Boise runners return to Boston to reclaim the beauty, joy of the world's most iconic marathon

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comApril 12, 2014 

Some people run for fitness. Others run for ribbons or cool T-shirts. The benefits have as much to do with mind as body.

Distance running is often a solitary pursuit, but many endurance runners form strong bonds when training with others. That's certainly true of those involved in the Boise Foothills Running Club, a group of roughly 20 women who range in age from their 20s to 50s. They run three to four times a week, or more.

"I talk from the minute we start running to the minute we stop," said Rachael Bickerton, a 41-year-old Briton who in 2009 traded cigarettes for the so-called runner's high. "I really find it hard to run on my own because there's no one to talk to."

The running group has had a lot to talk about - and process - since last April.

Bickerton and seven club members at the 2013 Boston Marathon found themselves locked down in a hotel room as police swarmed the area, searching for those who planted bombs at the finish line. Physically and emotionally depleted, the runners rationed the meager food they had and assured panicked family members that they were OK.

"That definitely made all of us closer," said Stacey Stewart, 41. "It's amazing how fast our priorities changed. We had trained so hard, but we didn't talk about finish times."

Stewart recalled seeing graphic, gruesome local television footage of the two bomb explosions that killed three and injured more than 260. Surviving the race - without losing any limbs - felt like a blessing, local runners said.

But they were also angry at what the bombers did to Boston and its storied marathon, where jubilant spectators line most of the 26.2-mile course.

As the Boise group hunkered down in the hotel room, Bickerton proclaimed that she would return for the 2014 Boston Marathon.

"She looked at the rest of the room and said, 'Who else is coming back with me?'" Stewart said. "I reluctantly said, 'I'll think about it.' It was not a tough decision to decide to come back.

MORE THAN 5,700 DIDN'T FINISH

Lois Wight came within two-tenths of a mile of finishing last year. Then the first bomb went off.

She was turning to complete that last stretch on Boylston Street.

"That's where you're gearing up to go, and look like a runner," Wight said. "Everyone starts going fast down that street. That's where the grandstands are."

Her husband, Steve, was waiting for her near the finish line. Ushered off the course after the explosions, she was able to borrow a cellphone and call her husband. He hadn't been hurt.

"There were more important things going on besides that you didn't finish," said Wight, who comforted a young woman from Alaska who was worried that her children were injured.

Back in Boise, runner Sue Lovelace and Foothills Running Club friends were following Wight's progress in the race. They were alarmed when the electronic tracking showed she didn't finish.

"She never crossed the finish line, and I'm slowly realizing she could have been hurt," said Lovelace, 54, who did Boston three years in a row but skipped 2013.

Wight was one of about 5,700 runners who were unable to finish due to the bombs. After petitions to race organizers, those runners were given automatic eligibility for this year's race. That means they didn't have to meet qualifying times to get in.

Among the 5,700 is Tracy Wasden, a 44-year-old Meridian runner who guided a blind runner at Boston last year as part of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired's Team with a Vision.

"We didn't know we were going to be invited back. I wasn't going to go unless I got that opportunity because I didn't requalify," said the mother of four, who runs with a group of moms in Meridian.

She and Diane Berberian, a 56-year-old from Florida, were less than a half-mile from finishing when they heard the explosions. Wasden and another guide walked Berberian four or five miles to her hotel.

Her flashbacks include the sight of nine or 10 black SUVs speeding up the race course, sirens on.

"That night, all you could see was the flashing lights on SWAT cars," Wasden recalled. "I felt like I was on a movie set."

Team with a Vision runners raise funds for the Massachusetts association that sponsors them. This year, Wasden and a friend, Lori Frasure of Meridian, raised $5,000 ahead of the marathon.

"I have a lot of reasons why I want to go back," said Wasden, who will again team up with Berberian. "No. 1, I want to finish what I started. Two, I want to put another picture in my mind, other than what I left with. It was literally a war zone. There was crime scene tape everywhere.

"I want the bombers to know that they targeted the wrong group. Runners are strong, and we'll come back with a vengeance."

'I'M GOING BACK TO CLOSE THE LOOP'

The Boston bombings were the beginning of a "dreadful" year for Bickerton.

She lost both of her parents. She had hoped they would get a chance to see her run - a talent discovered and nurtured in midlife.

"We're just not a sporty family," Bickerton said. "I was always the last picked for the field hockey team."

Bickerton, who is director of trademark licensing and enforcement at Boise State University, committed to doing the London Marathon this year. She's also raised almost $8,000 for pancreatic cancer research.

The London race happens just more than a week before Boston's. Bickerton injured her right hip, but she's intent on completing both marathons.

"I want to go back and really just enjoy the race," she said of Boston. "And remember that this is why we run - to be with people, and to celebrate the fact that we can run, that we're lucky enough to run.

"I don't want to remember Boston as that dark place, or that place where there was trauma."

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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