BOSTON — Ben Bruno of Middlebury was at the family meeting area about two blocks from the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday when two bombs exploded. The 28-year-old — who had finished the race in 3:03.52, about an hour before the first blast— and his companions were confused when they heard the explosions.
“I didn’t want to assume the worst,” he said. “I hoped for the best — maybe it was a transformer blowing or a car backfiring.
“The crowd was silent. Then we heard the sirens coming from all over and we knew it was bad.
“It was surreal.”
Bruno was among a half dozen residents of Addison County and Brandon who ran the Boston Marathon and had stories to tell about the tragedy that marred a race that is steeped in tradition and Americana. The Boston Marathon has been run for more than 100 years on Patriots Day, a Massachusetts holiday commemorating the Battles of Lexington and Concord that kicked off the American Revolution.
“It was such a glorious day, with the crowds and energy that always supports the Boston Marathon — ending in a jarring tragedy,” said Jim Pugh of Cornwall. For the 62-year-old, this event was old hat — he’d already run it six times.
Pugh had mixed emotions the day after the race. He had run a good time — 3:41 — that redeemed a poor finish in 2011. But then there were the explosions, which he heard about while in “the tavern where the members of my old running club gather to rehydrate and talk about the run.
“Many of my friends were still on the course, and had to find their way to the tavern when the race was stopped and after a period of confusion. They are all safe and accounted for. They received big hugs from spouses when they arrived at our watering hole.”
Pugh said he felt terrible for those killed and injured in the race, but also for others.
“I feel terribly sad for the young people growing up in today’s world who may not be able to enjoy the innocence and simple safety of a huge civic celebration,” Pugh said. “What a thing to do to Patriots Day.”
After the bombs went off, Bruno could feel the unease of those around him who were waiting for friends and loved ones who were still out on the course. He said he tried not to get too unsettled.
Although Bruno didn’t personally feel threatened, he said the group made a quick decision to leave immediately.
Bruno’s father was at the race to cheer him on, but he knew his dad was in 10 miles away in Newton with family. But he had seen a family friend and his wife in the stands across from where the first bomb exploded.
“I saw him and waved,” Bruno recalled. “It was great to see them at the finish.”
Fortunately, Bruno’s father was able to contact the family friend and relay a message that they were unhurt, although they had been in the stands when the bomb exploded.
Katie Mack finished the race in 3:56:36 — 13 minutes before the bomb at the finish line exploded. She said the reports sounded like cannons.
“It was definitely scary because I ran past where the bombs were,” she said. “That could have been me.”
It was also scary knowing that she had just seen a group of friends she had known from Bellows Falls High School who were cheering her on at the 26-mile mark. Fortunately they were fine.
Like others at the family meeting area near the finish line, Mack could not call anyone to say she was safe because cell phone service was down. But when she and her husband, Chris, got back to their hotel she managed to get ahold of her parents. They were not as worried as they might have been because they had been monitoring her race with automatic updates that the amazing technology at the Boston Marathon provides.
“They knew I’d finished,” Mack said. “They were getting athlete alerts on their cell phone.”
Mack coaches a Girls on the Run club at Neshobe Elementary School in Brandon, and all of the girls knew she was running the marathon.
“All the parents were calling the other coach (Shauna Lee) asking if I was OK,” Mack said. She managed to get a text message to Lee saying she was fine, and Lee passed the message on to the worried parents.
Bristol resident Todd Smith’s proficiency in running ensured that neither he nor his family would be near the Boston Marathon blast zone.
Smith, running with his twin brother, finished his fifth Boston Marathon in a more-than-respectable 3:39.
“I was trying to lock in a 6-minute-mile pace,” said Smith, 38. “It was a good, fast-tempo race for me.”
After the race, he and his wife, Amber Jimerson, went by subway to their hotel. On the way he overheard a conversation that included the words “hysterical” and “blast.” So the family switched on their radio while loading their vehicle and heard some of the stunning details about the two bomb detonations and the carnage that ensued.
Smith’s thoughts turned to how his wife had been walking up and down the length of sidewalk within the blast zone just a few hours earlier.
He also thought about how the couple — both nurses — could have helped the many inured at the scene, had they been there.
“We felt bad,” he said. “Maybe we could have helped more.”
Smith is grateful that he, his family and friends were not hurt. He will definitely run another Boston Marathon, but this year’s edition will always bear a gloomy asterisk.
“It’s kind of hard to feel a sense of accomplishment when something like this happens,” he said.
‘REALLY, REALLY SAD’
A good race time for Scott Reiss, 49, of New Haven — he ran 3:17:24 — also meant that he was nowhere near the spot where the blasts occurred. He and his wife, Lynda, also heard about the explosions on the car radio as they were getting ready to leave town.
“It’s really, really sad that someone would do this,” Lynda Reiss said.
She had stationed herself less than a mile from the finish line to cheer for her husband but dared not get any closer to the 26-mile mark because the crowds were already eight-deep where she stood.
The bombing has overshadowed individual achievements of runners from the winners right on down to those who ran simply to prove something to themselves, Scott Reiss said.
“It’s sad for the people who did so well to be forgotten,” he noted.
Reiss, like the other local runners, said the tragedy at this year’s race would not keep him from going back to race at Boston to run the marathon again. And he thinks the fans will be back too.
“People are going to come out in a big way (next year) and support the race,” he said. “I know the running community will come back strong.”
For Reiss, people along the course cheering was in some ways more important for him this year than the time.
“I really had fun with this race,” he said. “I probably high-fived a thousand little kids along the way.
“It was such a joyous day ... (the bombing) puts it in a different light. It doesn’t take away the goodness of the day. I believe the goodness will win out in the end.”