Runners reflect on the 2013 Boston Marathon
  • Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

    Joan Benoit Samuelson

    Maine’s most heralded athlete no longer runs marathons without media attention. For last year’s race, 30 years after she set a world record of 2:22:43 on the same streets from Hopkinton to Boston, Joan Benoit Samuelson’s goal was to finish within 30 minutes of her historic mark.

    Achieving that time would require a 6:35 pace per mile, considerably below her fastest training run, which was 20 miles at a 7:08 pace.

    “I went a little bit out on a limb with that projection,” she said later, after removing her pink Nike running shoes and revealing her goal time inscribed on her insoles.

    Of course, Joan being Joan, she beat her goal by more than two minutes, finishing in 2:50:29 – the fastest marathon ever run by a woman 55 or older. Samuelson’s feel-good story, however, was soon superseded by the tragic events that followed.

    The 1984 Olympic marathon champion, a native of Cape Elizabeth and resident of Freeport, Samuelson is now 56 and plans to run Boston again this year, along with daughter Abby, 26, and son Anders, 24.

    “Our sport is resilient,” she said. “I think this will be a show of courage by runners and victims alike.”

    Two other former champions, Amby Burfoot (1968) of Connecticut and Gelindo Bordin (1990) of Italy also plan to run Monday.

    “The first line that came out of my mouth after the bombings was: ‘It was a day when tragedy trumped triumph,’ ” Samuelson said.

    “Now we’re all trying to be triumphant in our efforts. We need to continue to support and celebrate the comebacks, and the efforts that are still being made by those who suffered the greatest wounds that day. There are more important stories to be told this year. I can’t speak for the victims, even though I’ve met many of them.

    “It’s hard to know how things are going to unfold this year except that this year is a tribute to those who were harmed, and to those who lost their lives, and to those who are running for these people in one way or another, and to those who are inspired or are inspiring other people.”

    – Glenn Jordan

  • Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

    Phil Pierce

    Phil Pierce, 72, of Falmouth, a clinical psychologist at the Veterans Administration hospital at Togus, was running his 28th Boston Marathon last April. He made it to Commonwealth Avenue before coming upon a barricade.

    Pierce skirted the barricade and continued to Hereford Street, one turn from Boylston, before hearing of an explosion near Copley Square. He abandoned his race, found the bus carrying his change of clothing and walked to his car near Boston Common.

    He drove over the Mystic River Bridge, passed through New Hampshire and arrived home in Maine before fully understanding what had transpired.

    “Before I left, they had shut down the cell phone service so nobody could call anybody out of Boston,” Pierce said. “I was probably five to seven minutes away when the bombs went off, but I didn’t hear or see anything.”

    Pierce regularly evaluates veterans of Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

    “I didn’t see any of the trauma that occurred in Boston,” he said. “I didn’t even know about it until I got home.”

    Security for subsequent races changed because of the bombings in Boston. At last month’s New Bedford Half Marathon, Pierce said bag checks were common.

    “Those bombings have had a profound effect on races and the whole running community,” he said. “The whole system has changed. You’ve got 36,000 people leaving all their clothes in Hopkinton.”

    Indeed, a fourth wave was added to accommodate increased interest, making this year’s field second only to the 1996 centennial race, when a field of 38,708 took part. Runners – not friends or family – may pack a change of clothing in an official clear plastic bag and check it at Boston Common early Monday before heading out to Hopkinton. Clothing not worn during the race must be discarded in Hopkinton and will be donated to a local charity.

    “I really wasn’t affected by anything. I signed up for the Maine Coast Marathon three weeks later and ran that.”

    – Glenn Jordan

  • Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

    Kate Kelly

    Unseasonably warm conditions for the 2012 Boston Marathon led organizers to offer deferments to any runners who would rather not risk overheating on the 26.2-mile journey from Hopkinton.

    Kate Kelly, an administrative assistant from Cumberland, considered postponing her first Boston attempt until 2013 but ultimately decided to go for it.

    “At that point,” she said, “I was ready to run.”

    Run she did, albeit more slowly than she had planned, for more than 51/2 hours. Her husband and some friends waited on Boylston Street, in front of Dunkin’ Donuts near the Exeter Street intersection, between the two sites where, a year later, two homemade bombs exploded, killing three spectators and injuring more than 250 others.

    “Had I deferred, my family and friends would have been right there,” Kelly said. “I’m so very grateful I didn’t.”

    Instead, Kelly spent last Patriots Day with the Maine Track Club’s Yarmouth Roasters – so named because they meet for long Saturday runs at Maine Roasters Coffee – who staffed a water stop near Mile 14 in Wellesley.

    “It was a beautiful sunny day,” she said. “We set up tables with water and Gatorade, and we had a terrific day. It was exciting to see many of our close friends run by. Around 2 o’clock we started to take down the tables and we had all gotten in the cars around 3.

    “One of the girls went on her cell phone and said, ‘Oh my God, there’s been a bombing.’ We wanted to head to the finish line to help but unfortunately we couldn’t get through.

    “We tried to contact all our friends that we hoped had finished. Some were diverted at Mile 25. Our families were trying to contact us. It was chaotic.

    “On the way home phones were ringing, we were listening to news on the radio. It was quite devastating.

    “This year I had so many people contact me who wanted to volunteer. We are all so excited to be able to participate (at the same water stop). Everyone wants to be part of Boston Strong.”

