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Columbia runners return to 2014 Boston Marathon

Getting set for the country's oldest marathon

April 17, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST


Pat Okker, Scott MacPherson and Audrey Madison will put months of training to the test on April 21 in the 2014 Boston Marathon. “I race myself, and I try to get the most I can out of my own ability,” says MacPherson. Photo by Katie Bell

Their bodies crave speed. When they run, they fall into a routine — arms pumping, adrenaline rushing, feet pounding against the ground.

ON TRAIL


Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 20, pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges in connection with the 2013 bombings near the race’s finish line.
The bombing suspect is expected to stand trial November 3. If convicted, prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

NEW REGULATIONS


Nearly 3,500 security personnel, more than double last year’s number, will patrol this year’s race.
Runners must use provided clear bags for their belongings. Bags, bulky costumes and more than 1 liter of liquid are not allowed for runners or spectators.

Scott MacPherson, Pat Okker and Audrey Madison have each spent months training for the 2014 Boston Marathon. Symbolic of the city’s spirit, they’re stronger than ever.

Although they weren’t in Boston on April 15, 2013, when the bombings occurred at the finish line, these Columbia runners are channeling last year’s tragedy to fuel their fires for this year’s race.

MacPherson, Okker and Madison are among 10 Columbians who will compete in the 118th Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual race of this length. It is a challenge of physical and mental ability that tests the resilience of the human body. And this year will be a testament to the resilience of Boston itself.

The marathon is held on Patriots’ Day, a holiday with special significance to Boston, as it commemorates the beginning battles of the American Revolutionary War. Because it is a state holiday, Bostonians are excused from work and line the 26.2-mile route from Hopkinton to Boston to watch the runners.

“The whole city is there watching you,” says Madison, who ran the marathon in 2011 and 2012. “It’s just a really cool feeling.”

But in 2013, the event turned to tragedy when two bombs erupted at the finish line. The explosion killed three and injured 264 others, several of whom lost limbs. “Yes, there was fear and terror that day, and yes, the runners are coming back and in greater numbers than ever,” Okker says. “For me, that’s what it’s about — the resiliency of the human spirit.”

UNSETTLING RECOLLECTIONS

Before last year’s marathon became a disaster, Okker sat in her office and watched her running mentor, Shelly Frazier, cross the finish line via a livestream on the race’s website. She then looked at her Facebook page and saw a post about the explosion. The 20 minutes she waited to find out if Frazier was safe felt like ages.

Madison didn’t know about the bombings until she fished her phone out of her desk drawer later that afternoon. She had received message after message from friends asking if she was OK. They thought she was there. “I knew I would have been there had I not done poorly the previous year,” Madison says.

MacPherson remembers being glued to his TV screen after learning the news. He checked and rechecked his Facebook page. Once he made sure his friends were OK, he dialed his running coach, Steve Sisson and said, “Hey, I want to run Boston next year.”

MAP: LANDMARKS ALONG THE PATH

FORWARD STRIDES

This year, the Boston Athletic Association allowed 36,000 runners to register, nearly 9,200 more than last year and the second-largest field in the race’s history. According to the B.A.A.’s website, the increased number of participants will allow runners who couldn’t finish the race in 2013 to participate and honor those affected by the tragedy.

The Boston Marathon holds such prestige for runners in part because you have to qualify at a previous marathon in order to run.

MacPherson, who runs professionally with Austin-based Adidas Rogue Athletic Club, knew this year was his chance. He ran his first marathon at the 2012 Olympic trials. He qualified for Boston at the Twin Cities Marathon.

MacPherson, who will wear bib number 34 because of his qualifying time, wants to take four minutes off of his personal best. He is hoping to finish in 2:12, just 1:38 behind last year’s winning time. He knows this race is an exhausting battle, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. “The marathon always wins,” he says. “No matter what. I race the marathon. I race myself, and I try to get the most I can out of my own ability.”

Internal competition is the common denominator among these runners. For Okker, races remove the speculation about her ability and put her preparation to the test. Before her mentor suggested the idea of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, she never thought it would be possible. She qualified at the New Orleans Marathon.

Madison is also hoping to beat her personal best time of 3:22:55, which she ran in the Go St. Louis Marathon. She strives to prevent her chronic asthma from getting in the way of doing something she loves. “It’s something that’s pretty personal,” Madison says. “To see that you can do something because you want to do it.”

“There’s something about a marathon that really resonates with the people of Boston,” Bostonian Jerry Qiao says. “The whole concept of a marathon, a race to finish 26.2 grueling miles, is based on determination and hard work, qualities that really exemplify the core of what Boston is.”

On Monday, these runners will blend into the sea of thousands at the starting line. At the sound of the gun, they will push off from the ground and glide through the New England air as they begin the long journey back to Beantown. They’ll prove to themselves and for the city of Boston that there’s only one direction to go from here — forward.

Comments on this article

     

    Not sure where you got your numbers but there's more than 10 from Columbia going...including at least 1 that was there in the bombing last year.not me.That's what convinced me to sign up. I'll be there with thousands of new friends and some old ones too!

    Posted by Jennifer Clark on Apr 18, 2014 at 9:12 a.m. (Report Comment)