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They started in Boston but will finish here

| Friday, May 3, 2013, 10:37 p.m.
“I feel like it’s a little crazy to run two marathons in three weeks, but I felt compelled to represent Boston and just what it means to show resilience and perseverance through everything,” said Alyssa O’Toole, 23, who lives in Boston. Submitted photo
“I feel like it’s a little crazy to run two marathons in three weeks, but I felt compelled to represent Boston and just what it means to show resilience and perseverance through everything,” said Alyssa O’Toole, 23, who lives in Boston. Submitted photo
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
During the marathon expo at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, Friday, May 3rd, 2013, runners add personal messages to a wall in support of Boston.
Laurie Dannison with her husband and son taken the day after the Boston marathon.
Laurie Dannison at the start of the Boston marathon
Laurie Dannison with her three children, taken after Boston's Run to Remember race from May 2012
Stephanie Greenstein
Laurie Dannison
Laurie Dannison
Laurie Dannison at the 24-mile mark in Coolidge Corner at the Boston marathon.

Stephanie Greenstein had a mile and a half left. Laurie Dannison had just passed 25 miles. Alyssa O'Toole was approaching 26 miles.

They were that close to finishing the Boston Marathon last month. Then the bombs exploded.

They have similar stories to tell: Dazed runners congregating, crying, trying to get information about what happened. Police running toward the finish line, where runners' families waited, telling everyone to run away. There was smoke, sirens, confusion.

Those memories will never fade for runners who were still on the course during the April 15 attack, but 37 of them will run the Pittsburgh Marathon on Sunday hoping to change the way their stories of Boston end.

“I feel like it's a little crazy to run two marathons in three weeks, but I felt compelled to represent Boston and just what it means to show resilience and perseverance through everything,” said O'Toole, 23, who lives in Boston. “And, most importantly, to represent those who had something taken away from them. I want to do it in honor of my city and to show that this isn't going to stop me from crossing the finish line.”

All 37 runners from the Boston Marathon entered in Pittsburgh were participating through the race's charity program. The Boston and Pittsburgh marathons share several charity partners. Through them, Pittsburgh organizers found the opportunity to host the runners who were unable to finish in Boston. Pittsburgh Marathon title sponsor Dick's Sporting Goods is paying all 37 runners' travel and race expenses, said David Natale, director of sports and events for Dick's.

They may be in another city, but they will finish 26.2 miles, barring unforeseen circumstances. They will do it not only for themselves but also for everyone who was in Boston.

Finding shelter, relief

Kimberly Grauer, 32, of Chicago, was running for the American Liver Foundation Run for Research and had reached mile 25. She would have been farther had the necklace she was wearing — her father's — not broken a half-mile into the race. He wore it for 40 years and gave it to her before he died April 3 while awaiting a liver transplant. His funeral was a week before the race.

She stopped running and spent, she estimates, at least five minutes fixing the necklace. Her mile splits that day lagged, she said.

The first bomb detonated at 2:50 p.m. Grauer's mother and brother were supposed to meet her at the finish line by 2:30 p.m. When police came onto the course to stop the runners, one of them said the area by the finish line had been blown up and that people were injured, some dead.

“I thought, ‘I just lost my dad, and now I've lost my mother and brother,' ” Grauer said.

Police directed Grauer and other runners to a nearby temple that opened its doors and provided blankets, food and water. Phone calls weren't connecting. Grauer finally was able to log on to Facebook and read a friend's post that said Grauer's mother and brother were OK despite being close to the second blast. The family reunited at 6 p.m.

“When we got back to the hotel, everyone was just very quiet,” Grauer said. “They had a very different experience because they saw it, heard it, smelled it, saw people running, saw people hurt. I had the experience of thinking my family was dead and I was the one who put them in Boston.”

‘You have to get out of here'

Greenstein, who lives about three miles from the finish line in the North End of Boston, didn't understand what was happening. The course wasn't supposed to close until six hours into the race. It had been only four.

“I tried to keep running,” said Greenstein, 26, who also was running to benefit the American Liver Foundation. “I was thinking, ‘I have a half mile left. I'm finishing.' Then a police officer stopped me from going any farther and said, ‘There was a bomb. You have to get out of here.' ”

Greenstein saw runners passed out on the ground in need of medical attention. Some people were helping. Others were running to get away.

Just before she was stopped, Dannison noticed the crowd had quieted. Like Greenstein, her head was in a fog after running so far. She found it strange that people weren't cheering. Then she noticed police were starting to run in front of her. There were sirens. Runners were being halted.

“I walked over to the sidewalk, just in a daze, and a girl named Dana -- that's all I know -- told me there was a bomb at the finish line,” Dannison said.

Dana, who was a spectator, gave Dannison her phone to text her husband. He and their three children, her father and sister-in-law had been at the 24-mile mark but planned to meet her at the finish.

Dannison's hands shook. Her fingers kept missing the buttons. So Dana texted Dannison's husband and learned the whole family was OK.

Dana took Dannison, who also ran for the American Liver Foundation, to her nearby apartment. She let her shower, made her tea and took care of her until she could reunite with her family.

“I didn't even know her,” Dannison said.

Dannison, of Hanover, Mass., turned 40 on Monday and had planned to go away with her husband this weekend to celebrate.

“I got the email (about the chance to run in Pittsburgh) and knew this is exactly what I needed for my birthday,” she said. “I look forward to hopefully crossing the finish line in Pittsburgh because I think it will be a sense of accomplishment that I need. Hopefully I can close the chapter on this in my brain. It's never going to go away. It was such a powerful day for all of us who were there.”

‘They were there to watch me'

O'Toole was .3 miles away from where she knew she would turn a corner and see a big orange sign and her family cheering for her at the finish line. She was so happy.

Then she saw smoke. Police started waving people away, and she heard the words “explosion” and “bomb.”

Her mother, sister and 89-year-old grandmother were at the finish line. So was her boyfriend and some of her closest friends. Her family was just 500 feet away from one of the bombs, but she learned all were OK after getting through to her boyfriend.

“If it had gone off 500 feet over, I'd have no one left,” she said. “I'm really grateful. I feel so bad for those who aren't so fortunate. But my family saw everything. They're dealing with all their own separate stuff right now. I told them all to meet me there. If anything happened to them, they were there to watch me. That's not even fair.”

O'Toole was running for the MS Society after raising $5,500 for the charity. It was her first marathon, and for almost 26 miles it was one of the best experiences of her life.

“I can't even explain it,” said O'Toole, whose mother suffers from muscular sclerosis. “The camaraderie, the energy, the feel from being in a city that was so united. Whether it was people running or people cheering, it was just amazing to be part of until everything happened.”

Team Boston Strong

O'Toole had no hesitation when asked if she would like to run in Pittsburgh. None of them did.

Grauer said she responded that she'd love to run in Pittsburgh five minutes after getting the email.

“I want to do this not only for my dad but everyone in Boston,” Grauer said. “We're not going to be scared. The running community is so close, and I can only imagine it's the same in Pittsburgh. For all the people who are injured and can't run again, you feel like you're doing this for them.”

O'Toole got her Boston Marathon shirt printed with “Team Boston Strong” and plans to wear it on Sunday.

Grauer will wear the Run for Research shirt she wore on race day in Boston. The name she chose to have printed on the shirt before Boston was Chuck — her father — so she could hear people calling out his name as she ran past.

“I think I want one more chance to wear that,” Grauer said. “I think Pittsburgh is my new Boston. That's how my whole family is looking at it. It's not going to be about time, just enjoying the marathon experience again. I'm not even going to set my watch. I'm just going to enjoy being there.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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