A memorial for the three victims who died at last year’s marathon.

A memorial for the three victims who died at last year’s marathon.

Surrey runners return to Boston Marathon

Marathon ‘will probably be one of the safest places on earth’ says returning runner

Distance runners are made of tough stock.

They slog through mile after mile – often through inclement weather – with little regard for aching muscles, blisters or shortness of breath.

They are not easily kept down, in other words.

And such resilience will be on display Monday in Massachusetts, when the famed Boston Marathon returns to the streets a year after the 2013 bombings killed three people and injured hundreds more.

Eighteen Surrey runners are registered for this year’s race, including South Surrey’s Ray Baker, Alan Benson, Marc Fontaine, Linda Garrett, Ian Herron, Dee Makepeace, Jim Millington, Gayle Robinson, Lynne Spence and Bert Van Donkersgoed.

Many on the list were at last year’s event, including Baker – a Surrey doctor – who was about 200 metres from the first explosion in 2013.

“I was about as close to the finish line as they’d let me get,” he said.

However, despite that experience, he says he had no hesitation signing up to run again.

“No, not at all. If anything, there’s even a stronger feeling to go back,” he said. “You want to go back and express support for Boston and to stand up to terrorists and say, ‘It didn’t work.’”

No Peninsula runners or spectators were hurt in last year’s attack but it was nevertheless a terrifying experience for all present.

At the time, Benson – a South Surrey lawyer – recalled “a massive explosion…this huge ball of smoke.”

What followed, he said, was “pandemonium everywhere.”

The bombing touched off a dramatic days-long manhunt for a suspect, who was eventually found in a boat being stored in the backyard of a Watertown, Mass. home.

Dzhokar Tsarnaev is currently in custody, awaiting a federal trial on charges he helped plan and execute the bombing.

This year, with the marathon’s security improvements – of which there are many – Baker doesn’t expect any similar issues.

“With all they’ve done, it’ll probably be one of the safest places on earth,” he said.

Baker’s feelings toward the race are similar to many marathon runners. In fact, interest in running this year’s marathon was so great that organizers increased the field by 9,000 – to a total of 36,000 runners – this year. Also, runners who were unable to finish last year’s race were invited back without having to re-qualify.

“Everybody gets excited for it, especially this year considering all that has happened. We figure the spectators will be out in record numbers, too, to show their support,” said Baker, who will be running his sixth consecutive Boston Marathon.

“It’s going to be very memorable, a once-in-lifetime experience.”

Benson, who last year had already crossed the finish line in advance of the bombings, said he has “mixed feelings” on returning, but never wavered in registering again.

“You’re happy and sad,” he said, adding that his wife and daughter will attend the event with him.

“You think about it when you’re out running sometimes, and it can be emotional, but I didn’t think (about not going).

“You can’t destroy an event like this.”

Though this year’s event will be an emotionally charged one, most in the South Surrey group were excited to simply focus on running again.

“I’m not expecting to break any records or anything, but it’ll be good to be out there, just chugging away,” Herron said.

Still, memories of 2013 remain.

“It’s all still very vivid – it’s something that will be permanently etched in my mind,” Baker said.

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