Like thousands of other runners, J. Alain Ferry was still on the Marathon course when the bombs went off. Friends flagged him down from the roadside, and his race was over.
On Saturday, Ferry and fellow runners who were denied the triumph of crossing the finish line will have their chance with #onerun, which covers the final mile. Organizers expect thousands to attend, including spectators and volunteers from that day, in a show of unity and resolve.
“We’re seeing this through,” Ferry said.
A day after runners reclaim the finish line, the city will host the first major road race since the attacks, Boston’s Run to Remember. The half marathon, held each year to honor officers killed in the line of duty, will pay tribute to slain MIT police Officer Sean Collier. Race time is set for 7 a.m.
Chrissy Natoli had not planned on running the race. But when her friend Collier mentioned he was going to give it a try, they decided to run together. Come Sunday morning, his memory will be with her, a sustaining presence through the miles.
“It will be my body and feet carrying me to the finish line,” the 26-year-old said. “But it’s his spirit that’s going to be there.”
Run to Remember director Cecil Jones said the race through the streets of downtown Boston and Cambridge “is going to give everybody a chance to breathe again.”
“It’s going to give us all a chance to be Bostonians,” said Jones, a Boston police detective assigned to the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. “We’re one of the toughest breeds in the world. We’re not going to back down. And I think everybody wants to show that we will remember.”
In that spirit, runners will receive race bibs with Collier’s name and his MIT police car number, 179, to pin to their backs. A water station on Memorial Drive by MIT will be adorned with tributes to the fallen officer, and the race expo at the World Trade Center will feature a memorial display.
Some of Collier’s family and friends are expected to attend the race. Well over 10,000 runners have registered for the Run to Remember, many in a rush of support in the aftermath of the bombings. Police officers from Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles are expected to attend. A US Army unit, the Salerno Forward Surgical Team in Khost, Afghanistan, will hold its own version of the run at its base.
Sergeant Tim Colomey of the Los Angeles Police Department’s SWAT team is running to honor Boston’s first responders and those who captured suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Along with four fellow officers, Colomey plans to pay his respects to the MIT police and deliver sympathy letters from Los Angeles schoolchildren to the family of 8-year-old bombing victim Martin Richard.
Colomey, who grew up in Dedham and Roslindale, said the pull of home has never been stronger.
“To put my feet on the streets of Boston will mean a lot to me,” he said. “As a law enforcement officer, it’s a connection I desperately need. To know I’m part of the recovery, even if I’m just a little part of it.”
The Run to Remember, organized by the Boston Police Runner’s Club, raises money for everything from running shoes for city youths to treadmills for local police departments. It typically attracts police running clubs from across the country, Jones said.
Security will also be tight. Spectators will not be allowed within 200 yards of the combined start-finish line on Seaport Boulevard, runners will only be allowed to stow clothing and other items in clear plastic bags, and a police helicopter will hover above the course during the race.
Nicole McGurin, of Holden, was among the thousands of runners who could not finish the Boston Marathon. A member of the Alzheimer’s Association, Massachusetts/New Hampshire Chapter’s charity team, she said Sunday’s race is a chance to resolve the “unfinished feeling” of that day.
“To get to run again in the city — it’s a way to take back some of that great community spirit that was damaged that day,” McGurin said. “It will be great to send out a wrap-up note about my training saying, ‘Well, I didn’t finish the Boston Marathon, but a month and a half later, I did finish Boston’s Run to Remember.’ ”
That spirit motivated organizers of the #onerun. With a slogan of “we’ll get our finish,” the informal gathering allows runners and spectators to “experience the magic” of the race’s final mile, organizers say.
Organizers envision it as both celebration and catharsis, a way to honor the bombing victims while providing closure for runners whose race was cut short.
“I think it’s going to be everything,” Ferry said of the emotions involved. Mental health counselors will be on hand at the finish line.
The event begins at 10 a.m. in Kenmore Square. Marathoners are encouraged to wear their race numbers.
“It’s really about the whole running community coming together to support the people who couldn’t finish the race,” said Andy Marx, a #onerun organizer who came up with the idea in the days after the bombing.
The children’s choir from St. Ann’s Parish in Dorchester, where the Richard family attends, will sing the national anthem before the run.
Afterward, runners are encouraged to spend the day frequenting neighborhood businesses.
“The whole intention is to support the Back Bay businesses, and have a feeling of a rolling afternoon,” Marx said.