More than a dozen runners dressed in the bright colors of the Boston Marathon crossed the finish line together Saturday in the Salt Lake City race, providing a tribute to those affected by Monday’s terrorist attacks and some closure.
“I didn’t think I was going to be emotional,” said Lindy Merkley, of Taylorsville, who ran both marathons this week and painted the name of the city down her right leg.
“But having us all together and come across the line was a big deal,” she said. “Some who didn’t get the chance to finish in Boston got to finish with us. It was really amazing.”
Merkley’s group ran at a pace Saturday to complete the rain-soaked course in 4 hours, 9 minutes, 43 seconds – the time during the Boston race when the first bomb exploded near the finish line.
Zianibeth Shattuck-Owen was among the runners in Salt Lake City to finish, something she was not allowed to do in her first Boston Marathon after being pulled off the 26.2-mile course a few miles short because of the twin explosions.
“I joined the last mile and half because I wanted closure,” Stattuck-Owen said of running despite a foot injury. “I wanted to finish what I had started in Boston.”
Saturday’s race, the first marathon in a major city since the Boston bombings, went off without a hitch though there was plenty of security – both visible and behind the scenes.
“We didn’t want it to be a security event, we wanted it to be a marathon, the way it should be,” Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said. “And I think we accomplished that today.”
There were more than 500 law enforcement officials on site, with bomb-detection devices provided by the Utah National Guard at the finish area and around the course.
At the start of the race marathoners paused for a moment of silence then joined in a rousing albeit rain-filled rendition of “Sweet Caroline” to honor Boston’s bombing victims.
Many wore blue-and-yellow ribbons and official Boston Marathon gear from previous races and the one that ended in tragedy Monday when two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three and injuring nearly 200.
About 23,000 runners participated in the Boston Marathon. About 7,000 competed in Salt Lake City’s marathon, bicycle tour, wheelchair/hand cycle marathon, half-marathon, 5K and children’s 1K run.
Some expressed relief Saturday that authorities had tracked down two brothers suspected of the attacks, one of whom was killed and the other arrested Friday night. Still, the increased police presence in Salt Lake City was unnerving at first for some, including Rachel Moody, who also ran on Monday in Boston.
“I was feeling pretty safe, ready to go, ready to get this done,” she said before the race. “Then I saw the bomb squad trucks and all the police along the side of the road and I had to stop and think. And it brings back so many memories of being there and what I felt when I was there.”
By the time the race started at 7 a.m., Moody was all smiles.
Some 20 members of the Utah National Guard were dispatched to monitor for unconventional weapons, such as radioactive and chemical threats, and police were on the watch for any items left unattended.
More than three hours in, there were no issues, other than a few medical ones near the finish.
Bryant Jensen, 29, Ogden, Utah, won the men’s race in 2 hours, 30 minutes, 14 seconds. Becky Sondag, 43, Casper, Wyo., was the women’s winner in 3:06:34. She said she has competed in the Boston marathon three times.
“I really see the Boston Marathon as a representation of the Americana dream,” Sondag said. “Marathoning really is about what being an American is – working your ass off at something and trying things.”
The high school track and cross country coach said her usual pre-race jitters went away when she realized there are “so many other things that matter.”
That didn’t mean security wasn’t on her mind, especially when a packed light-rail train had to be emptied of runners so bomb-sniffing dogs could be brought on in the pre-dawn hours.
“I don’t know if marathoning will ever be the same because quite frankly all of the extra added security that everybody is going to feel obligated to put in place now is going to raise the prices of it,” said Sondag, who has run three Boston Marathons. “It’s going to make everything harder.”
Officers with bomb-sniffing dogs also were at the start line as was a black Bomb Squad truck, which some runners used as a backdrop for photos. Authorities acknowledged about 100 more officers were on patrol than in past years, and a private security company was called in as an extra layer of protection.
“I kind of left my running heart in Boston and I feel like this is my tribute to them, especially after all the pain they had to go through again,” Moody said.
Jake Jessop, a 40-year-old Salt Lake City resident, who was running for the third time in Salt Lake, signed up for the Boston qualifier well before the attacks in Boston.
“We all run for Boston, but this year it takes on a new meaning,” he said Friday afternoon. “Everybody’s goal is to qualify for Boston and for us amateur runners, it’s the pinnacle of what we’d like to achieve. To see the atrocities that happened there and so many innocent people who were just trying to better themselves affected by it, either emotionally or physically, I really want to run for them.”