For Capital Region athletes preparing to run this year’s Boston Marathon, it hasn’t been a great winter to train. There’s the snow, the cold — and then there’s what happened last year.
With some runners still out on the course, three people were killed and more than 250 injured in the 2013 event when two bombs exploded near the race’s finish line on Boylston Street. It was a horrific experience for anyone who was there either competing in the race or just watching, but while the memory may have deterred some from returning in 2014, others are using the attack to stay motivated through an unusually harsh winter.
This year’s event will again be held on Patriots’ Day, Monday, April, 21, an official state holiday in Massachusetts that commemorates the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775.
“I think the mood and the feeling of people running the race this year is that we’re ‘Boston strong,’ ” said Scotia’s Cheryl DeBraccio, who will be a participant this year and was at the 2013 event watching her husband Brian compete. “That’s their mantra. That’s what people are thinking and that’s what is going to get us through the marathon this year.”
“Boston Strong” first appeared on Twitter last year after the bombing, and suggests the idea that fear shouldn’t keep anyone from competing in the race. Ballston Lake’s Danielle Maslowsky has certainly taken that concept to heart.
“Not only am I going to go and run it for the first time, but I’m also bringing my whole family along,” said Maslowsky, who previously lived in Cambridge just north of Boston. “I can remember how we all had the day off because of Patriots’ Day, and I can see all the people walking through the city to watch the race, see their friends and family, and get to a hotel room. Now I’m going to be a real part of that and it’s very important to me.”
Vince Juliano, race director for the 9.3-mile Gazette Stockade-athon in November, said he doesn’t expect area runners to be deterred from participating in Boston this year.
“I understand that a lot of people are going back to show their solidarity with the race,” said Juliano, who had his own scary moment in the 2013 Stockade-athon when a suspicious bag was noticed near the finish line and nearly stopped the race before officials determined there was no threat. “People aren’t going to let this prevent them from going to the race, and we’re all pretty confident this will probably be the most secure marathon ever.”
Juliano and his wife, Emily Bryans, will actually be heading overseas to compete in the Paris Marathon on April 6, and former Shenendehowa standout Scott Mindel, who posted a 2:22.25 in Boston last year to finish 30th overall, is running today in the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, Va. He will not run in Boston, but he will be there.
“Even before last year’s Boston race, I was thinking about doing something a little different this year, and the Virginia Beach event is not quite as high profile as Boston,” said the 27-year-old Mindel, who continued his running career after high school at the University of Cincinnati where he also earned a degree in aerospace engineering. “That means I’ll be able to start up front. I’m the third seed, and I’ll be in a good position to compete for prize money.”
Mindel, who now lives in New London, Conn., said race officials are also paying for his flight to Virginia and his hotel room, a perk he wouldn’t get in Boston.
“But I will be there,” said Mindel. “I have some friends who are running, and I have a girlfriend who lives in Boston, so I’m definitely going to go and watch. Patriots’ Day is pretty cool, and now this year there will be the additional intrigue, if that’s the right word, because of how they’re dealing with everything that happened last year. They’re not letting people check their bags, and it’s not going to be easy to meet friends at the finish line. It’s going to be interesting to see how they do it.”
‘Can’t give up’
The added security and some new rules the Boston Athletic Association has initiated may put a little damper on festivities, but nothing was going to stop Brian DeBraccio from competing. He’ll be running in his 18th consecutive Boston Marathon.
“Like most of the other runners, what happened last year is not going to stop me,” said DeBraccio. “Things will be different. You used to have your family or friends waiting for you at the finish line with some warm clothes, and they’ve virtually eliminated that with the new policies they have. But you can’t give up. That’s exactly what these people want you to do, and that’s why we have to be determined to run. I don’t know of anyone who’s been scared off. ”
For the DeBraccios and others, the biggest concern this winter has been getting in enough training time.
“I meet a group of people after work and all we do is complain about the weather,” said Cheryl DeBraccio, who also competes in triathlons. “We’ve all been wearing multiple layers while we’ve been training because it’s been so cold. It’s been very challenging.”
Typically, most marathoners will do short runs during the week, either before or after working, and save the weekend for their longer training runs. The weekends, fortunately, haven’t been that bad weather-wise.
“We’ve been lucky in the sense that the weekends have been manageable,” said Juliano. “I know that sometimes my wife and others have been forced to run indoors on treadmills either because of the snow or it’s been so cold. But the last five or six weekends the temperatures have been up and the roads have been clear, so people are getting in their long training runs. But during the week, it’s been so cold you don’t want to get up early and go for a run before heading out to work.”
Extreme cold and snow piled high on the side of the roads hasn’t stopped Maslowsky, who is hoping to improve upon the personal best of 3:30 she did at least year’s Little Rock Marathon in Arkansas.
“It seems my body gets used to the cold pretty quickly,” she said, “and for me it’s more difficult to jump on a treadmill and get the distance I’m looking for. I like to get outside and run, and yes, this winter has been very difficult, but I seem to achieve the weekly mileage I’m trying for. I make it happen.”
Brian DeBraccio is also getting in his mileage, but not without a few complaints.
“It’s been a bad winter, among the worst I can remember,” he said. “It’s either snowing or freezing cold, and I have a hard time dealing with the cold. The risk of injury is greater and it’s just not very enjoyable. Some people go indoors and use a treadmill but I have some issues with my legs and the treadmill makes the problem worse.”
Maslowsky, who turned 35 in December, is relatively new to road racing and marathoning in particular. She played soccer, softball and lacrosse growing up in Rockland County, and has only become a serious runner since moving to the Capital Region three years ago. Her newness to the sport gives her a different perspective than many other runners who have been at it a long time.
“In the past I always looked at running as a punishment,” said Maslowsky, who recently became a certified specialist in fitness nutrition at the Clifton Park YMCA where she also coaches a running group. “You didn’t do something right? Well, you have to go run a lap. Now, it’s my everything. I’m a stay-at-home mom, and so finding the time to run is a challenge, but I find the time. I’ve found such a passion in running that now I’m coaching others.”
As for the increased security measures, people seem to be fine with them. Cheryl DeBraccio, who is celebrating her 20th wedding anniversary with Brian this year, was waiting for her husband after the race last year when she found out a bomb had exploded.
“I was waiting near the start and I couldn’t hear anything,” said DeBraccio, who grew up in Greenwich. “Then you could tell something happened. People started acting funny. My phone rang and it was Brian, asking me if I had heard anything. He told me that something, a bomb, had exploded. We were OK but there was this sense of panic and uncertainty. Nobody wants to go through that again, so I’m fine with all the precautions they want to take. Whatever they want to do to keep us safe is OK with me.”