The Boston Bombings Through the Eyes of the Runners

The following is an excerpt from famed running coach and Runner's World contributing editor Hal Higdon's book, 4:09:43: Boston 2013 Through the Eyes of the Runners. Higdon illustrates the chaos, emotions and fear experienced by the Boston Marathon runners when bombs went off near the finish line of the race at the 2013 event.

Terror Strikes at 4:09:43 into the 2013 Boston Marathon

Approaching the finish line, Tracy McGuire directed her attention toward the grandstands to the right, in front of the Boston Public Library, seats reserved for VIPs, friends of the B.A.A. She knew Chris, her husband, would be seated there. He worked for adidas, one of the major sponsors, thus had entry to that area.

"Chris saw me, but I did not see him," Tracy McGuire would write later. What she did see—and feel—was the explosion of a bomb on the left side of Boylston Street.

It was 4:09:43.

Hers was one of the more remarkable stories posted to Facebook in the days and weeks following April 15, 2013: "I stopped dead in my tracks. I was not confused. I was not disoriented. I was nearly deaf from the explosion, but I knew immediately that it was a bomb. The other runners around me seemed not to understand. They didn't know whether it was a celebratory cannon, or fireworks, or what. They kept running. I had no doubt what I saw, and it was bad, very bad. One minute I had been looking at hundreds of people along the finishing stretch, on both sides of the street, left and right. And suddenly the people on the left were blown up, right before my eyes. Would they emerge from the rising cloud of smoke unharmed? No, they would not."

McGuire's instincts took over. She immediately turned and began running backward on the course, what she hoped and expected would be away from harm. But, no: "Suddenly another bomb went off in front of me. I thought to myself, wait, I was just there. I had just slapped the hands of those people. Chaos ensued, with people screaming, crying, frantic people everywhere."

At this point Chris McGuire lost track of his wife. People seated around him in the grandstands rose as one, fearful that the next explosion might envelop them in its evil arms. They scrambled for the exits. In fact, reports soon would circulate on TV and online (part of the fog of war) that as many as a half dozen bombs had been planted under the grandstands. Those reports would prove untrue, but the sensible thing for anyone located near the marathon finish line was to get the hell away as fast as possible! If stunned runners and spectators could not immediately figure it out, the police began shouting for them to do just that.

Dr. George Sheehan, who for so many years served the Boston Marathon as its philosopher figure, often joked that as a skinny runner, he was more suited for "flight rather than fight." There was nothing funny about Sheehan's option now. Tracy McGuire very definitely had chosen the flight mode: "I took off to the other side of the street, hurdled a couple of barricades, jumped over a garbage can, and bolted for survival. I was moving like Usain Bolt, and this was after 26.198 miles. At any moment, I expected more bombs to explode all around me."

Fleeing, Tracy negotiated with God. Since she expected more bombs to explode, she prayed that He either let her or Chris survive. "I didn't care which one of us it was, and actually preferred that it be my husband, for the sake of our kids. I prepared to die, and actually was at peace with it." However, that did not stop Tracy from trying to save herself. She started to run again, through a restaurant, through the kitchen, out a back door. Her instinct was to get as far away from Boylston Street as quickly as possible before another bomb exploded. She screamed for people to evacuate, but many did not believe her and told her to calm down. "I wanted to tell them I had just seen people get blown up before my very eyes, but a handful of people still were celebrating at the bar!"

She continued running away from the carnage and encountered a mother and two small children, a girl and a boy around 5 or 7, the same ages as her own two children. The children were screaming, in hysterics. She hugged the little girl, who had brown, curly hair, and told her everything would be okay. Their mother stood there in shock, paralyzed. McGuire snapped her fingers in front of the mother's face and urged her to move. Eventually she did. McGuire ran with them for about a block, but eventually they became separated.

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