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For two area runners, finishing the Boston Marathon after not doing so last year would qualify as success

April 22, 2014

The bib numbers in the 30,000s and high 20,000s look awfully strange.

And the newly created fourth wave won’t start until at least 85 minutes after the first wave has crossed the starting line in Hopkinton.

But to Lincoln’s Poyee Oster, Pawtucket’s Linda Bachand, and the nearly 5,700 runners that did not finish last year’s Boston Marathon because of the terrorist attack, that means very, very little.

Getting another chance to return for the 118th running of this legendary race, and this time, finishing what they started, is the only thing that matters.

“I can be the very last (finisher),” said Oster. “I don’t care. My goal is just to cross the finish line.”

Last April, Oster, 52, was midway through her final mile and only needed to hang a right onto Hereford Street and then a quick left onto Boylston Street for the final 0.2-of-a-mile sprint to the finish and a time in the low 4:20s.

But she was stopped, along with a large group of runners, before an overpass she was supposed to run under before taking her right turn.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” she added. “I was suffering at the time and my mental state was very low. I was actually happy to see that everyone in front of me stopped, but then I realized something really bad happened.”

What happened was that two homemade bombs (in backpacks left behind by two terrorists) exploded near the finish line – right before the marathon was four hours and 10 minutes long, killing three spectators, injuring dozens of others, and abruptly ending the race.

Meanwhile, Bachand, 44, had just scaled the last of the hills of the infamous Heartbreak Hill (at the 20.6-mile mark) and was getting ready to tour a few welcomed downhills when she and the runners around her got the red light.

“I was in front of this house where some people were having a house party,” said Bachand, a 19-year veteran of the Pawtucket Police Department. “They invited some runners in to stay warm and that’s when we saw what happened on TV.”

Bachand, who has finished several marathons across the country (sometimes running two in a weekend) as a member of the Marathon Fanatics’ running club, never bowed out of a race, but suddenly found herself with a DNF next to her name in the results, and it stung.

“It was heartbreaking,” added Bachand, “but you couldn’t believe what was happening. It just seemed so surreal. Everything was happening around you, but you kind of weren’t necessarily a part of it.”

Oster and Bachand eventually got home safely, and like the rest of the world, watched on TV the events that unfolded over the next few days, the capture of the final terrorist in Watertown, Mass., and the stories of those who were injured in the blasts and trying to bravely come back from their ordeals.

They also received some news of their own, when a month later, the Boston Athletic Association decided to recognize their projected finish times as their official times for the race, award them race medals, and invite them back for this year’s marathon.

But weeks before the BAA’s decision, the healing process had already begun for Oster and Bachand, who soon returned to the marathon circuit. Bachand actually ran in two more marathons before the month came to a close, while Oster took part in the Cox Marathon in Providence on May 6.

Bachand also took part in the Cox Marathon – just a day after running in the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, and by that race, she noticed a big spike in security and police officers at each of her stops around the country.

“When I did Big Sur (on April 27 in California), there was definitely more of a police presence,” added Bachand, who will run this race again for the New England Aquarium team. “By the time Cox rolled around, there were SWAT teams on the roof. It was just crazy.”

While Bachand did her best to put her grief and emotions aside and tuck her three marathon finishes under her belt, Oster had a tougher time emotionally getting through her first marathon near the latter stages of the Cox race, but with a little help, she pulled through.

“I was determined to cross the finish line, but right around 20 miles, when I knew that I was going to finish it, I got hysterical,” she added. “I was almost hyperventilating and I couldn’t move forward. But there were a couple of girls running with me, and they helped me to calm down and stay focused.”

Both runners admitted that they’re eagerly looking forward to today’s race, and they will have their personal group of fans on hand when they wrap up their races in Boston. Oster will have her husband, Mike, and two children present, and Bachand has some friends from Maryland coming to town.

“It’s going to be very emotional,” said Oster. “I have to worry if I’m going to really finish the race without breaking down. I anticipate I’ll have a similar problem this time, especially right around where I was stopped, but I should be fine.”

“It will be emotional, and I also think it’s going to be crazy with the amount of people that are going to be there,” offered Bachand. “As much as people originally thought that people would be scared to go, I think it’s going to be the complete opposite. So many people who normally wouldn’t have gone are going to go this year.”

Neither runner chose to predict a time they would finish the race – enjoying the day with family and friends, and yes, taking that final run before a large number of fans along Boylston Street and crossing the finish line is what’s important to them – but Oster shared another unique reason why she’s anxious to run today.

“I had been thinking a lot about this race,” added Oster. “The training’s been hard and I kept asking myself why I was going back there. And I know why. Because I need to take (the race) back. I’m not going to be afraid.

“Running is my refuge. It’s my identity, my joy, my freedom, and I feel that was taken away last year. I think a lot of people feel the same way. I think it’s going to a day of healing, a day of restoring, and a day we take the race back.”

Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24

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