” Out of hate came love “
It’s the oldest annual marathon in the world. A 26.2-mile slog that starts in Hopkinton and winds its way to Boylston Street, the city-centre avenue that welcomes the truly courageous, runners arriving with their fuel gauges low and their spirits so high
“The event, the course, the people — it’s just a notch above.” It’s this last point — the people — that veterans of the race come back to.
“They’ve got soul,” says Hilliard. “They’re like the Irish. They always give you time and love and that day was no different.”
They exploded 13 seconds apart, killing three people and injuring almost 300, with 16 people losing limbs.
Up ahead, Hilliard was entering his final miles as the clock ticked past 2pm, the veteran marathoner slowing to a walk to soak in the atmosphere. But something soon changed his mind and he again started to run.
“If I kept walking, I could have been caught in either [explosion],” he reflects.
“There’s definitely a God there — in my belief anyway.”
When the blasts went off, everyone froze.
“You were stopped and suspended in time,” says Hilliard. “You could see the smoke 70 yards away, but it was like slow motion.”
“I would rather remember the beautiful race, the atmosphere and all it had up to that,” he says, “rather than what happened after.”
From the wounds, there are still scars. But from the hurt, there is healing.
In the years since, Loughran has traversed the world to complete all six marathon majors, but he has since travelled alone.
When Hilliard looks back on that week, the bombers are the last people he thinks of, his mind instead reverting to the emergency services and volunteers — how they couldn’t have been more helpful at a time of such distress.
He remembers taking a walk with runners who hadn’t got to finish the race to collect their medal — and all the smiles and handshakes and outpouring of goodwill.
“You have never seen such respect shown to human beings,” he says. “They were thanking us for our patience, saying we’ll welcome you back.
“They really showed what’s missing in the world. The Trump administration and many politicians could study the Boston race on how to behave in a crisis. They were just incredible.”
The following year, Hilliard went back and, while security was obviously a little tighter, the welcome was just the same.
“It was hugs, high-fives, and they thanked every single one of us for coming back,” he says.
“No other city could do what Boston did.”
It was at that renewal where he met Dick and Rick Hoyt, a father and son from Massachusetts who gained international fame for their athletic endeavours, Dick pushing Rick (who has cerebral palsy) in a wheelchair through various adventure challenges.
Hilliard hit it off with them immediately and invited them to his own race, the Clonakilty Waterfront Marathon, where the American duo forged a special relationship with the locals.
And during the 2015 Boston Marathon, Hilliard got chatting to Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a survivor of the bombings in 2013 who lost her left leg just below the knee.
In what was her first marathon with a prosthetic limb, the American was struggling with great pain and swelling shortly before half way when Hilliard walked over and introduced himself.
“I gave her a hug and a kiss and told her: ‘We’ve a small race in west Cork, would you come over next year?’ She said she’d be honoured. I said: ‘Okay, the deal is: you finish this and we’ll bring you over.’”
That he did, Haslet-Davis racing in Clonakilty the following year along with former Boston Marathon champions Amby Burfoot and Bobbi Gibb. A lifelong bond, forged on the streets of Boston.
As Hilliard puts it: “Nothing but love came out of that day.”
In the six years since, Loughran hasn’t made it back to Boston, but the Ballymena man intends to change that in the coming years.
“I’ve done all the majors and it stands out as the best marathon,” he says.
They have embraced the race again and made the event even better. Fair play to the people of that city.
Joyce will also not be back this year, but 70 runners will again be there under the guidance of his company.
Having been absent in 2013, he made sure to get back the year after the bombings.
“The motto was ‘Boston Strong’ and there was a huge sense of solidarity,” he recalls. “You could see it at the expo, the seminars, a sense of emotion. It showed them at their best.”
As for Hilliard, his boundless faith in humanity has only been strengthened since that day of horror.
In the aftermath one of those he got to know was Dave Fortier, who this year launched the One World Global Marathon, a four-day event that kicked off yesterday in Jordan and will conclude on Monday in Boston, where race director Dave McGillivray will toe the line in Hopkinton shortly after the final finisher has crossed the line on Boylston Street.
The aim is simple: it’s a series of races designed to connect people across borders and backgrounds, a polite way to say ‘up-yours’ to the ideology than underpins terrorism.
In Boston this afternoon, the event’s organisers will be joined by families that lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks in Manchester, Quebec, Pittsburgh — and of course Boston.
“It’s all tied to the hurt and ultimately the love that came out of that race,” says Hilliard.
“There is goodness in the world and Boston showed the world how to behave that day. Out of hate came love.”