AP Sports Writer
BOSTON (AP) -- "I need to run."
The messages started arriving just hours after the bombings, pleading for an entry into the 2014 Boston Marathon. For months the calls and emails continued, runners begging for an opportunity to cross the finish line on Boylston Street and convinced it would ease at least some of their grief.
"They'd say, 'I'm not a qualified runner; I don't think I ever will be. I train. I run. I could do it. But because of what happened last year, I need to run,'" Boston Athletic Association executive director Tom Grilk said last week.
"It might have been because they were present at the finish, or they knew somebody who was working or was affected. They might have been somebody who lives in Haverhill, Mass., and they were watching the race and it hit 'em hard. That was true for a lot of people.
"And we received some of these communications and we thought, 'What do we do?'"
The B.A.A. had already expanded this year's field to include more than 5,000 runners who were stranded on the course when the two explosions killed three and wounded 264 others. A few extra invitations were sprinkled among the first-responders and the victims, or their families; others went to charities and the towns along the route; some who said they were personally touched by the tragedy were already given bibs.
But organizers felt they might still be missing people, people who perhaps didn't think their trauma was worthy amid all the lost limbs and physical scars. So, in November, they announced that about 500 bibs would be available for those "personally and profoundly impacted by the events of April 15, 2013."
In 250-word essays submitted over the website, 1,199 would-be runners made their case. Almost 600 had the connection the B.A.A. was looking for.
"The anger, guilt and heartbreak I still feel today will never go away," wrote Kate Plourd, who was in the medical tent, dehydrated and vowing never to run Boston again, when she heard the announcements: "Explosions at the finish line. Casualties. Dismemberments. Prepare yourself to treat the victims."
"Running the 2014 Boston Marathon will help me heal my mind," she said in the essay that landed her bib No. 28115. "I'll push myself ... to finish the 2014 Boston Marathon in honor of those who won't ever give up, who I won't ever forget."
The last year in Boston has been punctuated with memorial services and other tributes, as well as fundraisers that have raised more than $60 million for the victims.
But for those who feel a connection to the Boston Marathon, that connection is most often felt through running.
And, when they decided they had to do something, they decided they had to run.
Dr. Alok Gupta, a trauma surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, about 2 miles from the finish line, thought about treating so many leg injuries caused by the ground-level bombs and concluded that running the race would be "just really poetic."
"I decided that's what would be meaningful for me," said Gupta, who was a medical student in New York during the Sept. 11 attacks and has since studied disaster preparedness. "Running the Boston Marathon this year -- not next year, not New York, not Chicago: Boston. I just thought it would be meaningful for me."
A competitive swimmer in high school, the now 37-year-old Gupta had no experience in distance running until he began to train for Monday's race. "We're on the second floor," he said in a recent interview at his office. "I took the elevator."
Googling "How long does it take to train for a marathon," Gupta got an answer of 18 weeks.
Patriots' Day was 18 ½ weeks away.
He applied and received bib No. 35542.
Alan Hagyard ran Boston for the first time in 2012 and was back in the field last year, coming down Boylston when the first bomb went off about 30 feet away.
"The memories often bring tears to my eyes," he wrote in his application.
The explosion left him deaf in his left ear.
But he never considered sitting this one out.
"The next day, that night, I was ready to go again," said Hagyard, 67, of Hamden, Conn. "Partly to say, 'You can't stop us.'"
Having missed the qualifying time by 13 seconds, Hagyard wrote the B.A.A. to ask for a waiver. When organizers created the special invitation, he asked for a chance to rewrite the ending to last year's race.