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26.2 Miles of Gratitude: Jill Helsel Gingrich '01 Runs the 118th Boston Marathon
04.25.14 |

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Running a marathon is testament to the human body not only physically but mentally. The 118th running of the Boston Marathon was no different, except that the 117th running of the Marathon changed Boston and its race forever.

Last year, I lined-up in my respective corral and started the 26.2 mile journey into Boston. I ran strong, felt great, clocked a personal record and went through the finish line incident free. I was nowhere close to the finish line when the bombs went off. Once I got to my hotel, my husband and I spent the next two-plus hours responding to text and Facebook messages, tweet and scattered voice mails. I can honestly say -- we knew we were lucky but the magnitude of the day’s events did not truly settle in until arriving in Boston this year seeing the tributes, signs and memorial at the Boston Public Library, which brought tears to my eyes.

Arriving in Boston three days before the race, the aura was so upbeat. However, there was an undeniable police presence in the city, the expo and Copley Square where everything from military police to bomb-sniffing dogs meandered. It was impressive to see how smoothly every detail of the weekend was being implemented.

On April 21, with 9,000 more runners, perfect weather and close to a million spectators lining the roads from Hopkinton to Boston, I knew the marathon was going to be like no other. Arrival in the athletes’ village now meant no bags and a security screening very similar to that in the airport but everyone was respectful and patient. Once cleared, I settled in to enjoy the village full of runners in everything from bathrobes to paint-splattered sweatpants for warmth, blue skies and chilly air before Wave 2’s start time. Along the course, I took the time enjoy the spectators who thanked the runners for coming back, smile at the police and thank each volunteer who handed me a cup of Gatorade. If you didn’t know what had happened, you would have thought these security measures had been in place forever. Perhaps the biggest changes happened at the finish line where it was so controlled for runner and spectator safety. There were numerous places for me to leave the finish line area based on my post-race plan, cell phone booths to use if need be (this is the first race I carried a phone and the decision was based on last year’s events). Looking back, it was perfect; less congestion and an easier time finding my husband. This year, I spent two-plus hours responding to the same number of text and Facebook messages, tweet and scattered voice mail but they were ones of congratulations.

26.2 miles of gratitude, more police than I can count and spectators eight deep at times made the 118th running of the Boston Marathon one for record books. I am proud to say I went back.

We ran for Boston.

Jill Helsel Gingrich is a graduate of the Lebanon Valley College Class of 2001 and assistant vice president and communications director for the Pennsylvania Bankers Association.

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