Before they left, they had already planned to return.
The 2013 Boston Marathon was marred by a pair of bombs, but for some Richmonders who competed in that event, there was never any question whether they would participate in today’s race.
Theresa Naylor-Green will return with her sister, Gina Naylor-Junkermann. The two ran together last year in what was supposed to be Naylor-Green’s final Boston Marathon, but she will return to pay tribute to the event — and last year’s victims.
Kevin Chidwick also will return, this time to finish. He was at the 21-mile mark when the bombs went off last year, and was herded into a church for several anxious hours.
“You’ve got to go back and make sure the event itself is the winner, and not the idiot doing these crazy things,” he said. “There was no doubt if I had the opportunity to do it again, I would.”
According to the Boston Marathon entry list, there are 118 Richmond-area runners signed up to participate in today’s race.
The event is one of the most famous on the running circuit, in part because of its unique design.
Instead of running a loop around the city, participants get on school buses and are taken 26.2 miles outside of Boston to the small town of Hopkinton, Mass.
“Imagine 30,000 runners all crowding into the streets of Ashland,” Andrew Rose said. “Most running races have to be incredibly boring spectator sports, but Boston is the exception. It’s wall-to-wall people the entire way.”
Rose, the CEO of
Comparenow.com, traveled to Boston last year with Chidwick, who is the CEO of Elephant Auto Insurance.
The two, and the rest of their traveling party, were supposed to meet up after the race, but Chidwick didn’t make it to the finish line.
“They blocked the road, but we didn’t know what was going on,” Chidwick said. “They shuffled us all into a church. The people there were fantastic — they sent us pizza and water.”
Three hours later, he was bused to the finish line with other competitors, where he met up with Rose.
“It was pretty scary,” Rose said. “The day was supposed to be about celebration and achievement. I’m looking forward to getting back, so we can take our revenge out on the course.”
The field for this year’s race was expanded to 36,000 to accommodate the increased interest, but it sold out in days. Runners must meet a qualifying standard to enroll, something that Judith Isbell found herself having to do on short notice.
Isbell, the girls cross country coach at St. Catherine’s School, missed out on requalifying by 13 seconds during last year’s race.
“After I finished, I felt really satisfied. I wasn’t worried about it,” she said. “But after the bombings, I became determined to go back.”
On short notice, she enrolled in a marathon in Erie, Pa., and achieved the mark.
Isbell, who got hooked on running when she joined a Sports Backers marathon training team, has now run 13 marathons. But there’s something special about Boston, she said.
“It’s an unbelievable day,” she said. “The whole weekend is dedicated to the runners. Everybody treats you like a celebrity, and there’s people cheering on every inch of the course.”
That euphoric feeling soured quickly last year.
Naylor-Green and Naylor-Junkermann heard the two bombs go off, then made a hasty retreat from the scene while officers swooped in.
The most stressful part, Naylor-Green said, was not being able to communicate with the outside world.
“They had turned off cellphone reception in the area,” she said. “An hour later, it turned back on, and I had an uncountable number of text messages.”
Waiting at the church, Chidwick was able to send a quick note, along with a “selfie” picture, back to his office, where they spread the word he was OK.
Naylor-Green said she’s expecting a raucous crowd this morning as Patriot’s Day is celebrated as a public holiday in Massachusetts.
“I had never understood why, after running in Boston, people went back to do it again,” she said. “But the way the whole city comes out to support the race, it’s something you can’t understand until you do it. It’s an amazing city.”