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Marathon Sports prepares for emotional race day

Running store near bombing site is in thoughts of many

It will be an emotional time for Marathon Sports as the running store gets ready for race on April 21.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

It will be an emotional time for Marathon Sports as the running store gets ready for race on April 21.

One day last week, a friend sent a yellow rose to Shane O’Hara as a simple gesture of support for the manager of Marathon Sports on Boylston Street.

Two weeks ago, construction workers who had repaved the street brought the store a chunk of the finish line. And weeks after the attack, a teacher from Sandy Hook Elementary School sent ceramic hearts to the staff.

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The store’s proximity to the Boston Marathon bombings — right next to one of the explosions — has made it a powerful empathetic force, driving friends and strangers to connect with staff who were there at the time. Nearly a year later, people from all of the world still feel a need to stop by and visit.

“It isn’t so much people helping us out, but us helping them out,” O’Hara said recently. “People may not know the survivors, but they know us and it’s a way for them to give back.”

Nearly every day, curious patrons ask sales associates if they were there on April 15. Students call and want to interview staff members for school projects. Reporters stop by regularly for sound bites and footage.

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It has not always been easy. One employee transferred to a different Marathon Sports location to avoid the questions from customers. Others sometimes found it easier to simply say they weren’t there on the day of the Marathon.

But there has also been an outpouring of support for the store. Customer traffic nearly doubled in the month after the attack, and now the crowds on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon swell to the size of a Saturday rush from before the bombing.

Not everyone is a Boston runner. Travelers from all over the world stop by to thank the staff, to buy a Boston Stong T-shirt, or to say a prayer.

As Marathon Sports gets ready for this year’s race, the store looks much as it did before the bombings. The shelves are fully stocked, and memorabilia of famed runner Steve Prefontaine is everywhere.

“It is an emotional time,” said Chris Bender, 34, of Boston, who was working at the store at the time of the bombing.

“It’s hard to know how you’ll react. I definitely know I’ve been thinking about everything from last year more as we get closer to it.”

The store became an improvised triage center for the injured after the first of two bombs went off and injured dozens of spectators.

The staff has been commended for helping the wounded that day, and the recognition thrust an otherwise ordinary running-shoe store into the national spotlight.

O’Hara said he has not slowed down since the store reopened 10 days after the bombings. That day, people simply stood outside and applauded when the store opened.

Recalling the moment brought tears to his eyes.

“Then they came in and it’s never stopped,” O’Hara said. “I’ve been busy enough that I haven’t had to sit down and think about it.”

O’Hara is an outgoing person who wouldn’t think twice about chatting up strangers during a run along the Charles River.

But in the weeks after the bombings, all the questions about what he saw on Marathon Monday took an emotional toll on him.

“I was screwed up by the things I saw, I was emotionally exhausted and physically exhausted,” he said.

“The rides home were almost pleasant because you don’t have to talk to anyone. You can just listen to the radio.”

Colin Peddie, the owner of Marathon Sports, acknowledges that he, too, has grappled with the attention. He said it’s almost as if he has an alter ego: He’s a business owner who understands the need to talk about the bombings but a human being who just wants to put it all behind him.

“You wish you could stop time for a second and take a breath, but you can’t,” he said. “You want to be accessible and open and honest and sincere about where the company is and where it’s going.”

Beyond the store’s name and its location just steps from the finish line, Marathon Sports has long been known for fostering a community of runners. Many come by for guidance as they prepare for their own 26.2-mile quests.

Peddie and O’Hara both said they have drawn on the sport to help them put one foot in front of the other over the past year.

Peddie is a former All-American cross-country runner at the University of Virginia who qualified for the Olympic trials in 1996.

He lives the store’s motto of “keeping your life in motion” and believes that the runner’s mentality he adopted years ago has helped him push forward since the bombings.

“There were a lot of people that wanted Marathon Sports to be closed longer,” he said.

“I said, ‘No, then they win. I’m going to fight back by opening my store as soon as I can. We’re not going to give into this. Marathon Sports doesn’t want to be a victim. Marathon Sports wants to stand up.’ ”

O’Hara is the unofficial leader of the store’s running club; he lives for the Wednesday night runs. Two weeks after the bombings, 300 people showed up at the store to join him for the weekly run.

Now he’s preparing to run the Boston Marathon, for the first time in more than a decade.

“I didn’t want to be here on Monday,” O’Hara said of the store. “Because it’s such a beautiful day and event, I didn’t want to be in the store thinking of what happened.”

The manager doesn’t expect to put the past behind him at the finish line. He hopes to finally move on when he locks the door to the store at 6 p.m. on Marathon Monday and heads out to meet his friends for a beer, a most ordinary step he could not have taken a year ago.

Taryn Luna can be reached at taryn.luna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @TarynLuna.
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