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A Day in the Life--April 15


This is a picture of me relaxing in Boston Commons following the 2012 Boston Marathon, run under extremely hot conditions compared to nearly perfect weather of the 2013 race.


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It was an otherwise perfect day for running the Boston Marathon--my eighth, a race I first ran in 1987. I ran the first 13 miles with two friends from my home town--Holly and Mike. Both of them were running their first Boston. Despite likely running in scores of the same races, they did not know each other. Independently, they told me they hoped to run 3:35. So I put them together just a few minutes before the race and decided to run with them, even though I had qualified with a faster time and would have otherwise been in a different corral. After 13 miles, I needed to use the porta-potty, and left them--and both finished ahead of me, but not together.
I finished in 3:49, having started in the second wave, about 24 minutes slower than my qualifying time from the 2011 Atlanta Marathon. After crossing the finish line, I received my medal, space blanket, food goodie bag, and was chatting with Holly, who had waited for me at the finish line before a planned meeting with her family in the family reunion area around the corner from the race on St. James Avenue. We were discussing how wonderful the sports drink was that was handed to us--raspberry flavored. She decided to walk back toward the finish line and retrieve another bottle. I heard a loud explosion, that sounded like a cannon.
White smoke was drifting from north to south, and I knew that this was not something good. My immediate thought was that this was a pipe bomb, and it had exploded on the second-story of a building somewhere near the finish line. I instinctively looked down at my watch, thinking that there was a strong possibility that a second bomb might be detonated in about 10 minutes, targeted at first responders. The time on my digital watch was 2:50. I turned around and started walking east toward the Commons. Then, after what I had estimated to be more than a minute (and which turned out to be about 14 seconds), I heard the second blast. At that point, I began to doubt my theory about two bombs, and started worrying that it might be a series of them, and that they may be making their way down Boyleston Street, possibly putting me in the path. I picked up my pace.
There were lots of police around, but no one I asked appeared to know anything was out of the ordinary. It was a really long time before I heard the first sirens, and I glanced again at my watch, which registered 2:58. I thought this was really strange, because it would not have been unusual to hear sirens of some kind in that area even if there had been no bomb. And then, the sirens were constant for hours, and I saw scores of emergency and other official (both marked and unmarked) vehicles going south on Arlington Street and turning left (west) on St. James--a block south of Boyleston. My wife called me on my cell at about 2:59, and I told her to turn on the television--that "something bad just happened, but I don't know what it was." She did, but couldn't find anything. I checked the news on my cell phone and couldn't find anything either.
I decided to pick up my checked gear from the school bus on a side street off of Boyleston, and then leave the area. It was somewhat windy, and I was feeling chilly, so after wandering aimlessly for a few blocks, I looked for shelter. I ended up in the Back Bay Amtrak and commuter train station--probably not the best place to be with the risk of a potential widespread terrorist attack. I began getting calls from local media--many of our local TV and radio stations were calling all of the runners they could find, and my wife had given them my cell number. I did several live interviews, but I did not know much, other than that by then, I learned that there indeed had been two bombs. The first reports were that six people had been injured. And there were reports that other bombs had been discovered in various places. This was not true, but added to the anxiety I had that I was possibly in an exposed position sitting in a train station.
There were rumors in the train station that the subway system had been shut down, but the Amtrak and commuter rail appeared to be still operating. Not knowing the full extent of the tragedy, I thought about whether I wanted to stick around for the post race party--I had attended the previous year and found it entertaining. This year, I did not feel like going, and worried a bit about the report of transportation being disrupted. Based on that, I decided to get to the Amtrak South Station as soon as I could, and leave town as planned by bus. I did not learn that this party had been cancelled until the next day.
Bracing for the possibility that I might be trapped for a long time in Boston without a way to get to South Station and back home, I approached the information desk in the Back Bay station. I learned that if I purchased a ticket and left immediately for the platform, there was a commuter train leaving Back Bay for South Station in less than five minutes.
I was on it. I later learned that many others weren't so lucky being able to leave town as planned.
I ended up taking an overnight bus from South Station to 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, where I arrived around 5:30 a.m., and had a conversation with a K-9 police officer, with his dog on a leash, about my experience. There was a television crew from a local TV station that requested to interview me live, but I thought that I could get a train back to my hometown of Harrisburg that was leaving in just a few minutes--I could arrive several hours faster than if I used my bus ticket from Philadelphia to Harrisburg. During the train ride, I did live telephone interview with a commercial radio station from State College, PA, where my son had an internship as a radio producer. I remember expressing some anger that whatever motivated this, I found it appalling that the target was such a spirit-lifting event such as the Boston Marathon.
By the time I arrived home, I was beginning to get a sense of the magnitude of the tragedy, and realized that there were two previous Bostons I had completed where I would have been crossing the finish line at almost the exact time that the bomb had hit--the last one in 2011. It would not have been surprising for me to have been crossing the finish line at around 2:50 in the 2013 race--except that unlike most years, I needed a Boston-qualifying race for 2014, so I ran much faster than I would have otherwise.
I also learned that Mike's wife, Becky, had been unable to finish the race. She was on Boyleston Street, seeing the finish line just a couple of blocks ahead of her, when the bombs went off. And another friend, Gary, who had been waiting for his wife to finish, was only a few feet from the first blast, and was blown into a barricade by the shock wave, but was otherwise unhurt.
The following links to a newspaper account of my experience, that appeared online within three hours of the marathon.


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