The Boston Marathon, said runner Tom Flournoy, is “the pinnacle.”
“Anybody who asks if you run marathons, their first question is, ‘Have you run in Boston?’,” said Flournoy, of Port Republic.
A horrific attack marred the 2013 Boston Marathon, when two bombs placed near the finish line killed three and injured more than 260 runners and spectators.
Today, several local runners — along with hundreds of others — are returning to Boston to race again, while others will run the Boston Marathon for the first time during what could be the most emotional race in its 118-year history.
The local runners said that they were determined to run this year, despite concerns and scares such as the hoax backpacks left at the finish line following memorial ceremonies on Tuesday.
“This year, it’s not about ‘spring in Boston’,” said Carole Donohue, of Middle Township. “I need to bring it all.”
Tom Flournoy, Port Republic
“It was a beautiful, great day,” said Flournoy, who works at the FAA William H. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township, of his third consecutive Boston Marathon in 2013. “I went up with Eric Schrading (of Galloway Township), we both ran well. I finished about 50 minutes before the bombs went off.”
Flournoy was in the family meeting area behind the finish line, he said, adding that the presence of doctors and nurses at triages — already set up to treat runners — helped save a number of lives.
“The shame of it is, it went from being such a great day, with beautiful weather, to something absolutely horrible,” Flournoy said. “I almost felt guilty thinking, ‘I ran well today.’ It’s a shame two people could turn an iconic event into an absolute tragedy.”
But did he have any thoughts about not running this year?
“No,” he said. “None whatsoever. Boston is an event bigger than itself. It’s not just a race, at least for me. It’s not about trying to get the best time. It’s an event. No other marathon even comes close.”
And despite the safety concerns, Flournoy said he’s not worried.
“I have a feeling the Boston Marathon is going to be the safest place on the planet this year,” he said.
Carole Donohue, Middle Township
Donohue, who teaches exercise at the Blind Center of the Jersey Cape in Avalon, was on track to run in her 9th consecutive Boston Marathon when she injured herself a couple of months ago. But she’s planning to compete nonetheless.
“I thought I wasn’t going to be able to run it,” Donohue said. “But this month, I talked with my husband, and I actually reconsidered.”
The plan, she said, is to just start and see how far she can go.
“I’ll run and walk as far as I can get my body,” Donohue said. “I’m so inspired by all the stories and interviews. It means too much to me. I really had a hard time the last two months thinking about not running it.”
Last year, Donohue finished the race and was waiting in line for a massage in the area beyond the finish line.
“The bombs went off, and everything stopped,” she said. “It was so surreal. Nothing was the same. I was in shock for a couple of weeks. It was pretty emotional.”
Back in Cape May Court House, Donohue helped put together a fundraiser for One Fund Boston.
“Within a 48-hour notice, we pulled it together,” Donohue said. “That helped in the healing process as well.”
Michael Mader, Cape May
The 2013 race was Mader’s first Boston Marathon, but all sense of accomplishment and enjoyment disappeared when the bombs went off.
“The Marathon itself was amazing,” said Mader, who conducts research studies for a biotech company. “An absolutely incredible experience. The crowds were altogether amazing.”
Mader finished just after 1 p.m., he said, and after meeting up with family and friends, they began to make their way out of town.
“We heard a news report about an explosion at the finish line, but initially we thought it was a gas main,” Mader said. “Then our cell phones got cut off, and we did see all the black sedans heading down the highway. We got a little bit more information when we stopped at a rest stop. It was all over the news.”
For him personally, the marathon “was something I never got to enjoy and savor the moment.
“But this year, I’m going back with a much better goal in mind,” he said. “I’ll be running for the victims of last year. From a personal basis, I want to improve on last year’s (time) and relish in the training.”
Stephanie Mell, Somers Point
For Mell, 2014 will be her very first Boston Marathon.
“I’ve qualified twice,” said Mell. “But this is the first year I’ve decided to do it. I think it’s going to be really emotional. But at the same time, I’m really excited.”
Mell has been running for about a decade, she said, and while she’s run in marathons at Walt Disney World and in Long Branch, “the Boston Marathon has been on my bucket list.”
Mell said she was heading up to Boston with her parents and boyfriend to cheer her on. Some of her co-workers at the Davenport Elementary School in Egg Harbor Township, meanwhile, don’t quite understand.
“I’ve been told I’m crazy about once a week,” Mell joked.
Christine Bass, Little Egg Harbor Township
Bass said she has been running in marathons for some time, but 2014 is also her first Boston Marathon.
“I’ve run in the Atlantic City Marathon, and I decided to see if I could qualify for Boston,” said Bass, who works at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City. “I was supposed to go out (for qualifying) last year but couldn’t make it.”
A friend of hers first got her interested in marathon running, she said.
“After I did one, I was just hooked on them,” Bass said. “It’s just a good goal for yourself.”
The anniversary of last year’s bombings, she said, “makes it very important to me this year.”
Though while she didn’t have concerns about safety before, “as of (Tuesday) I do,” she said, referring to the incident where a man was arretsed for placing a fake bomb at the finish line. “I’m really nervous now. But yeah, I’m looking forward to going out and supporting (Boston). It’s going to be more of a big impact this year, because everyone will be out to support it.”
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