By Scott Meeker
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Having just cruised across the finish line to finish in first place in the Joplin Memorial Run's half marathon, Andrew Webb paused for a moment to catch his breath and take it all in.
"Halfway through the run, the heat and the hills started catching up with me, but other than that it felt great," said the 22-year-old Joplin resident, who finished in a little under 1 hour and 17 minutes.
"I remember (May 22, 2011) like it was yesterday. It was definitely a sad day, but I'm thankful to be here and my heart is out to all of the families. This means everything."
A few minutes behind Webb was Jenna Mutz, also a Joplin resident and the first female half-marathon finisher.
"This is my second year for the run. I came in fourth last year and was about four minutes slower," said Mutz.
"One of my best friends lost her home in the tornado. She was at home with her husband and 7-month-old baby. I'm tearing up just thinking about how much they struggled. (Running a half marathon) is nothing compared to what they went through."
In all, nearly 2,300 runners gathered near Memorial Hall Saturday morning to take part in either the half marathon, 5K or 1-mile kids run. Formerly the Boomtown Half Marathon and 5K Run, the event was turned into a day of volunteer service several weeks after the 2011 tornado, and then rechristened as the Joplin Memorial Run for 2012.