By Kaye Burnet and Brittney Jackson | The Duquesne Duke
Pittsburgh runners joined thousands of athletes from around the globe for the 118th Boston Marathon on Monday, one year after terrorist attacks at the race shocked the nation and left three dead and more than 260 injured.
Pittsburgh resident and runner Karen Harr had just crossed the finish line on April 15, 2013 when she heard a loud explosion. Harr, a training director at Fleet Feet Sports, was in a medical tent receiving routine post-marathon care when she learned the cause of the explosion.
Despite being present that day, Harr said she didn’t hesitate to return to the race this year.
“I knew, standing on Boylston Street, right after I learned what the explosions were, that I absolutely wanted to be there again this year,” Harr said.
Last year, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, two brothers of Chechen origin, detonated two improvised explosive devices near the finish line, according to an FBI report.
This prompted Boston officials to strengthen security measures at this year’s race, including an increased police presence, 100 security cameras, 50 observation points, additional ambulances, 140 Boston EMS personnel, a 30-bed ambulance bus, heightened emergency communication services and trauma counseling.
Harr was worried about how security increases after the bombings would affect the marathon.
“I thought, ‘It’s not worth it, I don’t want the hassle,’” Harr said. “But this year, they added another wave of runners and the whole thing was still on time, I was never held up by security. This is a world-class event. The logistics are amazing.”
First time Boston Marathon runner and Pittsburgh resident Deb Doyle said these measures made her more comfortable.
“I wasn’t hesitant at all [to run in the race],” Doyle said. “I knew that after what happened last year there would be increased security.”
This year’s race featured almost 36,000 runners from more than 70 countries, according to the Boston Athletic Association. The 26.2-mile course begins in the rural town of Hopkinton and ends in downtown Boston.
“It was absolutely amazing,” Doyle said. “The Boston Marathon is the Super Bowl of marathons and one that most runners dream of running. I feel very fortunate to be able to run the Boston Marathon this year given the events that happened last year.”
When Doyle learned about the attacks she was horrified because she knew Harr and some other friends running in the race.
“As a runner it really hits home,” Doyle said. “Everyone is out there running and this is a good thing and a positive thing and for something tragic to happen it was so devastating for the running community and hard to understand a reason behind it.”
The BAA planned an official tribute on the one-year anniversary to honor the victims and first responders who were involved in the bombings. The tribute featured speakers representing families of the victims, medical staff, government agencies and civic leaders.
At the tribute, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said, “Through this event, Boston again stands as one: paying tribute to all those affected by last year’s events and once again showing the world that Boston’s spirit of resiliency lives on.”
Harr said she thought she would witness sadness upon returning to Boston, but was overcome by the kindness and camaraderie that runners showed.
“When you have a big milestone like the Boston Marathon, people take pride and ownership in it,” Harr said. “Taxi drivers, restaurants, they treat you specially if they know you’re a runner.”
Doyle had the same positive experience.
“There is an overwhelming amount of support from the city of Boston, the people that live there and the volunteers,” Doyle said. “It was just a fabulous experience and one that I will never forget.”
Even though Harr shed tears at the finish line, she said her marathon experience was far from negative.
“I really expected it to be very emotional,” Harr said. “And I did feel that emotion, passing the finish line. But Boston turned out to be such a happier place than I expected. The city is healing.”