Brad Flack has been training for his first marathon for four months.
He’s excited and a little nervous, but the volunteer choir director who started running in high school to lose weight and build self-esteem is not scared.
Flack admittedly asked himself, “What if? What if something did happen?”
Like what happened nearly a week ago in Boston.
Two bomb blasts, about 10 seconds and 100 yards apart, killed three people and injured more than 180 at the Boston Marathon, bringing back horrific memories of other terroristic tragedies.
In the wake of the bombing, area law enforcement and first responders are taking extra steps to ensure the safety of runners and spectators for the inaugural running of the Army Marathon today.
The event comes just six days after two homemade bombs rocked the prestigious Boston Marathon, one of the world’s oldest annual marathons. Police officials said they will be scouring the course with bomb-sniffing dogs, focusing on the start and finish lines, where spectators and runners will be more densely gathered.
“We feel that we are as well prepared as we can be,” race director Ed Bandas said. “We’re ready, and we’ll have personnel in place for anything.”
Bandas added the the local marathon, which travels through six different jurisdictions, already commands security detail from multiple Bell County agencies.
Chad Berg, emergency management coordinator for the Killeen Fire Department, will head up any emergency response in the case of a major event. Berg said the KFD plans and trains regularly for the possibility of large emergency events.
Law enforcement from Killeen, the Bell County Sheriff’s Office and Temple said they have bomb-sniffing dogs along the course.
Because of recent terror-related actions and intentions in the Central Texas area — the Nov. 5, 2009 shooting at Fort Hood that left 13 dead and 32 injured and Pfc. Jason Abdo’s failed bomb plot, which similarly included explosives like the ones used in Boston — security was a major issue during the planning phases of the event.
“The fact that we hang the Army word off of our race, obviously, it’s crossed our mind and been a part of our planning, but so far nothing’s shown up our radar and we’re constantly looking at it for that very reason,” Bandas said earlier this week. “We’ve got soldiers running, we’re near Fort Hood, we’ve already had one bad incident there, we don’t need anything else.”
If all goes well, the only things nonspectators should encounter are minor traffic problems.
The race begins at 6:30 a.m. in front of the Killeen Civic and Conference Center on W.S. Young Drive. The road will be closed during that time, but likely reopened 20 minutes after the race starts when all runners will be gone from that portion of the course.
The Belton Lake Dam will be closed for the entire race, causing what will likely be the biggest traffic headache of the race. Spectators will not be allowed to watch the race there, either.
Crossing the dam after its longest stretch on scenic FM 439 is one of the things Flack is most looking forward to on the 26.2-mile course.
“It’s a long way, but I’ve run a long way. And where I’ve run my long runs, it’s been in my neighborhood and to be honest, it’s not fun anymore running in my neighborhood,” Flack said. “I ran Pepper Creek Trail on (FM) 2305 and it felt like nothing because it was a new environment. ... I think I’m going to see new things and we get to cross the dam, which is pretty cool.”
There is also a 5K route that starts and ends at the finish line in Temple. Registration is still open for both events. For more information, go to thearmymarathon.com.
The idea for the marathon, the first in the Killeen area since the mid-1970s Bandas said, started a year and a half ago, when four retired servicemen, Bandas included, sought to raise both money and awareness for veterans’ charities.
“There was four of us old vets that got together and decided, ‘Hey, we want to do some kind of fundraiser for veteran charities,’ especially charities that are not as big as something like the Wounded Warrior Project, which is a wonderful charity, but there is nothing that we could do to move the needle on their gas tank. We wanted to help some of the smaller ones that do great work also,” Bandas said.
“We tossed around a bunch of ideas ... and we finally decided to do a marathon simply because there was no such thing as an Army marathon. There’s a Marine Corps marathan and an Air Force marathon, but there’s no Army marathon that’s nationwide.”
With cooperation from the Belton, Harker Heights, Killeen and Temple councils, the idea spawned by Bandas, Richard Archer, Gene Deutscher and Jay Taggart and the longtime dream of Flack has slowly come to fruition.
Training hasn’t been easy for Flack. He lost a toenail and more than once doubted he’d be able to finish. But he was committed.
“When I commit to something, I commit to it,” Flack said. “I had told a lot of people I was planning to run a marathon, I’m not a quitter. Because I’m not a quitter, that motivated me to keep on training and to just do it and really make it happen.”
When Flack was approached by a friend at church to run the marathon, it was first a bucket-list item he could check off, like flying a plane. Then, it became a mission to finish. He’s aiming to finish in under five and a half hours, but he just wants to finish.
When he does cross the line, Flack believes it could mean something bigger, greater in the wake of the tragedy in Boston.
“It would feel like we can have this, we still can do this,” Flack said. “And it’ll be successful.”