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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC professors work for Boston Marathon

A year ago Tuesday, two bombs were detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, causing three deaths and hundreds of injuries. The incident culminated in an extended manhunt during which one police officer was killed.

“I decided immediately after the event that I would do it again,” said Peter Leone , a professor in the UNC School of Medicine who finished last year’s race about 40 minutes before the bombs detonated.

“There was no way that I wasn’t going to go back and do it again. I wanted to do it because I thought it was important to make a point.”

Leone won’t be the only UNC professor participating — one will even put his research skills to use.

Shortly after the events of last year’s race, the Boston Athletic Association contacted Richard Smith , a UNC statistics professor who will also run in the Boston Marathon this coming Monday, and asked him to develop a method to predict the finishing times of those who were unable to complete the race because of the bombing.

He said although there was a sentimental component toi it, the Boston Marathon’s strict qualifying requirements also needed the assistance to determine who would be eligible to return.

Ultimately, the Boston Athletic Association decided to invite all 5,633 runners who were unable to finish the race to participate again this year. Regardless of the decision not to apply his team’s work, Smith said he took on the pro bono job because of his desire to support the organization.

Smith and his team crafted algorithms that compensated for factors such as fatigue and then validated their accuracy by comparing against finishing times from previous Boston Marathons.

While the data may not have been utilized yet, the algorithms could still be applied in the future, said Francesca Dominici , a professor of biostatistics at the Harvard School of Public Health.

She and five others worked with Smith to create the algorithm, and she will also run on Monday. The calculations could lead to the development of an application that would allow runners to track their pace and predict their finishing time during a race.

The training necessary to reach the finish line on Boylston Street can range from four to six months, Leone said. This time around, however, crossing the finish line means something more.

“There is a sense that we’re connected and it matters and I have a deeper sense of that now than I did before,” Leone said.

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