It is here, the most anticipated road race in American history. Twelve months after two bombs exploded at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, the 2014 edition has arrived. The eyes of running communities from all four corners of the planet will be watching on Monday as well over 30,000 runners take part. As always, the masses will include a few hundred from the Granite State.
The Boston Marathon is often called the Super Bowl of road races which makes the New Hampshire running community very lucky. We are so close to the action that it seems every member of the New Hampshire road race scene is either at the race (as a runner, volunteer, staff, or spectator), at home or work tracking runners internet, or knows someone who fits one of those categories.
It could be argued that outside Massachusetts no state makes a bigger deal of the Boston Marathon than New Hampshire. Numerous members of the New Hampshire media stand at the finish line waiting to talk to runners who have finished. The top male and female get prime coverage in print and on electronic media outlets. Thanks to a New Hampshire based running club, the Gate City Striders, those two top finishers are honored with a formal award, the Henri Renaud award, named after the only New Hampshire runner to win the race, which he did in 1909.
Boston is personal to us. That's why the tragedy of a year ago was so painful. Sadly, a number of New Hampshire residents suffered severe injuries and are still struggling to recover. Others were involved in what have become known as "near miss" stories. Two New Hampshire women were about to finish when they saw the first bomb in front of them then heard the second bomb behind them. Others finished, with family and friends at the finish line, then walked away mere minutes before the explosions. The term, "there but for the grace of God. ..." has been uttered quite often this past year.
It is also why the past year has been one of preparation and anticipation for this state's running community. New Hampshire runners joined the rest of the world in pledging to be at the start line this year to show their support for the race, its victims, and its hero's. Race director Dave McGillivray eloquently put it at recent gathering in New Hampshire when he said, "They picked on the wrong people. Endurance runners never quit." That has been the mantra in these parts as runners all over the state worked hard to get an entry to this year's Boston.
The calendar has created a unique situation. The Boston Marathon is always the third Monday in April. Last year that occurred on April 15, the earliest date possible. This year it falls on April 21, the latest date possible. That means these past few days have been spent looking back, honoring victims and heroes of the tragedy. It has also created a designed approach by the race organizers, the Boston Athletic Association.
"The days leading up to the marathon will be spent reflecting on the tragedy of last year", BAA executive director Tom Grilk said at a meeting a few weeks ago. "But on Monday it will be time to say 'this is the Boston Marathon' and we must go on."
So, how will it be? For starters, one of New Hampshire's largest contingents will toe the line on Monday. In a typical year New Hampshire has about 300-350 entrants in the Boston Marathon. This year the number is close to 550. Some of them have a goal of doing what they were denied last year, finishing. Approximately 5,500 runners were stopped on the course because of the bombings. Five thousands of them accepted the invitation to come back this year. Granite State runners are amongst them.
Other New Hampshire runners will be running carrying a lot of emotion. Some still can't talk about last year without tearing up.
At the front of the Granite State pack will be men and women racing for the Henri Renaud award. On the women's side the overwhelming favorite is Lebanon's Andrea Walkonen. Walkonen will start with the elite women, the only New Hampshire female starting with that group. The elite women will start thirty minutes before the elite men so Walkonen could easily be the first New Hampshire runner across the finish line. As for the men? Keep your eyes on another Lebanon runner, Kevin Johnson.
Obviously, there will be changes. Runners will not be allowed to bring bags to the start, put them on buses, and have those bags waiting at the finish. More security will be visible and there will be more vigilance paid to spectators. Many eyes will be on the lookout for anyone, and anything, suspicious.The other change is in the size of the field. The past few years there have been about 25,000 entries into the race. This year the number was increased to 36,000. That has resulted in the field being divided into four waves, 9,000 apiece, and spaced apart so it will take about 90 minutes to get everyone across the finish line.
One other change. As he has done for the past few years, a New Hampshire resident will start his day in Hopkinton. When the runners have left he will get in his car, drive to the finish and greet as many New Hampshire runners as possible. Instead of the usual high five and congrats he is prepared to do something different.
I plan on giving them the biggest hugs they ever got.
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Running shorts: The Dover Race Series has become something special. The St. Mary's Academy 5K and Red's Race For A Better Community, held last weekend, had much larger turnouts than the previous year.Winners: Sandown's Louis Saviano and Portsmouth's Rhyan Radack at St. Mary's and Scott McGrath, Andover, Mass., and Denise Sandahl, Bow at Red's..Newmarket's Kyle Williams took first at the Out of Hibernation 5K in Portsmouth on April 12. ...Very special race on April 27 in Greenland, the Chief Maloney 10K, held in honor of the Greenland police chief who lost his life in the line of duty two years ago.
Andy Schachat's column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.