Marathon spotlight on U.S. elites

"I would be here no matter what,'' said Hall. "I love the Boston Marathon and I always want to run it, every single spring. With that said, what happened last year does add a ton of fire. It added a ton of fire to my training and preparation. I thrive off emotion.

"Crossing the finish line is going to be a different experience. Everyone will be thinking about what happened last year, showing the world what happened last year didn't work. It didn't strike fear in us, it didn't keep us down, we got back up and we're stronger for it, we're more united for it.''

Both Hall and Linden spent significant training blocks at altitude in East Africa leading up to the race -- Linden in Kenya and Hall in Ethiopia.

Will the number of U.S. runners make a difference in tactics on the course? Cooperating with countrymen, especially in the early stages, is generally a race-day decision, but several in the group of veteran Americans said there will be straightforward comfort in numbers. They know each other's pacing and patterns intimately, and will use one another as gauges at critical junctures.

And, of course, "it significantly increases our odds,'' Linden said.

Hall added: "I'm hoping that all of us go out together and get a chance to run together for a long time. I think that's what it's going to take for us to have a chance at winning the race.''

Greg Meyer's 1983 victory was the last for a U.S. man in Boston. Jason Hartmann, 33, who has finished fourth in Boston the past two years, said he'll be conscious of trying to control his emotions when he lines up for the start in Hopkinton. Business as usual is "the best way to honor the victims and Boston,'' he said.

Cancer survivor Serena Burla, winner of the U.S. Half-Marathon Championships in Houston in January, is on a personal mission to cross the finish line after a couple of detours, but said it would be hard for her to ignore the bigger context of the race.

Her diagnosis of malignant synovial sarcoma in one leg -- removed by surgery that took half of her right hamstring -- delayed her planned marathon debut here in 2010. She was unable to finish in Boston last year when a stomach bug felled her, and watched the ghastly first reports of the bombings from a suburban hospital room. When her 4-year-old son expressed anxiety, Burla found herself searching for ways to assure him that running was "a safe environment.''

"It took me a couple of months just to work through,'' said Burla, a 31-year-old Virginian whose father, Chris Ramsey, a longtime high school track coach, ran in Boston in 1974 and will be waiting for her at the finish line this year.

"I grew up in a running family and this felt like an attack on my home. I know personally, my heart was driving me to come back.''

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