Local News

UNC researcher's work helps unfinished Boston Marathon runners find closure

Posted April 15

— A year after the twin explosions at the Boston Marathon, a local statistics professor is helping the nearly 6,000 runners who never made it to the race's end get some closure.

Bev Kesterson was about three blocks from the race's end when, authorities say, two brothers set off bombs at the finish line on April 15, 2013.

Immediately following the attack, which killed three and left more than 260 injured, Kesterson felt immense gratitude that she wasn't hurt.

But as time passed, she started to long for some closure – what her finish time would have been.

"The number gives it a finish for me, and if I didn't have the number, I wouldn't feel like I finished," she said Tuesday.

The Boston Athletic Association – the marathon's organizer – provided an estimated finish time for those runners but then reached out to Richard Smith, a statistician at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to come up with a scientific formula to predict more accurately their likely finish times.

The reason: to determine who would qualify to run this year's marathon on April 21.

"Once I got their email, of course I knew I had to help them," Smith, who is also a marathon runner, said.

"They'd never be real times, but let's try to give the best times we could," he added.

Smith quickly assembled a team of analysts from Harvard and Carnegie Mellon universities and from the Applied Mathematics Sciences Institute in Research Triangle Park.

The researchers adapted techniques used in such contexts as estimating ratings which Netflix subscribers would have given to movies they had not seen.

They then developed an algorithm that looked at each of the last recorded times of the runners from 2013 and at the similar split times of Boston Marathon runners in 2010 and 2011.

In the end, about 150 people, including Kesterson, made the cut.

"That makes me feel absolutely fantastic," she said.

And finished or not, Kesterson says she sees the race as an amazing achievement.

"It was the best run I'd ever run in my life," she said.

Ultimately, the Boston Athletic Association decided to allow all of the runners who didn't finish last year to compete in this year's event.

But Smith said the work he and his team did was still beneficial. In the course of developing the method, they realized there were other uses for it, such as predicting a runner's finish time while a race is in progress.

10 Comments

This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • whatelseisnew Apr 16, 4:17 p.m.

    "Immediately following the attack, which killed three and left more than 260 injured, Kesterson felt immense gratitude that she wasn't hurt.

    But as time passed, she started to long for some closure – what her finish time would have been.

    "The number gives it a finish for me, and if I didn't have the number, I wouldn't feel like I finished," she said Tuesday."

    Ah yes the spoiled "child" syndrome knows no bounds in this country. Boo hoo lady, perhaps if you lost a limb you might have gained a little perspective and realized how insignificant your finish time is on the scale of importance.

  • lilgtogirl Apr 16, 12:42 p.m.

    This is not a big deal in life. It just isn't. A bombing happened and there are people sad because that meant they could not finish running? You are happy, healthy, and alive. MOVE ON.

  • Red Sox Nation Apr 16, 12:30 p.m.

    Ok, so clearly we have a bunch of uninformed (who would have thought) people posting here. The finishing time matters because you start the race based upon the expected finishing time. Just because you are unable to do something, do not rip on other people. A lot of bitter, jealous people here.

  • Lightfoot3 Apr 16, 11:55 a.m.

    This is an EASY one. If you didn't finish the race, then you do NOT have a finish time! Simple as that. Doesn't matter if you quit yourself, or the race quit you. To apply an artificial time is just imaginary because there's no guarantee you would have finished the race.

  • Desiderata Apr 16, 10:04 a.m.

    Xl11273. You are obviously having a bad day. Go home and back to bed . Maybe next time when you awaken( be greatful that you do awaken) you will not be so critical of others situations. Trauma can come in many boxes and is experienced differently by each person. Thankful to all who made this story possible and GOOD LUCK TO ALL WHO RUN THE RACE!

  • A_Patriot Apr 15, 7:32 p.m.

    What is this tripe?!?

  • tri1234 Apr 15, 7:11 p.m.

    Stuck in the middle of a huge city with nothing but tired legs, maybe a cell phone but it won't work because the network is overwhelmed, probably no wallet, no money, you don't know anyone around you, and word is that bombs went off where your friends and family were waiting for you. I'd call that traumatizing.

  • xi112273 Apr 15, 6:47 p.m.

    And a lot of people were traumatized and these researchers gave a gift to some of those... View More

    — Posted by tri1234

    Someone is "traumatized" because they couldn't finish a race? The poor baby! My god, this is pathetic.

  • tri1234 Apr 15, 6:35 p.m.

    And a lot of people were traumatized and these researchers gave a gift to some of those traumatized people. Look at these huge memorials that happened today. Those huge gatherings aren't for the injured, they are for the traumatized. Just because some person suffer a lot doesn't mean other people's suffering is any less real.

  • xi112273 Apr 15, 6:08 p.m.

    I must admit I'm rather taken aback by this. WHO CARES what your time would have been. Boo hoo, you didn't get to finish the race. People died. Scores were permanently disfugured and suffered catastrophic injuries. And some of these people are concerned about their finish time?! Vapid and self-absorbed.