It’s 10:00 am Monday, April 15, 2013 and the Boston marathon starts. At least I think it does. I’m standing in a corral for the 2nd wave of runners, far away from the start. Perfect running conditions. Light wind. Sunny skies. Not too hot for runners, not too cold for spectators. Doesn’t get any better than this. What I don’t know is it will get a lot worse.
After persisting through the 26 miles or 42 kilometers I run down Boylston and cross the finish line in 3 hours 41 minutes. Nine minutes slower than planned due to severe leg cramps, but I’m very happy. I join the throng of finishers, get a medal, and grab snacks and water. Find the bus with my clothes bag, put on a warm jacket and head for the family area to meet my wife Baiba.
Need to go back and cross over Boylston, but can’t push through all the finishers rushing towards me. So I take the long way around and hobble along back streets with other runners. After running 26 miles we’re like the walking wounded, limping along. Suddenly a massive explosion erupts. We look at each other, “That doesn’t sound good.” Then another explosion. The sound bounces around buildings so we have no idea where the blasts come from. Assume it has nothing to do with the run. “Maybe gas explosions.”
Then it’s back to normal, discussing the ups and downs of the run and how we finished. Now we’re back to Boylston and a policeman opens a gate to let us cross. I can’t believe my eyes. The street is empty. No people. Not long ago it was jammed with thousands of finishers on the way to pick up their bags. (When the explosion occurred all runners were stopped. And from here you can’t see the destruction and panic at the finish line area.) I just stand there in disbelief. Nothing makes sense. But that’s par for the course after running 26 miles. So I think, “Well, maybe they just sent the finishers down another street.” (Yeah, sure, for the first time in history.) And why are all these security and medical people running around? “Well, to help tired runners of course.”
Finally I reach the family area where runners who just finished are being reunited with family and friends. Baiba spots me and recounts what a happy, joyous scene this area has been. Until the first explosion, then instantly there was complete silence. You could hear a pin drop. When the second explosion went off there was more tension, but no panic. Now at this point everyone is back to normal, giving high-fives and celebrating. Nobody has a clue about the pain, suffering, and death just a few blocks away. Or how thousands of police, fire, medical, and security have sprung into action and are totally focused on helping the victims and checking for more bombs.
Baiba and I walk to a pub to meet our buddies from the Marathon Dynamics running club and exchange congratulations: “Wow, a personal best!” Or condolences: “I blew up on Heartbreak Hill.” Then on the pub TV we see what really blew up – and the whole mood changes. Suddenly the run is insignificant.
We watch in shock and stunned silence, unable to comprehend the devastation, injuries, and death at the finish line. Baiba sees the location of the explosion on the north side of Boylston Street and says, “I was almost there.” I go “What!!” She tells me her plan was to watch me finish and then meet me at the family area, her normal routine when she’s watching and not running. So she walked up the south side of Boylston, but couldn’t get close to the finish. However the north side (where the bomb later exploded) was less crowded. She asked a security guard, “Can I use the overhead bridge to get over there?” He said, “No. It’s just for media. You have to walk a mile down, then cross over and walk back up the other side.” She started to walk there, but then stopped, thinking she might be late getting back to the family area to meet me. I can tell you, Baiba is very punctual. She insists we’re 3 hours early for a flight and hates to be late for anything. So she scrapped her plan to stand at the finish line. Perhaps punctuality saved her life.
Others were not so lucky. Our sincerest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who died, and our hearts go out to all those who were seriously injured in this senseless tragedy.
Note: Previously I wrote that I crossed the finish line six minutes before the bomb exploded, a calculation based on the 4:09:43 time on the finish-line clocks when the explosion occurred. Now I’m told the clocks were showing the time for the third wave of runners, so the six-minute calculation is wrong. The bombs actually went off 42 minutes after I crossed the finish line. My story is still accurate, but I was on a different street when it happened. At the time I didn’t pay any attention to where I was because I thought, “Just gas explosions. Nothing to do with the run.” So there was no reason to remember the exact location. I apologize for the error and it has been corrected in the story above.