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Finishing what they started

Area runners Julie Miller, Sabrina Hoppe, Shawn Severson, Andy Gunsaullus, Andy Gunderson and Danielle Fraser stand at the finish line the weekend before Monday’s race. Not pictured is Jeanne Barlage. (Contributed)1 / 3
Runners pack the street during the course of Monday’s Boston Marathon, with spectators standing in the trees to the left and right of the course, cheering the competitors on. (Contributed)2 / 3
Shawn Severson (left) and Sabrina Hoppe hold up their finisher medals after the race. The two completed the race together after not getting the chance to cross the finish line after the bombs went off last year. (Contributed)3 / 3

The 118th running of the Boston Marathon Monday captured the hearts of the running community perhaps more than any other in the history of this famous race. 

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For a city, it was a chance at closure from the 2013 marathon marred by the bombings that left three people dead and more than 260 injured. The 36,000 runners who stepped to the starting line Monday knew they were playing a part in helping Boston move forward.

It was also a chance for many to finish what they started. Alexandria’s Shawn Severson and Sabrina Hoppe were part of a large group of runners who were back after not getting a chance to cross the finish line last year. Not only did both finish, they crossed the line together.

They tracked each other down on the course through text messages and met up to share the final miles of the race. They took pictures and shot video of the crowd. When the time came to cross the finish line, they ran across holding hands and ended with the same time of 4:38:59.

“We were so excited,” Severson said. “We were just a mess. We’re both pretty tough girls, and we don’t typically show a lot of emotion, but we were both crying at the end. We were so happy to be able to finish it, and it was even more special to be able to cross it with each other.”

For Hoppe and Severson, their finishing times were of little importance heading into the race. They were here to enjoy the experience of what they knew would be a big party for the city of Boston.

“The crowds were just amazing,” Severson said. “There was well over a million people on the sidelines watching and the energy throughout the whole course was amazing. The crowd kept screaming at us, ‘We love you. You’re helping us take back the city. We own this town.’ It just felt like it was very healing to the crowd as well.”

It’s the energy of the crowd that so many runners feed off of during a Boston Marathon. The Alexandria area sent a total of seven runners to this year’s race with Julie Miller and Jeanne Barlage returning with Hoppe and Severson after running last year.

Barlage and Miller both finished a year ago and crossed the line again Monday. Miller’s time of 3:39:48 qualified her for the 2015 Boston Marathon, while Barlage finished in 4:07:54.

All four of those women had an idea of what to expect in terms of the energy that the crowd can provide. For first-year Boston Marathon runners Danielle Fraser, Andy Gunderson and Andy Gunsaullus, the atmosphere went above and beyond what they imagined.

“It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Fraser said. “I’ve had other races, like the Twin Cities Marathon is well known for its beautiful course and the amazing spectators. This is that times 100.”

Fraser tackled the notoriously tough course by setting a new personal record by 18 seconds in a 2015 qualifying time of 3:31:03. She set a fast pace early before the heat of the calm conditions and 70 degrees started to slow her down a bit, like it did a lot of runners who came from colder climates.

“It’s pretty memorable,” Fraser said. “The whole experience of being out there this year with everything heightened and all the emotions of volunteers, spectators and runners alike. This was just a huge year to be there. Plus to have a run that you’re satisfied with, I think is just an added bonus.”

Gunderson set his sights on running a PR heading into the race and felt good about his chances of beating that time of 3:05 through almost 18 miles. That’s when he started to cramp. He fought off pain the rest of the way and still finished in a 2015 qualifying time of 3:14:37.

He said he did everything wrong by getting sucked into the wave of runners and starting at too fast of a pace. The crowd kept him going down the stretch as he fought off the pain to finish 5,195th out of the nearly 36,000 runners.

“I got to the point where I’m running and in stride and all of a sudden out of nowhere the hamstring cramps up and it stops you in your tracks,” Gunderson said. “But the crowds, really all the way through, they were amazing. Absolutely, hands down the best race I’ve ever done. There’s a reason that everybody who is a runner needs to go experience Boston.”

With that atmosphere on Monday, quitting wasn’t a possibility for most.

“With the energy of the crowds and the excitement and awareness of being where we were, not finishing wasn’t an option,” Gunsaullus said after battling through the heat to finish in 4:46:54. “One way or another, I was going to finish.”

That’s the impact the crowds at this race have had on runners for more than 100 years, but those who ran this year know there was no doubting how special the 118th running was for so many.

“I think it went as well as it possibly could have,” Fraser said. “It was what the Boston Marathon should be.”

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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