NORWALK, Conn. – Kate Stoker’s odyssey of 16 marathons in 16 states began in Boston last year. On Monday, the Norwalk runner looks to complete unfinished business.
Stoker, who has run 33 marathons total, will be running in Boston the fourth time. She will achieve Osmium Level status from Marathon Maniacs, an organization that rewards marathon running frequency, when she finishes the Boston race. Last year’s Boston Marathon was supposed to be the start of her journey. Instead, this year’s race will be the end.
“It’s hard to say which marathon was the best,’’ said Stoker, who has run marathons in California, Texas and Florida, among others, in the past year. “Each one has something special about it. They’re all different. Big Sur (California) was absolutely gorgeous. Leadville (in Colorado) was beautiful, but it was very challenging. Steamtown (in Pennsylvania) is still one of my favorites. I keep going back to that one.”
The hardest part, besides travel logistics, was staying healthy. “I had to manage the injuries and keep them minimal,’’ Stoker said. “Sometimes I had to take off four, five or six straight days. That was hard because there was always another marathon coming up.”
Stoker started running in 2005, and marathons were hardly a concern. “I didn’t think I’d ever run more than a 5K,’’ she said. “It took a few years to get to the point of running a marathon. Then the goal was two a year. I don’t know how it went from there. You start hanging out with crazy people, you become one yourself.”
Stoker was less than a mile from the finish at last year’s Boston Marathon. Her boyfriend, Tommy McLoughlin, usually waits near the finish line. Because they had a hard time seeing each other near the finish at Boston in previous races, he moved to the 25th mile.
“The bombs had gone off when I was at mile 23 or 24,’’ Stoker said. “I had no idea what had happened. When I got to Tom, he jumped over and came running to tell me what happened. When you’re in marathon mentality, you get dead-set on finishing. I ran away from him and he kept running after me. A block later, I was stopped.”
Shortly afterward, Stoker realized the gravity of the tragedy of the attacks. “I got a text from my brother, so I told him I was OK,’’ she said. “I had about 15 or 20 friends running. I was thinking about where each person would be.”
Fortunately, none of Stoker’s friends were hurt. Post-race flashbacks, however, flared frequently. “I don’t think it was overwhelming me until after the first weeks,’’ she said. “Something would come into my mind about it and I was thinking about it a lot. Now, with the anniversary coming up, it’s bringing it all back.”
Stoker said last year’s Boston Marathon was going to be her final one there for a while, so she could try other events. But she did not hesitate about returning to run this year’s race.
“I have so many friends from running,’’ Stoker said. “We’re all out there motivating and supporting each other. I feel like this was an attack on the running community, which is like family with all the encouragement, support and the bond we all share as runners. ... I want to be there to laugh and cry and celebrate with my fellow runners and all the family, friends and other spectators who come out to cheer for all of us.”