‘I felt like Tom Brady’: An emotional day for Mainers at Boston Marathon

Caribou native Spencer McElwain, shown competing in the Flat Top 5K in Lamoine on March 29, was the second-fastest Maine runner in the Boston Marathon, completing his debut in 2:37:58.
Courtesy photo
Caribou native Spencer McElwain, shown competing in the Flat Top 5K in Lamoine on March 29, was the second-fastest Maine runner in the Boston Marathon, completing his debut in 2:37:58.
Posted April 21, 2014, at 4:28 p.m.
Last modified April 21, 2014, at 8:08 p.m.

Lori Bartlett was greeted at Mile 24 of the 2013 Boston Marathon not by throngs of spectators urging her to persevere, but by yellow police tape and the news that she would not be allowed to complete the historic endurance test.

Two bombs detonated near the finish line not only brought the race to a premature halt, they left three people dead and more than 260 injured.

For the running community at large, it was a stunning but temporary setback.

When Bartlett, a police and fire dispatcher from Bar Harbor, arrived at Mile 24 during Monday’s 118th running of the trek from Hopkinton to Boston, she was greeted as are all who battle through the rigors of Heartbreak Hill, as a conquerer, a survivor.

“Where I was stopped last year there weren’t any people there,” said Bartlett. “The course was blocked off and there were just a few people who lived around there walking around.

“This year when I got there, there were an amazing number of people lining both sides of the road, and everybody was so excited. There wasn’t a better place to be today, and there wasn’t anything better than to be a runner today.”

Some 36,000 runners joined Bartlett in Monday’s race — the second-highest total in Boston Marathon history and up from 27,000 a year ago in part to allow 5,600 competitors whose 2013 races were cut short by the explosions to finish what they had started a year earlier.

They were protected by a massive security effort that included 3,500 law enforcement officers, bomb-sniffing dogs, security cameras and at least four Blackhawk helicopters patrolling the route from above throughout the day.

For many of the runners the added security was seen as one of the few concessions to last year’s tragedy, and their finishing times were of secondary relevance.

Just finishing, and sharing in the determination that this rite of spring would not be ruined by an act of terrorism, were the primary motivations of the day.

“Running down Boylston Street toward the finish line I felt like Tom Brady,” said Bartlett, who completed the 26.2-mile run in an even 5 hours, 23 minutes. “But everything from last year also went through my mind, and I was just grateful all those people could be there this year and nothing occurred.”

Robert Gomez of Saco, the fastest Maine runner at the marathon in both 2011 and 2013, initially had decided not to compete this year because he did not feel he had trained sufficiently.

But the ever-building emotional pitch that preceded this comeback race proved too much to ignore.

“I wasn’t going to run but I had already registered and within the last week before the race — especially last Tuesday on the anniversary — I just became overwhelmed by the entire situation and I knew I had to go down and run,” said Gomez.

And while his time of 2 hours, 40 minutes, 37 seconds Monday did not approach his 2:22:53 clocking in 2013, Gomez was satisfied with his effort.

“‘Patriotism’ was the word of the day, and not just for Boston but for the whole United States,” he said. “There was a tremendous amount of support out on the course, and I had a blast running today.”

Bryne Decker of Yarmouth turned in the fastest time of the day by a Maine runner at the marathon.

The 47-year-old lawyer finished in 2:33:36, which placed him 145th overall.

Erica Jesseman, 25, of Scarborough was the top women’s finisher from the Pine Tree State. The former University of New Hampshire distance standout, who now coaches at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, placed 29th among all women in the field with her time of 2:42:32.

Jesseman edged Sheri Piers of Falmouth, a perennial top Maine women’s finisher in Boston, by eight seconds. The 42-year-old Piers placed fourth in the women’s masters division and 31st in the women’s overall field in 2:42:40.

Caribou native Spencer McElwain, 24, was the second-fastest Maine runner in the race, completing his Boston debut in 2:37:58.

McElwain had hoped to finish in less than 2:25 and was on that pace until the late stages.

“Things were going great until I cramped up in my hamstring for the first time in my life,” said McElwain. “I had just crested Heartbreak Hill so I was about 21½ miles into it and it happened. It happened so suddenly I thought I pulled it. I kept running, but I couldn’t put weight on it and started walking.”

But even in disappointment McElwain found solace among the estimated 1 million spectators who turned out to watch the race unfold.

“I walked a couple of miles and was ready to get on the T (mass transit system), but I had no change so I decided to finish it,” he said. “The crowd was packed to the gills, and every time people would see me starting to run again after walking they’d go crazy.

“You could tell something was different because everyone was so excited.”

That feeling lingered long after McElwain crossed the finish line.

“When I walked back to my girlfriend’s apartment, which is about a mile from the finish line, after the race people were just getting out of the Red Sox game and they’d see me and were stopping me for pictures or high-fiving me,” he said. “I wasn’t the happiest person in the world right then, but they made me feel better.”

Other top Maine men’s finishers were Josh Zolla of Freeport (2:40:05) and Adam Goode of Bangor in 2:41:03.

Among other Maine finishers, 1984 Olympic marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson, 56, of Freeport won the women’s ages 55-59 division with a time of 2:52:11. Her son, 24-year-old Anders Samuelson, placed 13th among all Maine runners in 2:50:01.

And 57-year-old Gary Allen of Great Cranberry Island, who earlier this year ran from Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island to the site of Super Bowl XLVIII in East Rutherford, N.J., completed Boston for the 22nd consecutive year with a time of 2:58:38 — the 68th sub-3 hour marathon of his career.

“You had the feeling that everyone had the same thought,” he said, “that no one was going to ruin Boston, that we were taking back our race and our city.

“Running down Boylston Street to the finish line you had to fight your emotions, because you knew you were running past the site of those blasts,” he added. “But then you got to the finish line, and you can’t help but feel strong.”

Meb Keflezighi, a native of Eritrea now living in San Diego, became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon since 1983 with a time of 2:08:37. He edged runner-up Wilson Chebet of Kenya by 11 seconds.

Rita Jeptoo of Kenya won the women’s title for the second straight year and third time overall, setting a course record with her time of 2:18:57.

“Everyone was just so happy here today,” McElwain said. “I think Boston wanted a day like this when nothing went wrong.

“The Red Sox lost so it wasn’t a perfect day, but it definitely was a good day.”

 

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