Walking to her relatives, she realized that if she had not stopped a mile earlier to hug her daughter, she might have been right in the path of the explosion, right where McGuire and Adkins had been. A lot of runners that day would reflect on "might-have-been" moments.
Looking for a second Starbucks where she could charge her dying cell phone, Sarah Mutter had walked past the site of the first explosion only minutes before and was a block away when the horror began. "My body shook. I turned and looked back and saw a huge cloud of smoke. Everyone around me had the same confused look. People were running toward us, crying, hugging each other, hysterical, tears streaming down their faces. I looked at my phone: Dead! Then another explosion."
Mutter reached the second Starbucks, found a wall plug and waited 10 minutes for it to charge. She ordered some tea, drank it, then realized that the Starbucks manager had begun to lock the door in response to a police order to keep everyone off the streets and away from harm. Not wanting to get stuck in Starbucks, she dodged around the manager and onto the street, wandering aimlessly toward Commonwealth Avenue.
"Do you need help?" a man asked her.
"Yes," said Mutter cautiously.
"I live across the street. Come inside. We can get you some water, food, anything you need."
Many Bostonians, who lived close to the carnage, had begun to make similar offers to dazed and wandering runners. Mutter found herself in an apartment with more than 40 other runners, strangers in a strange land, watching the news on TV, crying. "Within minutes, I had a cookie in one hand, water in another."
"Are you alone?" asked a woman.
"Yes. Kind of. I can't find my friend."
"Let me," said the woman. She borrowed Mutter's phone and soon had the friend on the line. Mutter and the friend agreed to meet at the Common, near where she had boarded the bus to Hopkinton in what seemed like an eternity ago.
Mutter thanked the owners of the apartment for their hospitality. "I walked back into the chaos. A policeman directed me toward a bus that would take me to the Common."
After collecting her bag at the Common, her phone rang. It was her father calling. A quick exchange of greetings, and her father paused: "Sarah, I didn't want to tell you before your race, but your grandmother has been very sick. She died last night."
After hanging up, Mutter dropped her bag and started crying. A woman, another stranger, saw her and gave her a hug. Sarah Mutter would remember: "She didn't know why I was crying. She didn't care. I thanked her, and she walked away."
Some of the runners approaching the line at the time of the first explosion would continue and cross that line. That included a runner wearing a bright orange shirt. His name later would be revealed as Bill Iffrig, 78, from Lake Stevens, Washington. When the bomb detonated, Iffrig went down as though struck by shrapnel. But it was the blast that knocked him off balance, causing Iffrig to trip. One of the photos that became almost a poster image for the day's events shows Iffrig on the ground, three policemen with guns drawn above him, seemingly not knowing which way to turn to confront the perpetrators. But Iffrig was more stunned than hurt. As the video clip of the chaos showed, he quickly got up and ran across the line. Having started in Wave 2, he would be given an adjusted time of 4:03:47, good enough for fourth in his age-division. Later, Iffrig was interviewed on TV looking only mildly shaken.
Also crossing the line about the same time as Iffrig was a woman, dodging around other runners. As she did so, she punched her watch to record her finishing time.
Among those closest to the blast was Dave Fortier, 48, a business owner from Newburyport, Massachusetts. In an interview with Jon Wolper of the Valley News in West Lebanon, New Hampshire. Fortier said that for 26.19 miles he had a fantastic time. "I saw the finish line," he told Wolper. "I thought, 'I'm going to make this thing.' "
Then came the explosion.
"The impact of the first blast forced Fortier sideways, just yards from the finish line," wrote Wolper. "Debris tore through his shoe and hit his foot. He spun around to see what had happened and cupped his left ear with his hand." All sounds afterward would be muffled. The second blast, seconds later, would sound distant. Many others close to the explosions, even if not struck by shrapnel, would suffer significant ear damage.
Fortier stumbled ahead and crossed the finish line directed by a security guard, his time recorded as 4:05:34. "I don't even remember crossing the line," he later would say. "I was too concerned looking backward down the street to where my wife and kids were located." His foot bleeding from the shrapnel, Fortier was among the first treated in the Medical Tent. He received several stitches, then vacated the tent for others more seriously injured.