Christal Pauls crossed the finish line of last year’s Boston Marathon about 15 minutes before the first bomb went off.
In the immediate aftermath of the double bombing that killed three people and wounded more than 200, she did not think she would ever return for another marathon.
But Pauls, who lives in Wichita, will be there when the marathon gets underway Monday – in part because she promised a friend, Sherry Zerr, she would go and in part because of the bombing.
“I think it’s really going to be emotional, and I think there’s a part of me that needs to go back and make it fun this time and not so tragic and maybe come out of it with a good feeling and see what it’s really supposed to be about,” she said.
“And to show people like them (the bombers) they’re not going to stop us.”
Pauls, 46, a fulfillment planner at Coleman and a group fitness instructor for the YMCA, is among 23 runners from the Wichita area who have registered for the 26.2-mile event. A year ago, 25 runners from Wichita participated in the Boston Marathon. None was injured by the blasts.
About half didn’t finish because the course was shut down after the explosions. Those who completed the run reached the finish line at least 10 minutes before the first bomb detonated.
Pauls finished in 3 hours, 47 minutes, then met Zerr – another runner from Wichita who has since moved to Denver – at a restaurant. She was talking to her husband on her phone when the first bomb went off. She thought it was cannons being fired as part of the Patriots Day celebration. But soon she saw policemen running past the restaurant’s windows. Zerr got on her iPad and learned of the explosion.
Pauls and Zerr headed to the subway to get back to their hotel near the airport, but the subway station was closed. They kept walking, still wearing their running gear, from station to station, only to find each station closed because of the bombings. Finally, they got a taxi.
It took about two hours to get to the hotel, Pauls said. They watched the television coverage of the bombings all night.
Since then, the event has never been far from her mind.
“You think about it a lot just because it comes up in conversation,” Pauls said. “It seems like you’re continually talking about it.”
The run itself was not easy. The Boston Marathon is a crowded, hilly course that is hard on runners from the Plains. Pauls, who has been running marathons for about six years since accepting a dare from a co-worker, felt unprepared for it last year.
She has since done more incline work on the treadmill to get ready for the hills. The crowd is something else.
“There’s just so many people,” she said. “You’re running in a crowd the whole time. The whole course is lined with people. It was completely different.”
There will be even more people this year. The Boston Athletic Association expects 36,000 runners to compete, 9,000 more than last year. The number of spectators is expected to swell by the thousands as well.
Pauls, who will be joined on the trip by her 16-year-old daughter, Cassie, feels ready.
“I think that having that experience and knowing what to expect now is going to make it better,” she said.
Didn’t finish last year
Wichita physician Van Strickland, 63, also will return this year. He was about 10 miles from the finish line last year when the course was shut down because of the bombings.
Strickland wasn’t allowed to return to his hotel near the finish line for several hours. A woman invited him into her house to wait, he said. They watched television and ate, and he used her telephone.
When he finally got back to his room, he found 50 messages on his cellphone, he said. His brother had posted the news of Strickland’s participation in the race on Facebook, and Strickland was hearing from people he hadn’t heard from in 40 years.
Strickland was allowed back into this year’s race without qualifying because race officials calculated he would have finished last year’s marathon in the required time. He will be staying at the same hotel, and he has made plans to reunite with the woman who took him into her home last year, he said.
Winter weather slowed his training, so he is trying to get ready in a short amount of time.
“I hope I don’t break,” he said.
Strickland said he isn’t concerned about violence at the marathon this year.
“I don’t think they’ll try it again, but you can’t tell,” he said.
“This is the greatest marathon in the world. I hated to see it marred last year,” Strickland said. “That’s why so many people wanted to get back in this year. There’s been a resurgence of interest.”
As for the bombers, Strickland was angry that Rolling Stone magazine put a photo of the surviving bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, on its cover in July. He won’t ever buy the magazine again, he said.
“It was like he was a folk hero or something,” Strickland said.
Most runners from the area who will compete in Boston this year are going for the first time.
Logan Jones, 24, a sales associate at First Gear in Wichita and a student at Wichita State University, ran his first marathon in 2011 as a freshman at Kansas State University. He has been preparing for a Boston run ever since.
“I kind of view the Boston Marathon as my Olympics,” he said.
Jones qualified for the race by running 2:58 in Wichita’s Prairie Fire Marathon, then shaved 10 seconds off that time in a Denver marathon. So he’ll be among the first wave of 1,300 runners at the start in Boston, he said.
What happened in Boston last year didn’t deter him from entering this year.
“It just made me sick,” Jones said. “I knew a couple of people in the race, and luckily they were OK. It just made me want do it even more this year.”
Jones said he has prepared for stepped-up security measures at the race. Runners typically were allowed to take a bag with extra shoes and gear to the line, but bags have been banned this year. Runners will have to wear everything they plan to run in to their starting areas; any clothing left behind will be donated to charity, Jones said.
Jones plans to get cheap pants and a shirt at a thrift shop to stay warm while he waits for the start. The wait can be a couple of hours, he said.
Runners are allowed to have a bag with a change of clothing waiting for them after they finish the race, he said.
Jones has a special connection to Boston. He was named for Logan Airport, where his mother once worked for American Airlines, he said.
“The Boston Marathon is magical,” Jones said, “but it’s even more special now, with the camaraderie and patriotism. It’s made me even more eager.”