Marathon • Braving cold, rain, runners focus on race, not fears, as 500 officers provide heightened security.
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As the knot of runners clad in the yellow jerseys of the 2013 Boston Marathon entered Liberty Park, the cheers got louder and spectators slapped high fives with racers before a moment of silence descended on the finish line of the Salt Lake City Marathon.
And then, just as it had as the race began, Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" began playing on the loudspeaker. Rachel Moody, Paul Fulton and a dozen other Boston runners hit the finish line in 4 hours, 9 minutes, marking the moment in the Boston race when two improvised bombs detonated five days earlier.
"Boston, baby! This is what marathon is about," shouted Moody, of Herriman. "I didn't have the legs to run today. I didn't run with my legs. I ran with my heart."
Much about the 10th annual Salt Lake City Marathon honored the city where bombs turned the nation's oldest marathon into a bloody crime scene. Runners said they had not seen so much enthusiasm from the spectators at the Salt Lake City race despite deteriorating weather as the morning wore on.
The soggy, cold conditions hardly dampened the festive mood of the race, which started Saturday morning after an earlier moment of silence. The night before, Boston authorities had captured the surviving suspect of the bombings.
"Sweet Caroline" was blaring overhead when 7,000 Utah runners headed down Mario Capecchi Drive at 7 a.m., their arms raised in a salute to Boston.
The Neil Diamond song has long been associated with the Boston Red Sox and has been played at Fenway Park every game in the middle of the eighth inning since 2002. Diamond once said Caroline Kennedy was the inspiration for the song and the Kennedy family is from Massachusetts.
"It's nice to see all the people come out," said Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank as the starters ran under the Legacy Bridge. "When it comes to crime and terrorism, it's important that we don't let it control our lives. That's what freedom and democracy are all about."
Several American flags bobbed up and down in the tight throng of runners, and many wore green in honor of the city with strong Irish heritage. Many also donned T-shirts, blue ribbons and bracelets, bearing the words "Run for Boston" that were passed around at the start.
"It's heart-breaking," said Vassi Maritsas, 47, of Holladay, who was competing in her third Salt Lake City Marathon. She needed to reach Liberty Park in less than 3 hours, 55 minutes to qualify for next year's Boston Marathon. Last week's bombing was not going to derail her goal, she said. "If I let myself be afraid of everything I won't accomplish much and I won't teach my kids anything," Maritsas said.
"This is the safest race in the history of the world," said Unified Police Department Sgt. Jason Ashment as he directed runners through Holladay, just past the race's halfway point. "I'd put money on that. I'd bet a year's salary."
More than 500 officers from several jurisdictions provided the heightened security. Earlier, as a packed TRAX train full of marathon runners pulled into the University of Utah Stadium Station at 5:30 a.m., a bomb-sniffing dog and two police officers entered and walked the length of the train.
"That's a first. I've never seen that at a race," said half-marathoner Heather Wells.
"We have TSA [Transportation Security Administration] behavior specialists riding trains and watching people," said Utah Transit Authority Police Capt. Jason Petersen. "We started at 3 a.m. to screen all of our stations along the line and make sure they were secure."
Most runners shrugged off the extra security, as their conversations on trains focused more on shoes and running strategy than any danger.
"The only thing I'm concerned about is whether the rain will let up," said Scott Ivins, one in the team of pace runners who help contestants keep up to targeted times. "I'm not concerned in the slightest," said runner Melissa Goodger.
Runner Jerrilee Erickson said, "I was concerned early in the week" after the Boston bombings, "and everyone who talked to me was a little worried." But she said that has disappeared after the surviving bombing suspect was captured. "I'm not worried at all now."
As the course wound through the suburbs, it took runners past the Big O Tires franchise on 3300 S. 2000 East, where employees had propped up a large sign on the front of their boss' heavy-duty pickup. "Stay Strong Boston," it said.
Brian Woolf, of Sandy, broke out his Boston Bruins jersey to cheer on his 17-year-old son, Carter, who was running his second Salt Lake City Marathon. Carter ran it last year in just over four hours, with Woolf at the finish line to see it. What if that had been Boston this year, Woolf winced, shaking off the thought. "To have something so beautiful in people's minds as finishing a marathon, to have it disrupted by something like that, it's sad," he said.
A little farther east on 6200 South, Sandy's Jerry Garner was part of a sizable family contingent cheering on his daughter, Allison Gerrard, as she ran her second marathon this week. She'd been in Boston Monday, finishing 10 minutes before the explosion, but got caught up in all of the fear and confusion of the moment, comforted by a complete stranger.
Garner whipped out his cellphone and read from his daughter's blog about that terror-filled time: "Kindness and courage must prevail and courage must not give way to fear." And while running 26 miles in Salt Lake City so soon after doing it Boston would be difficult, she acknowledged, "I'm whole, so I will run for those who cannot."
Reporters Lee Davidson and Mike Gorrell contributed to this story.