Unfinished business for runners returning to Boston marathon

36,000 runners will compete today in what will be an emotional event

Bill Sved, who says he ran the Boston Marathon last year and is running it again today, poses at the race finish line yesterday. Photograph: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Bill Sved, who says he ran the Boston Marathon last year and is running it again today, poses at the race finish line yesterday. Photograph: Andrew Burton/Getty Images


Tom Mitchell could see the finish line on his first marathon in Boston last year when two bombs detonated, the second just yards in front of him, and diverted runners off the course.

The 49-year-old software engineer had just high-fived his children watching in the crowd and rounded the corner onto Boylston Street when the first bomb exploded. He thought the explosion was a cannon being fired for Patriot’s Day, marking the first day of the American War of Independence.

A second blast, just seconds later outside a restaurant about 21m (70ft) ahead blew a man on to the street in front of him. His trousers were in tatters from flying shrapnel and smoking from the explosion.

‘Don’t stop’
“I wasn’t more than four or five feet from him,” said Mitchell. “I had this pretty surreal, out-of-body experience where I looked at him and kept running. I had been running for four hours and my knee had been causing me problems for four miles and I had been repeating to myself, ‘don’t stop, don’t stop.’ ”

He witnessed for himself how these explosions were bombs; the injured were on the footpath next to the course. Three people were killed that day and more than 260 injured, including 16 who lost limbs.

Mitchell is part of a team running again for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and one of more than 5,700 “waiver runners” permitted by the Boston Athletic Association, organisers of the world’s oldest annual marathon, to re-enter in today’s race because the bombs stopped them finishing last year.

Most of those stopped were charity runners, who started long after the elite runners competing to win. A group called “5700 Boston Strong” was set up during the past year to lobby organisers to allow them to run again. Many were amateur runners who may not have run again but felt compelled for the victims, for charities and for Boston to show how the city would not be defined by last year’s atrocity.

The organisers agreed and stranded runners were allowed to run again. There are 36,000 runners competing in what will be an emotional event for the city, compared with 27,000 participants last year.

“I will never forget last year but it will be good to have a new memory of rounding the corner and coming onto Boylston Street and that victory lap of going down that street,” said Mitchell.

Safety issues
He is not concerned about safety issues today in what will be one of the city’s most policed events with numerous cameras and watchtowers. “I am more nervous of the emotions of turning onto Boylston Street and how that is going to feel – I would imagine I would be pretty damned choked up,” he said.

Chris Cassidy, a reporter with the Boston Herald , was running on Boylston Street last year when he was caught between the first and second blasts. He continued running bracing himself for a third blast.

“It is the only time in my life that I actually thought I was going to die. I noticed a couple of seconds after the second bomb that to my side there was a trash barrel where I was and I was wondering this could be next. With every passing second I got more of a sense of relief,” he said.

The horrific sounds and images of that day remain ingrained in his mind – the injured on one side of the street, a pair of brown women’s boots on the other. He is running again today.

“The focus has been on taking back the marathon and not have the lasting memory be these bombs but something more positive: survivors doing things that people would not be able to do and to show how far the city has come,” he said.

Irish participants who were unable to finish last year have also returned today for the 118th Boston Marathon.

Hughie Carolan, from Shankill, Co Dublin, who at 70 is the oldest Irish-born man to participate this year, was stopped at the 18th mile of last year’s race. He is aiming to complete his 92nd marathon today.

“It is unfinished business this year to get back,” he said. “It means a lot – it’s to show respect by going back to Boston.”