Some Boston Marathoners will run Baltimore's race 'because there are other people who can't'
By By Nicholas Fouriezos and The Baltimore Sun
Oct 09, 2013 | 9:57 PM
Halfway up Heartbreak Hill, an iconic stretch of the Boston Marathon course, Erica Greene was stopped by race officials, having just completed her 20th mile. The news of a bombing at the finish line had traveled down the course.
For a few months after that race, Greene, a teacher at Turning Point Academy in Lanham, let her running fall to the wayside. To have trained for such a long time, only to see her dream taken away, was too much.
"It took me a while to even go out and do three miles after Boston," said Greene, who plans to be part of this weekend's Baltimore Running Festival and to run in Boston next year. "Before I went, I'm an emotional person, I had a breakdown. I was nervous, scared, didn't know what could happen.
"It took me a while to get my running mojo back."
The mourning process hasn't been simple for those who ran in Boston, even for those who weren't at the finish line at the time of the bombings. On Saturday, Greene and other Boston survivors will participate in the Baltimore Running Festival, which includes a marathon, half marathon, relay, 5K and kids fun run.
Baltimore is one of the first large-city marathons to occur in the United States since Boston. The Portland Marathon was last weekend and the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is Sunday, with other events such as the Marine Corps Marathon in the Washington area and the Detroit Free Press Marathon still a few weeks away.
Ericka Leonard also will lace up her running shoes for Baltimore's half marathon and celebrate the comradery among runners in the face of last April's events. It's not the first race the 28-year-old McDonogh French teacher has run since the bombing.
As Leonard approached the finish line at the Sole of the City 10K in Baltimore just days after the Boston Marathon, she thought about her friend and former roommate, Erika Brannock, who was within feet of the first explosion while waiting for her mother to cross the finish line. Brannock later lost part of her left leg from injuries she suffered when the bomb exploded.
"I remember rounding the corner to the finish line [in Baltimore] and stopping dead short, and all I could see in my mind was the image of Boston," Leonard said.
She said running is a way to honor the strength of the human spirit.
"I run because I can and I should," Leonard said. "You're tired at mile nine and you think 'I have legs and they work and I should count my blessings.'"
'An attack on the American spirit'
Jocelyn Rood, from Cleveland, Ohio, decided to run the Baltimore marathon with a friend who was also at Boston, because she wanted to continue marathoning despite the tragedy.
"It seemed like, clearly, an attack on the American spirit," Rood said. "This isn't going to keep us away. We are going to keep doing it."
When she heard the first explosion, Rood was a block away, in the family waiting area. Though the space was packed, the entire crowd became quiet. Seconds later, the second explosion came. Then the sound of sirens filled the air as volunteers urged runners to get out of the street.
The rest of the day was a flurry of concerned texts, calls and Facebook messages. At first, she felt numb. The memory hasn't faded in the last six months.
"What if I had stopped to walk in the race and I was a bit slower? What if they had decided to do the explosions an hour sooner?" Rood said. "In all honesty, there probably hasn't been a day that has gone by that I haven't thought about it."
The Boston bombing seemed particularly jarring because it targeted a politically neutral event. For the many people who see running as an escape from stress, it seemed odd.
"We're so harmless as runners. We just run and we're happy when we run," Rood said. "It just didn't make any sense."
Now, security is tighter in most races and many require participants to pack their belongings in clear bags. Though Rood said she doesn't feel afraid while running, she was nervous while cheering for a friend recently. As she waited at the finish line, she found herself searching for unattended bags or anything else that might denote danger.
"It's just a whole new layer of things we took for granted and can't now," Rood said. "It still plants that seed. It's still in the back of your mind."
'Try and stop this'
There are others who, though they didn't run in Boston, were motivated to take on a new challenge because of what happened there. Adrienne Dulaj, a local social worker, will run her first marathon Saturday.
"You want to run because there are other people who can't. If you can, you should," Dulaj said. "If there are people who … can't run anymore, I'm sure they would look at a healthy runner and say, 'You should run. You should run as long as you can.'"
Colleen Leonard, of Edgewater, signed up for the half marathon the day after the Boston bombings because she wanted to accomplish "the opposite of whatever the terrorists were trying to achieve."
She was reminded of Sept. 11, when she and her husband went to work in Washington, D.C., the following day.
"I really felt like, 'I'm going to work. Try and stop this. Try and stop what we have,'" Leonard said. "It was sort of laughable to me that going to work seemed courageous."
Dave Gell, director of communications for the Baltimore Running Festival, said organizers didn't survey entrants about whether the Boston Marathon had any effect on their decision to run. But he said spots in the relay and 5K sold out faster than ever. (The total field is capped at 27,000 runners, the same size as last year.)
"It's safe to say the local running community is undeterred by the tragedies that took place in Boston," Gell said in an email. "Terrorists could not have picked a more resilient group to mess with than marathoners and their families. We're back and we're as strong as ever."
'Something I hate to have to think about'
For Kevin Frick, the healing process continues. After Boston, he published 26 blog posts — one for each mile — to try and make sense of what he had been through and what running meant to him.
Frick finished the Boston Marathon on April 15 in three hours and 15 minutes, reaching the pinnacle of his running career at 1:21 p.m.
While on the way back to his hotel at 2:49 p.m., a pair of explosions shook the marathon's finish line, killing three and injuring more than 250 people. Later, Frick and a stunned nation learned 8-year-old Martin Richard was among the deceased.
That made Frick, a Baltimore resident and 17-year member of the Johns Hopkins faculty, think about his son of the same age. He thought about what might have happened if his family had decided to come watch the marathon in Boston. He thought about what would have happened if the explosives went off just a little earlier.
"Just because everything seems perfect doesn't mean the day is going to end that way," Frick said in a recent interview. "It's something I hate to have to think about, and yet, it's going to be that way."
In June, he reached the point where he no longer thought about it daily, and he no longer experiences the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that worried his family those first few weeks.
Recently, though, he found himself becoming sentimental again. The shoes he wore at Boston were finally worn out. But unlike other pairs, he couldn't bring himself to get rid of them.
"I'm still not quite sure what I'm going to do with them," he said. "But I'm not going to just throw these out. That would not be the right thing to do."