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Joining in the history

From left to right, Andy Gunderson, Danielle Fraser and Andy Gunsaullus will join a field of almost 36,000 runners when they run in their first Boston Marathon this April. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

Alexandria’s Andy Gunsaullus was at home watching his two young boys while his wife, Shawn Severson, ran her first-ever Boston Marathon last spring, when he got three short text messages.

“Bombs went off at the finish.” “I’m OK.” “Let my friends know I’m OK.”

That was about all any of the runners in the area that day could get out to friends and family. Any messages longer than that didn’t go through as cell service was lost not long after the bombs went off.

“This was literally a minute or two after it happened because they stopped everybody on the race course,” Gunsaullus said. “So I looked at those texts, and they didn’t make any sense. I quick looked up and tried to find anything on the news about it but nothing had been reported yet. It was probably another 10-15 minutes until anything hit the news.”

Once details started to emerge, the messages began to make sense. Gunsaullus contacted their friends and family to assure them that Severson was OK. From there, it took a couple more hours before Julie Miller, Jeanne Barlage and Sabrina Hoppe, the three other Alexandria area runners who joined Severson in Boston that day, were all accounted for.

Gunsaullus’ experience that day is the reason that he will be there with his wife on April 21 to run in what will be one of the most historic runnings of America’s most prestigious marathon. Gunsaullus got a special invitational entry into this year’s Boston Marathon that was given to people who were indirectly affected by last year’s bombings.

“I think most marathoners would look at Boston as something that they would like to do in their lifetime,” Gunsaullus said. “Knowing that this year was going to be so special, that kind of weighed into [me wanting to be there].”

Gunsaullus, Severson, Miller, Barlage and Hoppe will all undoubtedly think back to where they were last year when they step to the starting line in less than two weeks. But for runners like Osakis’ Danielle Fraser and Alexandria’s Andy Gunderson, this year’s Boston Marathon is a chance to take part in what will no doubt be a special celebration for the city of Boston, while crossing off a bucket list item on every marathoner’s list.

Gunderson, 40, and Fraser, 30, will both run in their first Boston Marathon after qualifying while running Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth on June 22 this past year. Fraser wasn’t even signed up for Grandma’s until almost three weeks before the race but still ran a time of 3:31:21 to beat the qualifying time for her female age group of 3:35:00. Gunderson met his age group’s qualifying standard of 3:15:00 by finishing Grandma’s in 3:05:52.

Neither of them were necessarily shooting for the 2014 Boston Marathon because of the significance that this year’s race holds for so many. That doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate the history that they will be a part of when they step to the starting line.

“It’s definitely a bucket list item and then it just happened to happen this year,” Fraser said. “I didn’t really have much of a plan. I just feel like the stars aligned that day…If you’re going to go any year, this seems like it would be the year to go. They seem to be starting over in a sense.”

The Boston Athletic Association expanded this year’s field to almost 36,000 from the near 27,000 that took part in the race last year. Every marathon is a celebration for the city of Boston on Patriot’s Day, but that field and the circumstances that surround this race will likely make this one of the more memorable events in the race’s 118-year history.

Gunderson hopes to block out any of the drama that surrounds the event and focus on running one of the better races of his life. This will be his fourth marathon, and the chance to run a personal best on a course as notoriously tough as Boston is something he worked toward while training this past winter.

“I have definitely had a significant increase in my training mileage and consistency, knowing that this race is something that I really want to prepare for and have a great day,” Gunderson said. “If you don’t train properly, don’t put in the time, it’s very easy to not have a good day and to suffer and have a miserable three, four hours on the race course. That’s absolutely not what I want to happen at Boston.”

Fraser, Gunsaullus and Gunderson are all shooting for personal best times, while knowing how difficult that will be on a course that typically is not conducive to posting PRs.

“I don’t think the Boston Marathon course is a course where you can shoot for a PR on,” Gunsaullus said. “It’s a notoriously difficult marathon course, but regardless of that, I think we still want to outperform any previous race.”

Motivation typically isn’t hard to find when running a race of this magnitude. For Fraser and Gunderson, it’s the chance to run a memorable race in their first Boston Marathon.

For Gunsaullus and those who were affected one way or another by last year’s bombings, it’s a chance to use what happened that day to make this year’s race even better.

“It will be on my mind,” Gunsaullus said of thinking back to last year. “I think at some level, it might weigh on me or be a motivator or something to allow those emotions to run a little higher than any other marathon.”

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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