The sounds of pounding of feet will be heard again in the Queen City on Saturday at the ninth annual Thunder Road Marathon.
Waving the green flag at the start of the 26.2-mile race will be Nicole Gross, who suffered injuries when a bomb exploded at the Boston Marathon April 15.
Also hurt in the blast were her husband, Michael, and sister, Erika Brannock.
Thunder Road will be the first event in which all three, along with the sisters’ mother, have participated since the Boston explosion that killed three people and injured 264 others.
“Michael and Nicole are very special people,” said race director Tim Rhodes. “They have very positive and healthy outlooks, and I admire their courage. They’re an example of perseverance and can-do. We’re honored to have them associated with this race.”
The marathon now has a time limit of 6 hours 30 minutes, an increase of 30 minutes. Anyone needing longer than six hours to complete the race can get the extra 30 minutes by starting at 7:15 a.m. Saturday.
Runners will be allowed to start at 7:45 a.m., but they will be subject to the six-hour time limit.
Rhodes said 1,500 are participating in the marathon, 3,000 in the half-marathon and 1,200 in the 5k event.
Among those running in the half-marathon will be Laura King Edwards of Charlotte, participating while blindfolded to honor her 15-year-old sister, Taylor King, who suffers from Batten disease, a fatal disorder that attacks the nervous system and has left her blind.
Taylor was already blind when she ran the Thunder Road 5k in 2008, tethered to an older student with a bungee cord. Edwards will run the same way again this year – holding one end of a bungee cord while a sighted guide holds the other.
“For me, Taylor’s courage as a runner will always live on as a symbol of her never-give-up attitude in her fight against Batten disease,” Edwards said. “Blindness kicked her and knocked her down when she ran the 5k at Thunder Road in 2008, but she pulled herself up and kept going. I won’t give up in my fight on behalf of people like her until the day we cross the ultimate finish line. Taylor didn’t stop running until her body gave out on her. … and neither will I.”
The sisters will cheer on their mother at the finish of the half-marathon. Nicole and Michael Gross and Erika Brannock will all walk in the 5k. Brannock was recently fitted with a new prosthetic leg to replace the one removed below the knee after the Boston explosion.
On the marathon website, Nicole Gross, who is recovering from a recent ankle surgery, said of the event: “It’s the best possible way to finish up the year for us. So many magical, wonderful things have happened since (Boston.)”
She is scheduled to speak at the Thunder Road Marathon prerace pasta dinner on Friday.
A qualifier for the Boston Marathon, Thunder Road brings tourist dollars to Charlotte and draws participants from 45 states, Rhodes said. He described it as a family-friendly event that features music, entertainment and focuses on the Charlotte region’s heritage of stock-car racing.
Ten percent of the gross income goes to local charities and nonprofits. Rhodes said the three main charitable focuses of this year’s event are the Gross family to help pay medical bills, Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte and the Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital.
Rhodes warned that traffic will be an issue around town Saturday.
Otherwise, he said the predicted weather forecast of clouds, a low of 45 degrees and high of 64 is “ great for running.”
Nonrunners won’t be bored because “there will be a lot happening,” Rhodes said. “It’s going to be a fantastic day.”