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."
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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."