. They are competing under the belief that the unthinkable will not happen again.
“I’m 99 percent sure that everything will be fine,” said Bud Napolio, a San Francisco resident who last competed in the Boston Marathon in 1985. “There will always be a tiny seed of doubt in your mind because of what happened last year, but I’m very confident in the security precautions the race organizers have undertaken to make this a safe event.”
Those new precautions include a rule that clothing bags will not be transported from the beginning of the race in Hopkinton, Mass., to the finish line in Boston, as has been the case in years past. That will require the competitors to choose their gear with more scrutiny — adding another challenging element to a 26.2-mile race that is already grueling.
For Erin Bank, there wasn’t even a debate about whether to return this year.
Bank was forced to walk the last few miles of last year’s race due to an injury, and was sharing her frustration with friends at a nearby hotel bar when they first learned of the explosions. It was the San Francisco resident’s third marathon in Boston and 13th overall, but having to walk to the finish is a tough pill to swallow for any avid runner.
Her anger quickly shifted from her injury toward the culprits of the violence, and to concern for anyone who may have been in harm’s way. Getting back on the course this year is the runners’ way of saying they won’t let someone who tries to stand in their way succeed, she said.
“When runners get mad about something, they run, and to be able to run this race in memory of the people who lost their lives and in memory of the tragedy that we all experienced, for me, it wasn’t even a question,” said Bank, who works as a research development specialist at UC San Francisco.
Several members of Bank’s local all-women’s running group, Impala Racing Team, plan to join her in Boston, including Jo Anne Rowland, who was in sight of the finish line as the bombs went off. After the second blast hit, a shaken Rowland darted for the finish, where she saw the injured and had to anxiously wait 20 minutes to know if her spectator husband was OK. Going back this year was not an easy decision, but it’s a chance to create a new memory of such a prestigious event, she said.
“I want to replace my last memory of the finish line with a new one celebrating Boston, the town and the achievement,” Rowland said.