A mob of runners and many well wishers flocked to Tempe on Saturday for the ninth annual Pat's Run to honor one of Arizona's finest and pay respect to the victims of Monday's attack on the Boston Marathon.
Approximately 28,000 participants braved the early-morning start and warmer than preferable temperatures to run, jog and walk their way through the 4.2-mile course that ended on the 42-yard line in Sun Devil Stadium.
The race's end featured a familiar sight when Maricopa resident and elementary-school physical education teacher Ronnie Buchanan repeated as the event's champion. Queen Creek's Troy Davis won the wheelchair race.
For the non-elite runners, this year's Pat's Run represented a venue to celebrate the life of Army ranger Pat Tillman – the former Arizona State and Arizona Cardinal who died in a friendly-fire incident in Afghanistan in 2004.
“He had a career, and he left for something he believed in,” said Phoenix resident and retired Army Sgt. Manuel Lopez.
Lopez finished the race for the third time, and was one of many who have run the course multiple times over the years. Some, like Gilbert resident and 41st overall finisher Blake Sacha, have found their way to Tempe every April for almost a decade.
“I've seen it grow from 100 to 30,000,” he said.
Sacha keeps coming back to Pat's Run to remember Tillman and contribute to the Tillman Military Scholars program, which provides scholarships to active service members and veterans. According to the Tillman Foundation website, the organization has provided $3.2 million to 230 scholars over the years.
Many of the athletes recognized veterans and service members like Tillman and others by making their own T-shirts with Tillman's name on it or with the name and face of another departed soldier. Others wore either this year's grey tech shirt – complete with Tillman's number 42 on the back – or one from a previous race.
Another clothing choice that stood out among the sea of runners were blue caps with the letter “B” on the front that were used to recognize the three people killed and more than 170 injured at the Boston Marathon on Patriot's Day. A slew of Saturday's participants wore official Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics and Patriots gear, or attended the event in something a little more homemade. Sacha, who said he competed in the marathon's 100th iteration 17 years ago, had a black sign with the Boston skyline contrasted in white and the date 4-15-13 on it, while Gilbert residents Ken Buckwinkler and Jackie Heatherson donned shirts with the phrase “Run for Boston” in green letters.
One guy wore a red, white and blue full-body spandex suit.
“We want to represent for them,” said Buckwinkler, in reference to friends he has in the Boston area and for fellow runners.
Monday's bombing didn't affect Buckwinkler's decision to run, although he said his co-workers were worried about security. Scottsdale resident Kathleen Boyer also had concerns about this year's Pat's Run, although her fears were assuaged when police officials announced on Friday they would increase security at the event.
With extra police and security present, no incidents were reported.
“It was nice to go online and see they posted that though,” Boyer said.
Phoenix resident Nancy Douchet, however, said opting to stay home instead of coming out to run her first Pat's Run would be the wrong message to take away from tragedies like the Boston bombings.
“By not showing up, we let fear win,” she said.