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Emotions overcome runners training for Marathon

Peter Riddle stretched for a run along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. He helped rescue a victim who lost a leg in the Boston Marathon bombings last year and struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Peter Riddle stretched for a run along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. He helped rescue a victim who lost a leg in the Boston Marathon bombings last year and struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder.

It was 7 degrees outside, not counting the wind chill. But as she laced her Sauconys, Jo Lysko, a member of the charity team running to honor Martin Richard, the Dorchester boy killed at last year’s Boston Marathon, refused to complain about the cold, even to herself.

“I looked at my kitchen island,” said Lysko, of Canton, “and I have three stools there. That’s where my three children eat. And I thought, how do you go from three to two” by losing a child to tragedy “and not feel emptiness the rest of your life?”

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Haunted and motivated by that image, Lysko headed into the dawn.

As runners training for the April 21 race know well, this winter has been frigid and snowy. But for many, the weather conditions were insignificant compared with an emotional punch so powerful that some runners say they cry as they train.

Others say they’re driven to prove something — to “take back our finish line,” the rallying cry goes.

Riddle went for a run along the Greenway.

David L Ryan/Globe Staff

Riddle went for a run along the Greenway.

In the South End, Peter Riddle has been getting in his miles while struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

He was at the Forum restaurant when the second bomb exploded, and he helped rescue Heather Abbott, who survived but lost a leg.

‘Training has made me so tired that it’s given me the ability to sleep. . . . I’m physically exhausted, but I am finding peace.’

Peter Riddle, Boston 
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“This sounds strange,” Riddle said recently, “but I find myself in awe that I have both my legs, that I didn’t lose them.”

He paused to compose himself.

“After the bombs went off, I could only sleep for stretches of three hours at a time,” said Riddle, a vice president at DigitasLBi, a marketing and technology agency. “Sometimes I’d be up for 48 hours straight.

“But training [as part of the Joe Andruzzi Foundation team] has made me so tired that it’s given me the ability to sleep. My boss even said recently, ‘You don’t look tired anymore.’ I laughed. I’m physically exhausted, but I am finding peace.”

In the wake of the attack, which killed three and injured more than 260, mental health workers quickly volunteered to help the traumatized, and they are still at it nearly a year later.

Joanne Pomodoro, a clinical social worker at Massachusetts General Hospital Back Bay, is working with four runners who were stopped before the finish line last April and are running the race again this year.

“The first stage was getting them to feel safe and stable,” she said. But as the months have passed, treatment has evolved from treating flashbacks, nightmares, and fear of crowds and backpacks, to sports psychology.

“We’re focusing on the competitive mindset, and positive self-talk, and visualizing themselves on the course this year,” said Pomodoro, who is raising money for the MGH team. “But you have to allow yourself to have feelings. Having them won’t hurt, but pushing them away will.”

Recent weeks have brought news of increased security plans for this year’s race.

Police will add more officers, surveillance cameras, and bomb-sniffing dogs, and the Boston Athletic Association is no longer allowing runners to bring their own bags on the bus from Boston to Hopkinton.

But even as the measures provide comfort, they are a reminder of last year’s violence.

At Clerys bar in the South End last week, coach Susan Hurley choked up as she counseled her charity runners on race-day plans.

“I told them it would be a good idea to have a meeting spot in addition to the regular family meeting area,” said Hurley, the founder of CharityTeams, a North Andover-based firm that matches runners with charities and trains them. “I want them to have a sense of direction and comfort in case anything did occur.”

As 60 of her runners consumed flatbreads and sliders and beer, Hurley reminded them to fill in their medical and emergency contact information on the back of their race bibs, a precaution runners do not always take.

“I don’t think people are going to neglect that this year,” she said.

Over the years, running a marathon has evolved from an activity strictly for serious runners to a fund-raising vehicle for even nonathletes, making the public increasingly appreciative of runners’ efforts.

This year, that feeling has reached new heights. Runners are getting the kind of “thank you for your service” comments usually reserved for members of the military.

“It’s not only a race you are doing for yourself, but for the whole city of Boston, for the victims, and the families,” said Trisha Winton, who is raising money as part of the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation team.

Like many training for the Marathon, Winton frequently runs sections of the course, and a lump often forms in her throat when she crosses the Beacon Street bridge over the Mass. Pike, the spot where she was stopped last year.

“I don’t know how to describe this feeling that comes over me,” she said. “I shudder.” Similar feelings are triggered — for her and other runners — when sirens wail by. “It brings back that moment again,” she said.

Emotions are running high among nonrunners, too, she said, noting that people she has never met are donating.

“My aunt posted it on her Facebook page and a woman from Arizona made a contribution,” Winton said. “She was like, ‘Boston Strong.’ ”

Indeed, the emotion of the Boston Strong credo is so powerful that Dave McGillivray, the Boston Athletic Association’s race director, predicts it will propel a greater number of exhausted runners over the finish line.

Normally, 97.5 to 98 percent of runners finish the race.

“My sense is that we will see the highest percentage of finishers ever for the Boston Marathon,” he said.

Boston Strong has also motivated reluctant runners to start the race. In Norwood, Dennis Doherty, the father of a boy with autism, was frank about the enormous effort it takes to train, even for a race that has become almost sacred.

“This is a huge pain,” said Doherty, a nurse at Boston Children’s Hospital.

After being stopped last year before he got to the finish line, Doherty is again fund-raising for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism team.

“I’m in my last year of [nursing] grad school, and I’ve got two kids, but after what happened, I was like, I have to do it again. When I’m on my long run on Saturdays, it’s impossible not to think about all the people who were affected by the tragedy and how lucky I am that my family was unharmed. I need to get to Boylston Street.”

Beth Teitell can be reached at bteitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.
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