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Boston runners finish last mile of the marathon to cheers, hugs

May 25, 2013|By Devin Kelly
  • Runners who were unable to finish the Boston Marathon on April 15 because of the bombings cross the finish line on Boylston Street after the city allowed them to finish the last mile of the race in on Saturday.
Runners who were unable to finish the Boston Marathon on April 15 because… (Winslow Townson / Associated…)

Peter Paul Payack was within a mile of the finish line at the Boston Marathon on April 15 when the bombs exploded, ending the race in an instant.

As the 25-year-old Cambridge resident left the course, the moment he had rehearsed in his mind so many times slipped away.  

Since then, Payack has gone back to Boylston Street. He’s tried to run what should have been the final stretch of his first full marathon. Crowded with cars and bikes, and without the cheering crowds, the street didn't feel the same, he said.

PHOTOS: The Boston Marathon bombing

But on Saturday, Payack got the finish he imagined.   

He and more than 3,000 runners and bombing victims ran the final mile of the marathon in an event called OneRun, which began in Kenmore Square. It ended with cheering crowds at the Boylston Street finish line.

After the bombing, the running community wanted to regroup. Efforts to set up runs began almost immediately, said organizer J. Alain Ferry, who also didn’t finish the race.

But organizing logistics for another big event proved difficult. Police and fire departments were recovering from long overtime hours. The Boston City Council also had to approve the plan for a large event.

Ferry suggested something simple to manage: Close off the streets downtown to allow runners the chance to complete the final mile of the race. He and fellow organizers spent weeks pitching the idea to the city.

They had two other goals, said lead organizer Emily Koepsell: Encourage runners and supporters to patronize surrounding restaurants and businesses to boost the Boylston Street economy, and honor the victims.

Once approved, word spread fast. Under a rainy sky, thousands of people poured into Kenmore Square. It didn't matter whether you had run the race or not. No one was turned away.

One of the runners was a young woman who spent a week in the hospital after a chunk of debris the size of a cellphone struck her leg, Ferry said.

Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino and  former Boston Celtics player Walter McCarty appeared on stage at an opening celebration in the square. Councilman Michael Ross, whose district includes the downtown area where the bombs went off, also addressed the crowd.

As he ran, Ross carried an American flag in honor of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who was killed in the attacks. Flags were also carried in honor of Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi and MIT Police Officer Sean Collier.   

“The world got a chance to learn about how strong we are and how we come together as a community,” Ross said.

Emotions were high during the run. Some wore ear-to-ear smiles while others sobbed. Nelly Do, a 25-year-old medical student at Harvard, said she became teary-eyed as she rounded the first corner on Boylston Street.

The finish line transformed into an emotional scene of hugs and photographs amid crowds of cheering people.   

Payack wore a white “Cambridge” tank top from his high school track uniform -- the same shirt he had on Marathon Day.

He has  photos showing him at different points of the race. But one was missing. 

“You run all that way, and then you don’t even have a photo at the finish line,” Payack said.

He has it now. 

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devin.kelly@latimes.com

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