Pam Tymchak knows exactly where she was at 2:49 p.m. on April 15, 2013. She was celebrating the completion of the Boston Marathon – one minute earlier.
“We had just crossed the finish line and put the blankets on,” the East Amherst resident remembered.
Then came the two explosions just down the street. They left her unharmed but confused.
“At first I thought it was a transformer,” Tymchak said. “But nobody really knew. People were saying, ‘Get out of here.’
“I had no one there at the finish. My family was at the race, but had left. … I remember waiting and waiting at the bus, where we had our bags with my cell phone. I could see all these messages on it, but I couldn’t call out.”
Due to last year’s terrorist attack, today’s Boston Marathon certainly will rank as one of the most unusual in the annals of the event.
The marathon is so popular and historic that the demand for spots in the race exceeds the supply of openings, so most runners have to qualify to run it.
More than 23,000 did just that, while another 4,600 were invited back because they couldn’t finish last year’s race.
That leaves several thousand other spaces in the field of 36,000; many of those participants will be running to raise money for charities. The event is close enough to serve as a goal and a magnet for runners with connections to Western New York.
Every runner will make a statement just by showing up at the start, and emotions are sure to be high at the finish line because of the bombings.
Still, snapshots of some local runners display their differences.
In Tymchak’s case, she will bring a different mindset to this race than she did last year.
“I want to pay attention to everyone,” she said. “I want to thank the volunteers. If you are worried about time, you have to be focused on yourself. I don’t want the earphones.”
While Tymchak barely finished last year’s race, Katie Siwy never had the chance. The West Seneca native and University at Buffalo graduate who now lives in the Boston area was just past mile 25 shortly before 3 p.m.
“Everybody just kind of backed up,” she said. “We didn’t know what was going on.”
Siwy is involved with Shriners Hospitals for Children in Boston, where she works as an occupational therapist. Last year, she made some connections with the John Hancock Association, allowing her and some friends and associates to raise money for the hospitals by running the race. The group is called “Team Love to the rescue.”
Now Siwy will do it again this year with some friends, personally raising a few thousand dollars along the way.
“I would have to say everyone has been encouraging around here,” said Siwy, who comes back to Western New York several times a year. “There’s a buzz in Boston right now.”
As you could guess, running that last mile this time around will pack some extra emotion.
“I know a lot of people here who have done ‘last mile’ runs, but many others haven’t participated. We want to be crossing that finish line after running the full distance,” she said.
Back in Buffalo, Brian Stewart and Melina Buck work together at Fleet Feet. This will be Stewart’s first Boston Marathon, and it’s Buck’s second.
“I qualified last fall,” Buck said. “This was a special year to do Boston, but I was always planning on running it. After the tragedy of last year, it made me want to do it even more.”
“I qualified last May in Pittsburgh. After it happened, it definitely was a driving force to try to be part of it in Boston this time,” Stewart said. “It seemed important to be part of it. I wanted to show my solidarity, and that really helped push me.”
People have always turned out in April to line the race course from Hopkinton to Boston. This edition is likely to attract large numbers of fans.
“Even the thin spots, I’m sure, will have a lot more people than they normally do,” Stewart said.
Steve Gonser of Hamburg has noticed a split in the reaction of his friends when he mentioned he’d be in Boston to run today. The runners in his life were very excited.
“They’d say what a prestigious race it is, and congratulate me,” he said. “Everyone’s the same.”
But the non-runners had a different outlook.
“They give you that look,” Gonser said. “They say things like, ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Are you aware of what happened?’ ‘Be careful.’ ‘What’s your wife doing?’ ”
It wasn’t going to slow him down, since he has been planning this trip for more than a year. It’s Gonser’s first Boston Marathon.
“My knee-jerk reaction is that everything seems to be OK,” he said. “You can’t live under a rock.”
Finally, Aileen Hoak has a story different from most of the other runners from the area who will be running today. Hoak, who finished second in the Buffalo Marathon in 2013, has a target time for this race.
“I have a goal of running 6:24 per mile,” said Hoak, who is a assistant track and cross country coach at Canisius College. “That would put me at 2:46 to 2:48.”
Such a time would be three minutes faster than her performance here last May, when she finished second. She is closing in on the Olympic standard of 2 hours, 43 minutes, the time needed to make the United States Olympic trials in 2016.
In the days leading up to the race, Hoak has tried to maintain a high level of concentration toward her goal. One of the area’s best runners is excited about the chance of competing with one of her idols, prerace favorite Shalane Flanagan of Massachusetts.
“I’ve been trying to get prepared for it,” she said about the event. “I haven’t watched any of the specials about it. I’ll see how it is when I get there.”
Then, in a sense speaking for the entire field, Hoak added, “What happened last year wasn’t going to stop me.”