Tony Phillippi was in his Boston hotel room’s shower when the bombs went off. Craig Dickson was ordering a post-race burger in Harvard Square.
Terra Perkins and Brittany Hodgson, still hoping to qualify for their first Boston Marathon, were home in the South Sound, scrambling to make sure their friends were OK.
The Boston Marathon is running’s Super Bowl — only with more than twice the history, and the chance for amateurs of all ages to participate. For many runners, qualifying for Boston is the ultimate goal.
“Every Boston Marathon is supposed to be a celebration, but last year it wasn’t,” said Phillippi, a Tacoma resident and Boston Marathon veteran.
Last year, the celebration was cut short when a pair of bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 260.
But a year later, the celebration is bigger than ever, and it’s about more than running. The field was increased from the usual 27,000 runners to 36,000. Spectators are expected to line the entire 26.2-mile course.
“I think the atmosphere is going to be electric,” Phillippi said.
When the 118th Boston Marathon starts at 6:30 a.m. Monday, the field will include 113 South Sound runners. Phillippi, Dickson, Perkins and Hodgson will be among them.
Boston Marathons: Second
Dickson is a coach for Olympia’s Guerrilla Running Club, a former college runner and a two-time member of U.S. teams that competed in the World Cross Country Championships.
He could have run in Boston before, but opted not to until last year. He was inspired by the runners he coaches who dreamed of qualifying.
“They’d say I was crazy for not going if I had the time,” Dickson said.
So, last year, Dickson finally went to Boston. He needed just 2 hours, 53 minutes, 46 seconds to cover the course and finished 54th in his division.
About two hours after he finished, he was sitting in a Harvard Square burger restaurant when he noticed odd images on the television: smoke at the finish line.
“The establishment turned down the music and turned up the TVs,” Dickson said. “It was a very insecure feeling. Cell service was shut down. Trains to certain areas were shut down. It was very unnerving. Very sad.”
Dickson is going back this year to pay tribute to those who were killed and injured and to have a Boston Marathon experience that has more joy than fear.
He says he’s trying to approach the race without expectations. He says his goal is simply to be a part of the experience.
Those killed and injured “certainly will be on my mind,” Dickson said. “I don’t know what that will be like. There will probably be a lot of emotion when we make that last turn and run down that straightaway. But I don’t know what it will be like to experience that with other people.”
Boston Marathons: First
Hodgson, a physical therapist, was at work during last year’s Boston Marathon when she, her coworkers and patients started getting text alerts about the bombings.
Her first thoughts were about her friends. A former University of Puget Sound runner and coach in the Fleet Feet Sports training program, Hodgson knew plenty of people running in Boston, although she herself was still two months away from her first marathon.
One was her coworker Jamie Cook. It took several hours to confirm all her friends were OK.
“I was just shocked,” Hodgson said. “It is hard to understand why people do something like that.”
It was already her goal to qualify for Boston this year, but as the nation and the running community rallied, it further stoked her motivation.
Hodgson came just short of qualifying when she ran her first marathon last June, but on July 14 she finished second in her division at North Bend’s Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon in 3:31:10. She qualified for Boston with about four minutes to spare.
Boston will be just her fourth marathon but, she hopes, the first of many Boston Marathons. She’s set the lofty goal of running the race 25 years in a row.
She hopes to finish in 3:15 this year, but she isn’t really sure what to expect. It’s the first time she’s been in a race that started in waves, her first time in a race with so much history and so many spectators.
“We are running the same route where every Boston Marathon was held, and that concept is amazing to me,” Hodgson said. “I’m looking forward to going by Wellesley College and seeing what all the hype is about. And seeing those four miles of hills starting at 17 miles when your body is challenged the most.
“I’m looking forward to that last mile to the finish when the sound is deafening. I’m just looking forward to the entire experience.”
Boston Marathons: First
In 2010, when Perkins ran her first marathon, her running partner opted out before the race. She thought she was going to have to run the Salt Lake City Marathon all alone, but that’s when she learned that’s not how this sport works.
“That’s the natural underlying culture of running,” Perkins said. “It’s not just you. It’s a big group. You support the people around you during the hard times and they support you.
It’s a community that includes its spectators. “I’ve stopped and leaned on spectators to stretch during a race,” Perkins said. “Little kids set up water stations. It’s almost a team sport, and that’s what makes running so awesome.”
So Perkins wasn’t the least bit surprised to see how the running community responded to last year’s bombings.
The sport wasn’t weakened by the terrorist attack. It got stronger.
Perkins learned of the bombings on her way to Olympia’s South Sound Running store to watch the race. She spent hours checking Facebook, waiting for messages to confirm her friends were OK.
A year later, Perkins, who didn’t run in college or even high school, is ready for her first Boston Marathon. Tonight she plans to lay out everything from her shoes to the safety pins to attach her race bib.
“I’m super excited, and I know it’s going to be crazy,” she said. “A huge, huge race with wall-to-wall spectators and runners. But that’s why it is such a great race.”
Boston Marathons: 13th
At each of his previous 12 Boston Marathons, Phillippi made a point of visiting the finish line the day before to snap a picture.
It’s part of a prerace tradition he’s honed while running 243 marathons since 1998. “Even at Yakima (April 5) where it’s just a chalk line,” he said.
It’s yet to be determined if the tradition will continue in Boston. Security will be extra tight around the finish line before the race.
Phillippi is a co-founder of one of the nation’s largest marathon clubs, Marathon Maniacs. The Maniacs have more than 9,000 members, and about 300 will be running in Boston. The plan is to take a group photo at the finish line today.
“I don’t even know if we will be able to get close enough for a picture,” Phillippi said. “If not, we’ll have to find a new place.”
Phillippi had finished last year’s race and was getting out of his hotel shower when he heard an ambulance pass his hotel. Then another. Then a steady stream of them. Then armored vehicles.
The hotel was locked down, and armed police guarded the entrance. “It was pretty scary,” Phillippi said.
It took several hours before police finished searching the hotel and gave the OK for the tired and hungry runners to leave.
In the meantime, Phillippi watched the drama unfold on TV and online and tried to confirm that his friends were safe.
As a marathon organizer (he and Bonney Lake’s Paul Morrison founded the Tacoma City Marathon), he knew that not only was the Boston Marathon going to change forever, but so were all marathons.
More security. Heightened security. But also more runners.
Every race he’s organized since the Boston bombings has seen increased turnout. This doesn’t surprise him.
Enduring is what runners do best.Craig Hill: 253-597-8497 firstname.lastname@example.org thenewstribune.com/fitness theolympian.com/fitness @AdventureGuys