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updated: 4/15/2014 5:23 AM

Suburban marathoners head to Boston with more purpose

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  • Video: Preparing for Boston Marathon

  • Brenda Zeck of Third Lake, from left, Sue Balthazor of Gurnee and Lisa Strong of Grayslake take a training run near Gurnee. All three ran the Boston Marathon last year, and Zeck and Balthazor will return to run it Monday.

       Brenda Zeck of Third Lake, from left, Sue Balthazor of Gurnee and Lisa Strong of Grayslake take a training run near Gurnee. All three ran the Boston Marathon last year, and Zeck and Balthazor will return to run it Monday.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Bill Iffrig, 78, was knocked to the ground near the Boston Marathon finish line and police officers scrambled to help after the second explosion.

      Bill Iffrig, 78, was knocked to the ground near the Boston Marathon finish line and police officers scrambled to help after the second explosion.
    AP/JOHN TLUMACKI, THE BOSTON GLOBE

  • From left, Brenda Zeck of Third Lake, Sue Balthazor of Gurnee and Lisa Strong of Grayslake take a training run near Gurnee. All three ran the Boston Marathon last year and Zeck and Balthazor will be returning to run it Monday.

       From left, Brenda Zeck of Third Lake, Sue Balthazor of Gurnee and Lisa Strong of Grayslake take a training run near Gurnee. All three ran the Boston Marathon last year and Zeck and Balthazor will be returning to run it Monday.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Sue Balthazor, of Gurnee, was crossing the finish line of last year's Boston Marathon as one of the bombs exploded and will run the marathon again Monday. "You have to show that you're strong enough to survive this," she said.

       Sue Balthazor, of Gurnee, was crossing the finish line of last year's Boston Marathon as one of the bombs exploded and will run the marathon again Monday. "You have to show that you're strong enough to survive this," she said.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Sue Balthazor of Gurnee, second from right, checks her time after running with the Jenny Spangler Running Club in Gurnee.

       Sue Balthazor of Gurnee, second from right, checks her time after running with the Jenny Spangler Running Club in Gurnee.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes, shown after running the Boston Marathon in 2010, also ran the marathon during the bombing last year. He'll return to Boston for the marathon Monday.

      Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes, shown after running the Boston Marathon in 2010, also ran the marathon during the bombing last year. He'll return to Boston for the marathon Monday.
    Daily Herald file photo

  • Spectators near the finish line take photos with camera phones just before two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. Many runners say they're eager to return to the race this year.

      Spectators near the finish line take photos with camera phones just before two bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. Many runners say they're eager to return to the race this year.
    Associated Press

 
 

Shortly after running the Boston Marathon last year and scrambling away from the horrific scene at the finish line, Gurnee mom Sue Balthazor got to her hotel room and turned on the TV news.

She watched coverage of the aftermath of the twin bomb explosions for only a few minutes before turning to her husband, Dave, and saying, "I have to come back next year."

It's a feeling shared by many suburban marathoners who a year ago today witnessed the Boston Marathon bombings, which killed three people, including an 8-year-old boy, and injured 264 others, some of whom had limbs blown off.

"It's not even a question of if you want to go. You have to go. You can't let anybody beat you. You have to show that you're strong enough to survive this," Balthazor said.

Thoughts of the victims motivated many suburban runners to return for the Boston Marathon on Monday. They expect it to be an emotionally difficult day, but an important one. Nearly 1,000 runners from Chicago and the suburbs are registered to run.

"When doing my long runs, I think of Boylston Street. I get a chill. I don't know how I'm going to be when I get down there," Balthazor said of the marathon's final stretch, where the bombs went off.

"Everyone who finishes will be going right by the spot," said Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes, who will be running his 10th Boston marathon this year. "It'll be much more emotional this time."

Local runners stepped up to the challenge despite the brutal winter. They trained in subzero temperatures or on indoor treadmills, which can be tedious and less effective.

As they trained, runners like Jennifer Grosshandler, a mother of four from Highland Park, remembered the sight of charred sidewalks and storefronts and the sound of screams at the finish line. With strengthened resolve, she increased her marathon fundraising goals from last year for the pediatric cancer research group Bear Necessities.

"There's more purpose, there's more motivation and there's less crying. Well, right now, anyway," Grosshandler said.

Debbie Pomazal of Mundelein was a spectator during last year's race. Her daughter, Ashley, had just crossed the finish line when the bombs went off, leading to frantic moments until the two found each other in the crowd.

Pomazal worries a little about something bad happening again but wants to be there Monday to support her daughter. They aren't doing anything differently this year.

"There's nothing you can do differently," Pomazal said. "It's time to move forward now. We were a lot luckier than a lot of other people."

At first, Pomazal said, she was obsessed with news reports of the bombing, but that's since subsided. The post-race months were challenging for many witnesses of the tragedy, including Balthazor's husband.

The former Green Bay, Wis., police officer experienced survivors' guilt and tortured himself about his decision to quickly leave the scene with his wife and 12-year-old son rather than stay and help victims.

With counseling from his pastor, he's been feeling better, Sue Balthazor said.

Next week, the whole family will return to Boston together, both as a tribute to the victims and an exercise in conquering fear.

"We wanted to all go back together," she said. "Boston does a great job. They'll do a nice job of remembering the (victims). It'll be an experience, that's for sure."

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