Unfinished business: Local runners inspired by 'Boston Strong' spirit return to marathon

Despite the tragic chaos that engulfed last year's Boston Marathon, several local runners look forward to a second chance to step up and finish the legendary event.

On April 15 last year, two bombs detonated by terrorist brothers near the marathon's Boylston Street finish line killed three and inflicted hundreds of injuries. The explosions literally stopped the race in its tracks, with thousands of runners turned away from the 26.2-mile route of the world's oldest annual marathon before they were able to complete it.

"There were 5,700 of us runners who did not complete the Boston Marathon, so we were invited back automatically, which was very nice," said Katina Wolfe, of Fairfield, who originally hails from Boston.

"Normally the Boston Marathon is about 25,000 people," she said. "This year they increased the field another 10,000," with extra bib numbers also given out to anyone who was injured so they could bring a companion if they choose.

Boston is the only major marathon that requires runners to meet a qualifying time based on age, she said. "No other marathon ever asks that of anybody, (and) I could never qualify for it."

Instead, the only other option is to run on behalf of one of two dozen approved Boston-area charities, such as the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, which Wolfe chose to do.

In fact, she's doing it again, though it wasn't required. Her goal is to raise $13,100 in pledges -- $500 for each mile of the race.

"Last year was my first year and I didn't finish," said Christine Riniti, of Westport.

"It was just like, you're running along and all of a sudden you started sensing that something was going on, because there were all these emergency vehicles and police in the streets," she said. Oddly, her cellphone suddenly began vibrating. "I mean it started going crazy."

Riniti was finally stopped near Kenmore Square by police before she reached the finish line.

"You were just kind of stunned," she said of hearing news of the bombings. "You couldn't believe the magnitude of what it was. It just seemed surreal."

In her shock, she asked a police officer if the runners couldn't just detour around where the blasts occurred.

"He looked at me like, `Are you really serious?' " she said.

"I was at mile 19 when the bombings occurred, but I did not figure out what had happened until I got closer," said Julia Daly, a Fairfield native now living in Cambridge, Mass.

She recalled the first-responders' sirens speeding by and what seemed to be a thinning crowd as she continued along the course.

"I was totally freaking out when I first found out," she said. "They just sort of had people loosely saying, `OK, we're stopping people here.' "

"Also I knew my family was about a mile and a half from the finish line, so I wasn't sure what the scope of the devastation was or what it really meant," Daly said.

"I didn't really have a second thought about whether I was going to do it (again)," she said. "I immediately committed to it."

"As it gets closer, I definitely feel like I'm going to be a little bit nervous," she said. "I feel the weight of emotion on it is probably going to be more powerful than I'm imagining it."

Daly said the city in general appears to have recovered from the trauma of last year's tragedies.

"It just feels like it hasn't really gone away," she said of the determination and energy that swept the city in the aftermath of the marathon, and which surged again when the Red Sox won the World Series in the fall.

"It feels like a pretty strong sense of community, and it being a smaller city, it makes it even more evident," Daly said.

Riniti said her motivation to run the marathon again is simple: "You want to be able to do it, and you just kind of want to be a part of it too," she said. "It's also a way to say thank you to Boston for having their spirit and doing it again."

"I'm so excited," Wolfe said. "I'm running for the city of Boston.