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115th Boston Marathon | Faces in the crowd

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By Maggie Cassidy
Globe Correspondent / April 19, 2011

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Molly Stout ran the 115th Boston Marathon yesterday with a piece of paper folded in her hand. Written on it were the names of 26 cancer patients and people lost to cancer — a list of Stout’s “mile dedications.’’

“Each mile, I was trying to think about who it was dedicated to, just to try to help me through it,’’ said Stout, who ran her first Boston while raising money for the American Cancer Society.

Stout dedicated her 26th mile to her father, John J. Coleman Jr., who lost his battle with lung cancer in May 2005. Together they watched the Marathon go through Hopkinton, with Stout sitting on her father’s shoulders, when she was a young girl.

“I definitely thought of him the whole race, just thinking, ‘Please be with me, help me finish this,’ ’’ she said.

Stout was one of four runners the Globe profiled last week who overcame obstacles in qualifying to run the world’s oldest annual marathon. For Stout, it was missing her qualifying time by 30 minutes in humid weather last April, only to succeed three weeks later.

While yesterday was a tad warmer than she would have liked, the result was nothing like her flubbed qualifier. Stout, who lives in Avon Lake, Ohio, ran a personal best of 3 hours 29 minutes 15 seconds, about seven minutes better than her previous PR.

“I felt like I was dreaming the whole time,’’ Stout said. “After all the disappointments I’ve had in other races, it was finally the perfect race for me.’’

Michele Parnell feared her chances at Boston were lost when her planned qualifier, the 2010 Myrtle Beach Marathon, was canceled at the last minute because of a snowstorm. Panicked, she got up at 4 a.m. and drove eight hours through inclement weather to Gainesville, Fla., to run the Five Points of Life Marathon — without even knowing if the race was still on.

She finished the smaller, hillier race in 3:36:40, a personal best by about 50 minutes. Compared with her trek to Gainesville, she enjoyed a relaxing journey on her first visit to Boston, arriving with her family by plane Saturday, and finishing in 3:43:35 yesterday.

Parnell enjoyed some unforgettable sights between Hopkinton and Boston — from costumed runners including a barefoot Tarzan to perennial participants Dick and Rick Hoyt.

“It was just the most amazing thing to see him pushing his son in the wheelchair,’’ she said. “It was such an inspiration. To be running on the same course as them was unbelievable.’’

While her time wasn’t a personal best, the experience was among her personal favorites.

“It’s just an amazing feeling to officially say I’ve finished the Boston Marathon,’’ she said. “I’ve achieved an important goal today. It’s a dream come true.’’

The same could be said for Chris Roberts, who four years ago could not have believed he would run Boston. He had good reason: Back then, the 6-foot Roberts weighed 238 pounds and could barely finish a quarter-mile in four minutes on a treadmill.

Now 70 pounds lighter thanks in part to running, Roberts has run two Bostons — in 2010, when he finished in 3:12:46, and yesterday, when he bested that time by about four minutes at 3:08:48.

Roberts struggled during the hills, he said, and felt a little disappointed after missing his goal time of 3:05. But he was happy to get high-fives from his family, who watched him whiz by in Natick, and plans to return to Boston next year.

For now, he will return to work as a financial adviser in Pennsylvania — and begin training for an ironman event in October.

Mike Niebrzydowski also had a big day. After missing the qualifying time by four seconds in 2009 and hitting it with only three seconds to spare last year, he finished in 3:34:45.

While the tribulations of qualifying for the Boston Marathon were stressful, Niebrzydowski said he wouldn’t trade the experience.

“It makes it a little bit more interesting to have a story rather than just going out and doing it the first time,’’ he said. “It makes it more rewarding.’’

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