March 21, 2015 9:01 am
Updated: March 22, 2015 7:06 am

Blog: Return to the Boston Marathon

A large crowd gathers to pose for photos at the Boston Marathon finish line, one day before the race, Sunday, April 20, 2014, in Boston.

AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty
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“It was him.”

These were the words uttered recently by the lawyer for the man on trial for setting off bombs at the Boston Marathon almost two years ago. Three killed, 264 injured.

The blast ripped through a crowded area just before the finish line – where runners were hitting the highest of their highs.

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I know it well. I’ve passed it seven times. And I’ve secured passes for my wife in the grandstand directly across from that spot.

While I wasn’t there when the bombs went off, many of my friends were.

People react as an explosion goes off near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston, Monday, April 15, 2013.

AP Photo/The Boston Globe, David L Ryan

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Minutes after the explosions, one of those friends called to ask me – in Toronto – what the hell was going on 400 metres from where he was standing.

He had finished the race half an hour earlier and was waiting for his girlfriend. Turned out she crossed the line a few minutes ahead of the blasts.

None of my running buddies was hurt that day. But we were all changed. The beauty of what is the Boston Marathon was shattered.

If you are into long-distance running, there is nothing like the Boston Marathon.

It’s not just a marathon. It’s Boston: you get to line up with some of the best long-distance runners in the world and – theoretically – you have as good a shot at winning as anybody else. Until the gun goes off and you’re eating elite – and not so elite – dust.

Most people who like to throw on a pair of running shoes and sign up for a race, never get a chance to run the world’s oldest continuous marathon.

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Getting there is a celebration. And two years ago, that celebration was scarred by that deadly explosion.

Frankly, I’m surprised that a major marathon hadn’t been targeted by terrorists before. A high-profile event, world-wide television coverage.

READ MORE: Security heightened at Tokyo Marathon after Islamic State targets Japanese

No matter how many boots you put on the street, there’s no way you can completely secure 42.2 kilometres of open road. A defrocked priest proved that during the 2004 Olympics in Athens when he knocked over Brazilian runner Vanderlei De Lima as he led the marathon with around seven kilometres to go. He was able to hang on to win the bronze medal.

The attacker later apologized for what he did. But still the damage was done.

Since the Boston bombings, security has been tightened at a lot of marathons, taking some of the fun and spontaneity out of the event.

It’s tougher for a runner’s friends and family to get around to see that runner at different parts of the course. And runners are having to rely on friends and family to make sure there are warm, dry clothes to change into at the end of the race.

Despite that, Boston is still Boston and I’m thrilled to be heading back for an eighth kick at the can on April 20, especially now that my body seems reluctant to respond to the rigours of marathon training. It tries to negotiate an extra cup of coffee in the morning and tends to look longingly at the couch as I get ready to head out the door for a training run.

I will be as ready as I can be and even though I will lose the race by an hour and 45 minutes I will give it my all. For it is Boston.

I will be thinking about how lucky I am to be back with 27,000 of my sweatiest, smelliest friends. I will be thinking that if I have a good day, I will finish ahead of a good number of them – some of them, half my age.

I will be thinking about the nice, cold beer or six I will inhale after I’m done.

One thing I won’t be thinking about: It was him.

peter.hadzipetros@globalnews.ca

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