In the wake of the bombings at last year's Boston Marathon, Julie Pfeffer of Highland Park remained determined to return in 2014 to show her support for those who were hurt or killed in the attack.
But when her niece, Lexie Kamerman, 27, was killed in a January terrorist attack in Afghanistan, Pfeffer's reason for running in the 2014 Boston Marathon became, "a little more complex."
"I'm now running in honor of my niece and any person who has been affected by terrorism," said Pfeffer, 45, who is also the principal at Crow Island School in Winnetka.
"Obviously, people's lives are forever changed by something like this, but you can't stop living your life," she said.
Pfeffer will have plenty of company from the North Shore this month when she competes in the Boston Marathon on April 21. Some of those going said they are determined to run the race despite the tragic events that punctuated the 2013 event.
About four hours into the 2013 Boston Marathon, two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line on Boylston Street, killing three people and injuring 264 others, authorities have said. Two brothers were suspected of the attacks. One was killed in a shootout with police. The other was arrested and is awaiting trial.
The 2014 marathon has drawn about 36,000 registered runners, the maximum that organizers allow for the race and 9,000 more than last year. The entrants include more than 1,000 runners from Illinois and hundreds from the Chicago area.
Winnetka resident Tom Holt, 42, is heading back to the Boston Marathon this month.
"I had an asthma flare-up during last year's marathon, so my wife and I headed back to our hotel right after I finished," Holt recalled. "We didn't hear that anything had happened until my wife was on the hotel elevator with a runner who was crying. We turned on the TV and it was kind of surreal."
At last year's race, Pfeffer recalled she had just finished running before the bombings erupted. She experienced a few minutes of panic before she located one of her friends in the crowd.
"It was kind of chaotic, and one of my friends had finished 45 seconds after the blast," Pfeffer said. "We just grabbed our stuff and started walking with our luggage."
Pfeffer said she and her friends were fortunate to get a ride to the airport, allowing them to catch a flight before air traffic in Boston was temporarily grounded.
"I flew back home on Monday night, and as soon as I was on the ground and saw my family, I knew I was going back to Boston next year, because it felt unfinished," Pfeffer said.
Holt said the situation at first seemed like a nightmare.
"I don't think it really hit me until the next morning when we walked out of the hotel and could appreciate the gravity of the situation," Holt said. "We saw armed guards, helicopters flying overhead and bomb squads…it looked like a war zone."
While this year's brutal winter weather has made it challenging for North Shore marathon runners to train outdoors, Pfeffer said she and two running friends typically run at 5 a.m. most mornings, logging between seven and eight miles before they start their work day.
This year represents Pfeffer's ninth Boston Marathon, and she anticipates that it will be a significant, albeit bittersweet, experience.
"I'm really emotional anyway, and I usually cry a little before I start a marathon and after I finish," said Pfeffer, a mother of three children, who said she started running after college.
"Everyone in the marathon this year will be running in support of Boston and all those who were affected," she said, adding: "Tragedy brings humanity together, and this year, I'll be running in honor of Lexie."
Holt said he anticipates the race being a unique experience.
"The 2014 marathon will be exciting, historic and patriotic," Holt added. "If the Boston Marathon is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I think this will be the year to do it."
Tribune reporter Stephanie Baer contributed.