Sports

For Fairbanks Seven, Boston worth the effort

Greg Finstad (at right in lead group) is not sure if 2014 will be his last Boston Marathon.

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Greg Finstad (at right in lead group) is not sure if 2014 will be his last Boston Marathon.

The 36,000 entered in the 2014 Boston Marathon field have countless connections beyond simply all being runners.

Fathers and sons, workers and their bosses, and neighbors and friends are among the most common.

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Then there is the Fairbanks Seven. Of all the interesting aspects of the Boston Marathon field, the fact seven runners hail from Alaska’s second-largest city is amusing. That they average 51 years old – nine years older than the average age of the field – makes it even more compelling.

But dive in and find out what they go through to get to the starting line in Hopkinton and it’s downright fascinating.

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“Logistically in the winter we have no daylight,” said Greg Finstad, 59. “You wear headlamps and protective clothing. The trails are covered up so it’s difficult finding anywhere of any distance to actually run.”

They train on the Last Frontier’s ice-covered roads, braving subzero temperatures during winters of fleeting daylight for an outdoor run.

For Finstad, the 2013 Boston Marathon was supposed to be his last Boston Marathon. The tragedy near the finish line, which he had just crossed for the fifth time, prompted him to rethink his decision. The professor of reindeer ecology and husbandry at the University of Alaska Fairbanks decided to run again this year as his way of thanking the people of Boston.

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“The people of Boston gave me unwavering support,” Finstad said. “I want to return the favor.”

While battling the flu during his first Boston Marathon, Finstad was assisted by two elderly women. One of them comforted him as he threw up on the side of the route near mile 18 and the other found two men who helped him get back on the course.

“I ended up being able to finish the race,” he said.

Finstad also ran in 2012, when Massachusetts experienced stifling 80-degree temperatures on Marathon Monday.

“The people on the side would do anything,” he said, recalling supporters along the route handing out ice and water to runners. “They were genuinely concerned.”

Finstad said is he unsure if 2014 will mark the final time he runs the Boston Marathon. He said he hopes to travel and run in marathons such as London and Berlin, but he would not rule out returning to Boston.

“Mature runners, we don’t take it for granted,” he said. “Being able to run the Boston Marathon is very, very special.”

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Don Kiely is a software developer who will run Boston for the second time in 2014.

Don Kiely also thought the 2013 marathon would be his last— and only— Boston Marathon. He wanted to run just once, because the Boston Marathon is a road marathon in a big city and Kiely, who prefers running on trails, is a self-proclaimed “small-town Alaska boy.”

But Kiely will return.

“Boston just floored me,” he said. “The outpouring of support, it was just incredible.”

Kiely, a software developer who resides just outside of Fairbanks in Ester, Alaska, has been running “seriously” for about five years.

Although training in brutally cold conditions takes a toll on runners, Kiely said he thinks the adversity is helpful in making Alaskan runners tougher. He added that trading multiple layers of warm clothing and heavy shoes for a t-shirt, shorts and sneakers is another advantage.

“I’ll feel light as a fairy,” he said.

Kiely also said he is looking forward to seeing his sister at the finish line. She is flying to Boston from Kansas City to watch him run on Marathon Monday.

Andy Holland, the president of Alaska’s Running Club North, ran his first Boston Marathon in 1989 after his brother, who resides in Watertown, asked him to run. Since then, Holland has run 23 Boston Marathons.

He also runs Fairbanks’s Equinox Marathon every year.

Last year, Holland was in the basement of a Back Bay hotel when the bombs exploded at the finish line. After Marathon Monday, Holland stayed with his brother in Watertown. He said was just about eight blocks away on the Thursday night when the bombing suspects led police on a manhunt that ended in a Watertown backyard.

“It was kind of a bit unreal. It put stuff in perspective,” Holland said. “I was so impressed with the Bostonians. The overwhelming response was [they] were pissed off.”

After countless bone-chilling runs, 26.2 miles on a spring day in New England is less-than-ideal for the Fairbanks Seven.

“Anything over 60 is too warm,” Finstad said. “I perform well when it’s cold. I’m hoping for horrible weather. I hope it’s 40 degrees and sleet.”

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