By Tim McLaughlin
BOSTON (Reuters) – “Left on Boylston” in this American city means only one thing on marathon day.
It means you’re in the home stretch of the Boston Marathon, and all of the early morning runs in the dark New England winters, and all the wild cheering from family and friends, and all your memories about Bill Rodgers, Joan Benoit Samuelson and Uta Pippig, are about to carry you across the finish line.
“I can’t even imagine when I turn onto Boylston,” said Katie O’Donnell. “No doubt I will be crying. It’s going to be incredibly emotional.”
Last year, O’Donnell, 38, a doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital, didn’t finish the race after completing more than 25 miles. There was no “left on Boylston” for O’Donnell and a throng of other marathoners.
Officials stopped the race after two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260.
“It was such a sucker punch,” O’Donnell said.
But on April 21, 36,000 runners, including O’Donnell, will be part of the second-largest field in the event’s history, with the goal of taking back a race that New Englanders hold sacred.
David Chorney, 26, a law student at Suffolk University in downtown Boston, grew up in New Hampshire, just north of Massachusetts and remembers watching the race in study hall at elementary school. He didn’t plan to run a marathon this year, but after the bomb attacks he accelerated his training so he could qualify.
Chorney secured his spot with a time of 2 hours, 33 minutes at the Lehigh Valley Marathon last September, a half-hour faster than the race’s strict standard for his age group. He expects to improve on his time at Boston, but a personal record isn’t his guiding thought.
“What happened last year was absolutely devastating,” Chorney said. “I’m looking forward to being part of the recovery and restoration of how we all traditionally think about the Boston Marathon.”
Along with tens of thousands of runners and hundreds of thousands of spectators, this year’s event will feature an enhanced police presence. Some 3,500 law enforcement officers, double last year’s numbers, will be posted along the 26.2 mile route and new restrictions will prohibit runners or spectators from carrying backpacks or other large parcels.
Fundraising is also expected to top last year’s $21 million record. Participants who want the thrill of coasting down Boylston Street but aren’t as fleet of foot as Chorney, earned a berth in the larger field by soliciting contributions for charities.
That will give fans a wide range of athletes to cheer for – from elite East African competitors who will cover the course in just over two hours to the weekend warriors taking more than twice as long, buoyed by screaming students at Wellesley College and winded from climbing Heart Break Hill about 20 miles into the race.
It’s a special day because it is also Patriots Day, a state holiday, and the Boston Red Sox play near the course at Fenway Park. There’s plenty of race lore and local heroes, too.
Bill Rodgers, or “Boston Billy,” won the race four times; once he even stopped to tie his shoe several times. Maine’s Joan Benoit Samuelson, an Olympic marathon champion and two-time Boston winner, ran the 2013 event in 2:50:29, the fastest ever by a woman in the 55-59 age group. She was not aware of her feat until a reporter told her at a post-race press conference.
“The most exciting aspect of the race was getting to run the same event and route that Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers did before me,” said St. Louis resident Frank Reedy, who ran in 1998.
Jason Hartmann of Boulder, Colorado, showed up last year without a sponsor and was the top American finisher, placing fourth overall in the men’s division. At the front of the pack, sporting knee-high white tube socks and with Kenya and Ethiopia’s best on his heels, he gave the partisan crowd some early hope. No American man has won Boston since Greg Meyer in 1983.
“You have the amazing people who don’t even look like they’re sweating, and you have people like me – back of the pack,” O’Donnell said. “It’s great how everyone cheers on the best of the best and those limping slowly to the finish line.”
(Reporting By Tim McLaughlin; Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson)