Karen Harr is eager to return to Boston next Monday to run in the city’s annual marathon, a year after the double bombing killed three and injured dozens near the finish line.
Though Harr is excited to race in her fifth Boston Marathon, she’s melancholy that enhanced security there and at other major events in the wake of last year’s bombings shattered previously joyful experiences.
“Most people on that course want to go back in a show of defiance, and I’m no different. We’re not deterred,” Harr said. “But the Boston Marathon will never be the same, and neither will other events we participate in.”
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the bombings in Boston.
Harr, 48, of North Strabane, had just crossed the finish line last year and was leaving the medical tent when she heard a loud explosion behind her. Being Patriots’ Day in Boston, she initially thought it was the firing of a cannon, but she heard another explosion moments later and knew something was wrong.
She’s not worried about her safety this time and is looking forward to meeting old friends from across the country she’s made over the years. The common theme she’s seen is that runners and spectators are planning to return in record numbers to be “brave” and support the victims and the city.
“I think it will be an emotional day, and I really hadn’t considered it,” she said. “I think it will be an emotional day for everybody.”
Still, the overbearing security has taken its toll, she said. Harr noticed a big difference in the 2013 Pittsburgh Marathon, which took place three weeks after the Boston bombings, with participants unable to freely roam without going through myriad checkpoints, even to find a portable toilet.
That and bag restrictions were the biggest nuisances, she said.
“When something like this happens, there is a cost,” Harr said. “We say we’re going to be brave and we’re not going to let them change our lives. But it does change us. Everything changes.”
Pittsburgh Marathon CEO Patrice Matamoros said they made changes last year to the outer perimeters through use of checkpoints, and will keep many of those security procedures in place for the race May 4.
She said they enhanced security measures beginning in 2011 after a microwave oven was left on the marathon route in 2010, prompting momentary fears it contained explosives. A Pittsburgh police bomb squad technician detonated the microwave and found nothing amiss.
Since the Boston bombings, the Pittsburgh Marathon also added uniformed security and mandated runners use clear bags that must be left at a special “gear check” area.
Matamoros admitted it’s a difficult balancing act between security and enjoyment of the participants, but she likened it to bag checks at major sporting events.
“We have really kept that in mind and tried to make sure security and the environment for runners and spectators is fun and exciting to be in,” Matamoros said.
Even with the changes, Harr, who is the director of running groups for Fleet Feet Sports in Upper St. Clair, will continue running Boston “until I can’t qualify anymore” and participate regularly in Pittsburgh because it’s her hometown race.
She participated in 15 total marathons since 2009, but Harr has crossed off dreams of bigger races in London or Berlin because of security. For now, she’s content participating in “low-profile” events that won’t have the same enhanced security as bigger marathons.
Harr had pushed thoughts of the bombing out of her mind, but they’re starting to return as the race date gets closer.
“It really was such a surreal experience that you hold it out at arm’s length and don’t think about it,” she said. “Now you start to reflect and think about the people who were affected.”