Six months later runners see Boston 2013 with determination

Grace Murray

Rich Wisneski missed being hit by one of two explosions at the 2013 Boston Marathon by roughly 10 minutes. Wisneski, a marathon runner and Case Western Reserve team leader, said he still has trouble believing he came that close.

“It’s one of those things that you can never in your wildest dreams imagine happening,” Wisneski said.

Six months after the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon, runners much like Wisneski look back on the tragedy as a reason to propel themselves forward into the fall racing season and to the Boston 2014 starting line.

Wisneski ran Boston 2013 with Chris Was, a friend and educational psychology professor at Kent State University.

Was said he vividly remembers texting Wisneski and asking him to come back to their shared hotel room, so they could go out for a few celebratory beers after crossing the finish line on the morning of April 15th.

“[Wisneski] had a good race,” Was said. “He finished well before me and the other runners we came with, so when the rest of us had gotten back to the room, he had already been there, showered and gone back to watch the finish.”

Wisneski had run his quickest Boston Marathon yet, clocking in at two hours 48 minutes and 27 seconds – 20 seconds faster than previous years.

“I remember coming down that final stretch,” Wisneski said. “I was on cloud nine … As soon as I crossed the finish line, volunteers asked me if I was all right, and I told them I was just ecstatic. I was euphoric.”

As his friends were finishing the race, freshly showered Wisneski made his way back to the Boylston Street finish, and found himself standing between two flags.

He said he wanted to take in the whole Boston experience – the crowds, the atmosphere – but after receiving Was’s text, he weaved his way in and out of other spectators once again on the way back to the hotel.

“When [Wisneski] walked into the room, the first explosion went off,” Was said. “We weren’t even sure it was an explosion. It sounded like … a construction site. There was a big bang.”

“It shook our room,” Wisneski said. “It was a moment I’ll never forget. It went from complete euphoria to mass [chaos].”

To add to the horror and confusion, Was and Wisneski’s hotel was put on lockdown and cell service was quickly shut down without any questions answered.

“We were all really panicked,” Was said. “The worst part about it was that we didn’t know what happened. If we had known there was an accident or even if we knew someone had set a bomb, we would have known what we were reacting to. We had no idea.”

But it wasn’t until the sun rose after a night deluged with nerves and news coverage that both realized how close they were to it all.

“The Boston Globe [was] in the lobby. I picked up the newspaper and saw on the front page they had a picture of where the first bomb exploded,” Wisneski said. “And where the first bomb exploded was, literally, where I had been standing.”

‘A sacred event’

Was and Wisneski said after getting over the initial shock, the only response that seemed to fit was going out and hitting the road.

“Whenever we look back on that marathon, we remember what we saw and heard that day,” Wisneski said. “We don’t forget. I still run. I still plan to run marathons. None of that has changed one bit.”

Amby Burfoot, 1968 Boston Marathon champion and previous Runner’s World editor, said he wouldn’t expect anything less from the running community.

“I don’t want to say runners are courageous or strong-hearted, but we’re stubborn. We believe that this is a sacred event,” Burfoot said.

On the 45th anniversary of his 1968 win, Burfoot was stopped less than a mile from Boston’s finish line and herded back to his hotel along with the other runners in the third wave.

Though he didn’t have all of the answers at the time, he admits the possibility of such an event was something that had crossed his mind before.

“If I’m going to be honest, I think all of us within the sport have always known there has been potential for this,” Burfoot said. “Because after all, there’s 52.4 miles of roadways – two sides. Nobody can control them.”

While Was and Wisneski said they would have never predicted the events that unfolded during last year’s Boston Marathon, they all agreed the explosions wouldn’t deter them from running Boston again.

Was said, “As a runner, I don’t see myself doing anything different.”

A response Burfoot said he could predict any day of the week.

He said, “Everyone who feels in their soul that they are a runner wants to be there because it’s going to be a very emotional, soulful event.”

During the interim, Burfoot has been contacting past Boston Marathon champions to come out and show their support for those injured or killed in the explosions.

“I’ve been saying to the champions, it’s nice if we go back next year, but the stories and the emotions and the TV reports that spread far and wide are going to be about the people who were injured,” Burfoot said. “I don’t know those stories yet. I don’t think any of us will know those stories until April next year, but they are going to blossom as surely as the forsythia blossoms.”

Anticipation surrounds Boston 2014

In an effort to accommodate those runners who want to show their support for those affected by the 2013 race, Boston Athletic Association executives increased the previous year’s 27,000-person threshold by 9,000 runners.

Bret Treier, a friend to Was and a marathon runner himself, said expanding the registrant field is encouraging, but only at first glance. It means added competition and the likelihood runners with slower qualifying times will be shut out of the race entirely.

“The bombing sparked an intense increase of runners interested in the Boston Marathon – experienced and less experienced,” Treier said. “I registered for the [Sept. 15] Erie Marathon to try to improve my time, to improve my chances of actually getting to Boston. I qualified already, but a one-minute buffer just isn’t enough – especially not this year.”

The BAA confirmed Treier’s fears announcing on the first day alone 4,000 runners registered. Those runners met their qualifying standards by 20 or more minutes, but for runners with slower qualifying times, anxiety and nerves would surround the week as they waited for their registration period to open.

But Treier isn’t the only one with his heart set on a return to Boston. All but Wisneski plan to return in 2014.

Wisneski toes the Boston starting line every five years, and he isn’t going to let the actions of Tsarneav brothers alter his tradition — a reaction, he believes, they were hoping for.

“As tragic as what happened last year was,” he said, “it’s not something that will ever deter me from going back again. If 2014 was my year, I would be there, but it’s not my year.”

He will still be found lacing up his shoes and logging his long runs just as Was, Treier and Burfoot. A ritual that, according to Was, is tried-and-true.

“I just don’t know how you would prepare any different,” Was said.

Contact Grace Murray at [email protected].