    – Glenn Jordan

  • Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

    David Holman

    In his first attempt at Boston last April, David Holman, 30, of North Yarmouth figured he would step up his pace at Mile 24 to finish strong. Cheering crowds within the city drowned out the noise of the blasts, so Holman had no idea why runners ahead of him had stopped.

    “After a very awkward minute of everyone trying to maintain their position, a sense of danger set in,” Holman said. “People began running along sidewalks and I heard there had been an explosion and people were hurt.

    “Soon all manner of police cars, black SUVs, helicopters, ambulances and firetrucks descended on the area. Some runners were in bad shape, collapsing and going into shock. Most were just exhausted and stiff. No police or race officials ever told the crowd what was happening.

    “But we were the lucky ones. People helped each other. Spontaneous generosity abounded. Two cooks came out from a restaurant with a soup tureen full of water, a big ladle and cups, and began giving people drinks. The residents of a nice brownstone on Commonwealth Avenue let me and other runners in their house. They gave us blankets, water, Internet and let us use their phone. I reached my parents but couldn’t reach my wife and friend. When I left their house, I finally found my wife in the crowd of thousands milling around and we decided to start walking away from the scene.

    “As we crossed the bridge to MIT, another big explosion went off back in Boston. Everyone looked back in fear. I learned later that this was a controlled detonation of a suspicious camera bag. I wasn’t particularly worried or panicked for myself at any point, but it certainly was a surreal and confusing experience.

    “I am so terribly sad for the innocent people who were wounded, crippled and killed by the Tsarnaev brothers. I am a Quaker and don’t believe in the death penalty – murdering a murderer only creates a martyr and shows our children we believe two wrongs make a right and that violence solves problems. I think this terrorist should be granted a fair trial and if found guilty, imprisoned. Justice, democracy and equality are the only real weapons we have against extremism.”

    – Glenn Jordan

  • Aram Boghosian photo

    Alicia Leeman

    Alicia Leeman, 35, is a 1996 Portland High graduate and daughter of a longtime city councilor. Now working in Cambridge, Mass., Leeman was tracking several friends near the 19-mile mark before heading downtown for the finish.

    “I was really excited,” she said. “I had watched the race from the Newton Hills several times and run it twice before, but never cheered from the crowded streets of Hereford or Boylston.”

    Upon finding a good vantage point on Commonwealth Avenue, she stopped and held up her homemade sign. At the sound of the first blast, a murmur passed through the crowd. A Patriots Day cannon?

    “Then the second blast went off,” Leeman said, “and we all knew instantly something really bad happened.”

    Spectators handed cell phones to runners trying to reach loved ones. Leeman lent her jacket to a shivering runner whose husband and children were waiting at the finish. Apartment dwellers emerged with water, towels, blankets and news reports.

    “It is true what they say about how scary and chaotic it was, but it is also true how the city came together and helped each other without hesitation,” she said.

    Leeman led some out-of-town runners over the Charles River to a cab stand and MBTA stop. Sleep proved difficult the next few nights. She didn’t run again until Thursday after work, then received a text Friday morning imploring her to stay home.

    “The manhunt was on in the very area that I had run by the night before,” she said. “I sat huddled on my couch shaking and crying, frozen in fear and shock. It was all too close. Too much to handle.”

    Ten days after Boston, Leeman ran a marathon in California. The sight of flags at the 26-mile mark caused her to burst into tears.

    “I crossed the finish line sobbing but I did it,” she said. “I finished Boston Strong.”

    Leeman is running to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, as she did in 2010. She runs in honor of her grandparents and her mother, Cheryl, a breast cancer survivor.

    “I need to take back Boylston and remember how I thought of it before 2013,” she said. “It is sacred ground and only runners understand how amazing it feels to cross that line.”

    – Glenn Jordan

  • Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

    Matt Cox

    A South Portland paramedic and firefighter who lives in Wells, Matt Cox was a spectator at last year’s race, cheering for his wife’s friend, who flew in from Oregon to realize a lifelong ambition. She finished about eight minutes before the explosions, having just reunited with Cox and his wife about a block from Copley Square.

    “The first one sounded like one of those big dump trucks giving a metallic clang when it bangs shut,” Cox said. “That’s what I assumed. When the second bomb went off and an ambulance rushed by, I called my mother (in nearby Andover) and told her to turn on the TV and tell me what’s going on.”

    Cox, 34, sent his wife and her friend away from the blasts and circled back, showed his paramedic card to a race official and asked where help was needed. She directed him toward the medical tent, which was rapidly transformed into a triage center, where he spent the next three hours.

    “I’ve been trained for mass casualty and triage, but you’re picturing a bus accident,” he said. “I never imagined walking into the smell of gunpowder and blood.

    “The first patient I saw was a little boy with a bloody bandage on his leg. What I remember most, aside from the victims themselves, was how on the ball Boston EMS was. They were amazing. They saved lives.

    “There was a whole period of time when nobody knew what was coming next, when I was thinking, this is not a very good place to be. There was a lot of confusion. Those police officers for the next week were chasing down suspicious packages and suspicious people.”

    Organizers gave Cox a bib for this year’s race after reading an essay he wrote. With support from his local firefighters union, he is raising money in honor of an 8-year-old bombing victim, Martin Richard.

    A former teacher who has worked at camps for children with serious illnesses and disabilities, Cox dreams of starting a camp for kids affected by violence.

    “Not only terrorism but domestic violence as well,” he said. “That’s a long way off but until then, if I can support something like the Martin Richard Foundation, that’s what I want to be doing.”

    – Glenn Jordan