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Fagin: Bringing joy back to the Boston Marathon

By Steve Fagin

Publication: The Day

Published April 20. 2014 4:00AM

While huddled among thousands of other stranded runners with less than a mile to go at last year's Boston Marathon, having just been told by spectators with smart phones about the horrific terror bombs at the finish line, I made a silent vow I'm sure everyone around me also pledged: I'll be back.

On Monday, we will fulfill that promise made to ourselves, to the cheering throngs that line the 26.2-mile route from Hopkinton to Boston, to the families and friends of the three people killed and scores injured, and to all civilized people who refuse to allow madmen to prevail.

This is our marathon.

The Boston Marathon has always been not just one of the running world's most prestigious competitions but also a joyous celebration, and I'm sure the crowds will be even more enthusiastic Monday. What better way to honor the victims?

Law enforcement authorities have organized a massive force charged with safeguarding runners and spectators. I welcome such protection but hope they can provide security without sucking away the marathon's festive spirit.

Such giddiness, of course, must be tempered by a somber memorial tone, as well as a gritty resolve by a city determined to convey - Boston Strong.

I've run in the 100th Boston Marathon in 1996, as well as the 2000 millennial edition - both overwhelmingly exciting and historic events in running lore, but I'm sure these will pale by comparison to Monday. In short, it will be epic.

Last year was to have been my 10th and final Boston Marathon. Anyone who trains for such long-distance events is painfully aware there's always a fine line between achieving supreme fitness and breaking down with fatigue and injuries. I decided then that I'd rather stay healthy by running shorter distances - but tragedy changed those intentions.

I recall tears of joy when I first managed to run fast enough to qualify for Boston more than three decades ago, inspired by friends that included two former Boston champions from southeastern Connecticut, Johnny Kelley (1957) and Amby Burfoot (1968).

Johnny, alas, died in 2011, but I plan to run alongside Amby and at least a dozen of his family and friends on Patriot's Day.

We've been training together all winter into spring, using a system devised by Amby's old pal and former Olympian Jeff Galloway that calls for running for four minutes followed by walking for one minute, and repeating this regimen about 50 times until we cross the finish line.

At this pace we won't be challenging any of the Kenyans who likely will lope in hours ahead of us, but that isn't a consideration.

"Our goal is just to run together and have fun," Amby vows.

Sounds like a good plan.

Of course, Boston is predominantly a serious competition, and most runners will be pushing hard.

Among them is my son, Tom, who finished last year in 2 hours, 42 minutes and 20 seconds, good enough for 361st place in a field of more than 30,000.

He crossed the line, showered and changed at a friend's nearby apartment and was about to walk back and greet me at the finish when the bombs exploded.

Tom feared for my safety, just as I worried about him until we both learned through frantic cell phone calls and social media that each of us had survived.

Tom, now living out West and about to start a job as a kayak guide in Minnesota, returned to Connecticut last week in preparation for Monday's race. If all goes according to plan, he should finish well ahead of me, and we're hoping this time we can eventually clasp hands at the finish line.

Steve Fagin is a retired copy editor at The Day who has long been involved in the local road racing scene. His blog, "The Great Outdoors," appears on theday.com.

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