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Local runners compelled to return to run Boston Marathon a year after bombing

By Ann Baldelli

Publication: The Day

Published April 20. 2014 4:00AM

Mystic's Amby Burfoot has a stack of business-size cards that he plans to hand out while running the 2014 Boston Marathon on Monday.

"It's just my little thank-you message to the people of Boston," said Burfoot, editor-at-large for Runner's World magazine and finisher of 19 previous Boston Marathons.

"Fans this year will be cheering louder than ever to welcome runners back," he said, "and runners will be applauding the spectators."

After two bombs exploded near the finish line of the 2013 marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others, about 36,000 runners - 9,000 more than usual - are expected to run this year.

Burfoot and some of the 5,633 others who were stopped short of the finish line by the bombs last year will be among the 30,000-plus on Massachusetts' Patriot's Day tackling the 26.2-mile course from Hopkinton to Boston.

"The vast majority of us will be running with a sense of reclaiming the streets and because we are lucky and healthy enough to go this distance," said Burfoot, who will be running for the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation, formed by parents of the 8-year-old killed in last year's marathon bombing, and dedicated to promoting peace by investing in education, athletics and community.

Burfoot's run with two friends a year ago - a celebration of the 45th anniversary of his Boston Marathon victory in 1968 - was cut short seven-tenths of a mile from the Boylston Street finish line, near mile marker 25.5, where the race was halted after the bombs went off at 2:50 in the afternoon, 10 seconds apart.

Burfoot and others still in the race were confused. They did not see or hear the explosions, but they realized the marathon route was clogged and runners ahead had stopped.

And then Burfoot got a cellphone call from his wife who was following the race in a van.

She told him what had happened and, Burfoot recalled, "She told me, 'Don't you dare keep running.' And the tone of her voice was so palpable, it was clear something bad had happened."

For Burfoot, and other southeastern Connecticut runners, competing in this year's Boston Marathon will be emotional. Organized by the Boston Athletic Association, the race is the world's oldest annual marathon and the second-largest single-day sporting event in the country in terms of media coverage, behind the Super Bowl.

"Everyone wants to cele brate a return to normalcy," Burfoot said, predicting that both runners and spectators will be euphoric.

Organizes expect 1 million spectators - double last year's number.

"It's a huge race anyway but this year will be really special because of what happened last year," said Philip Plouffe, 57, of Mystic, who was stopped short last year, his first Boston Marathon attempt.

"I'm going back to finish it, to get it off my bucket list," Plouffe said, adding that he had no concerns about security.

"I'm not worried about it happening again," he said. "The biggest question I have is why did those two brothers do what they did? It was such a senseless thing to do, but we will never know why."

Kelley continues to inspire

Jim Roy of Mystic, chairman of the John Kelley Memorial Fund, which in June will erect a statue of Kelley, said he plans to channel his former coach and mentor as he runs in Boston this year.

"He will be in my heart and mind, and Kell would tell us all to focus on the good, the good Samaritans, not a couple of lost souls, not a couple of dysfunctional kids," he said.

Kelley, who won the Boston Marathon in 1957, was Burfoot's high school cross-country coach. He died in 2011.

The day after last year's marathon, Roy said, he booked his hotel room for the 2014 marathon.

"It's just a runner's mentality, to go back and finish," he said. "You can't leave on that note. You have to go and finish up, and most runners feel that way. Two dysfunctional kids can't stop this; good has to prevail."

Other runners agreed.

"It kind of irked me what happened last year," Kevin Gallerani of Uncasville said. "Running is a thing that you do anywhere you want and when you want, and this race is so special - it's the World Series of running. And to use that to terrorize and hurt innocent people, that's just not OK."

Monday will be Gallerani's 21st Boston Marathon.

Stan Mickus of Mystic finished last year's marathon before the bombs exploded and plans to run again this year, despite a back problem.

"We all made a vow to be back in 2014," he said. "It will not be a personal best, not close, but if I can finish, take it all in, be a part of it, that's why I'm doing it. I may not be 100 percent healthy, but it's the symbolism of going back to Boston one year later."

"It is the holy grail of all running events," Roy said, "and it's a really warm, wonderful feeling when you run down Boylston Street (to the finish line). It's the only time a normal person can be a rock star."

Julia Cooper of Stonington came so close to that last year.

Running in her first Boston Marathon, Cooper was stopped just prior to the finish line. Confused, her first thoughts were about family and friends who were there and their safety. When she was finally reunited with loved ones, it was very emotional, she said.

But Cooper also was touched by the spectators who encouraged her along the way. At the recommendation of another runner, she had put her name on the front of her shirt.

"I just didn't expect the race to be so powerful," she said. "The streets were lined the whole way and people were yelling my name for miles and miles. I can't tell you how much that carries you along."

So Cooper is going back.

"I won't live my life in fear," she said.

And she's excited about Monday's marathon.

"It will be even more special this year because I want it so bad," she said. "This year will be that much sweeter."

Burfoot has 200 cards ready to hand out to spectators who give him an extra boost along the way. If they shout encouragement, or make eye contact, he will give them one of the cards that reads in part: "Thank you, Boston Marathon fans, for your 118 years of support for all runners, fast and slow alike. Without you, the Marathon wouldn't be the amazing race that we cherish so much. ... We love you all. Thanks for giving us the thrill(s) of a lifetime. See you next year."

a.baldelli@theday.com

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