Brandon-area runners count blessings after Boston Marathon bombing

Brandon area runners gather before taking part in the Boston Marathon. Photo by Tom Mistrot

Brandon area runners gather before taking part in the Boston Marathon. Photo by Tom Mistrot

Members of FishHawk Road Runners Club and Brandon Running Association took part in race

By KEVIN BRADY

Brandon area runners who participated in the Boston Marathon earlier this month are vowing to return to Boston next year after twin bomb attacks on the race.

All 10 area runners, five from the FishHawk Road Runners Club and five from the Brandon Running Association, escaped injury in the attack that left three people dead and more than 150 injured.

Tom Mistrot was tending to aching muscles in a hotel shower a half mile from the finish line when the first explosion hit the parade. The Brandon Running Association member crossed the finish line at 3 hours and 29 minutes, 40 minutes before the first explosion hit. A few seconds later, a second bomb, less than 100 yards away, was sending nails and ball bearings into crowds which had gathered to cheer the runners down the final stretch.

“I could not believe someone would try to destroy an event like this,” said Mistrot who was glued to his TV with other Brandon runners. The group had agreed to meet up at the hotel after the race for dinner.

“We had a talk about whether we should go out to eat but agreed that we were not going to let the terrorists make us change our plans.” As the group debated, Mistrot’s girlfriend called the hotel. Assured everyone was safe, she became the clearing house for information about the runners, relaying messages to family and friends in Brandon.

Navigating their way to dinner through swarms of police and FBI agents, the group eventually sat down for their meal but it was over quickly. “We were told we would be served but after that the restaurant would close.”

The Boston Marathon is the preeminent long-distance race in the world, said Mistrot, a veteran of 31 marathons. “When you are in Boston for a marathon you feel like a rock star,” said the veteran of 11 Boston marathons. Unlike most other marathons, runners must qualify for Boston with verified times from another race. “You earn the right to run that track,” Mistrot said.

But it’s the people who make it special, he added.

“As soon as you arrive, everyone is wishing you well. The skateboard kid on the subway will tell you good luck or the baggage handler in the airport might wish you well. The people are great.”

Mistrot counted himself lucky after the tragedy.

“It was 90 degrees last year in Boston when I ran. If it had been that hot this year I would still have been on the course when the bombs went off.”

A dull blast in the distance piqued the curiosity of Mike Conti and his wife, Christina, as they relaxed after the race in their hotel room, three blocks from ground zero. Initially dismissing the noise as part of the cacophony of life in a large city, the Brandon couple knew something was wrong a few minutes later when ambulance sirens pierced the air and their phones buzzed with text messages.

“People were asking if we were OK so we turned on the TV and saw the news,” said Conti who had crossed the finish line more than one hour earlier, clocking out at 3 hours and 9 minutes. “We were just shocked. How could someone do that and ruin a perfect day?”

Leaving for dinner later that night, Conti was struck by the appearance of police in riot gear patrolling the streets. “Seeing that really makes you take a step back. The mood of the city was very sober. I am just grateful everyone in our group was OK.”

Conti, a member of the FishHawk runners group, wasn’t planning on running in next year’s Boston Marathon but he’s now considering it.

“We really can’t let this impact us. We may have to be more cautious and diligent at next year’s race but it cannot change how we do things.”

Steve Dunn, president of the FishHawk runners club, was at home working Monday, unaware of the unfolding tragedy in Boston. That would change quickly when Dunn went to work. Texts and phone calls flooded Dunn’s store, Hit The Trails Running and Outdoor Gear, 13433 FishHawk Blvd.

“All hell broke loose with calls and texts,” Dunn recalled. “I was just gutted but I called one of our guys who was at the race and they got back to me within 15 minutes to tell me everyone was OK.”

All members of the FishHawk club had crossed the finish line in under 3 hours and 30 minutes; the twin explosions hit at 4 hours, 9 minutes into the race.

“I was relieved everyone was OK but it was pretty scary listening to the news,” said Dunn.

A veteran of 20 marathons since 1988, Dunn said finishing lines at the races are usually places for hugs and cheers as runners overcome one of the most grueling tests in sports.

“It’s always so relaxed at the finish line. It’s welcoming and friendly with friends and family usually there to greet runners many of whom are reaching the culmination of months of training.”

If those who planted the bombs think they will scare off runners from marathons they are mistaken, Dunn said.

“Runners are very resilient people. If anything, I think we will have more people out running marathons after this.”

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