The Boston Bombings Through the Eyes of the Runners

She was cold. She was shivering. Even the extra blanket they gave her did not help. "After about 20 minutes, they released me with my papers, and let me keep my disgustingly bloody sock. They suggested I throw it out, but I wanted to take a picture of it for my blog." She thanked everybody for their help, and exited the tent, planning to look for her friends at the Family Meeting Area—and, "it happened"—a tremendous boom that Lee-Callaghan felt as much as heard. She thought: Did I just hear that? She turned around in disbelief staring at where smoke began to billow above the finish line. Then another boom, this one more crackly and terrifying. "Smoke was towering in the air like a spreading disease of fear only a few hundred meters away. I knew in my gut that this was not going to be good."

Suddenly a lost toenail would not quite seem so awful.

Lee-Callaghan and John Munro probably were in the Medical Tent at the same time, although they did not know each other. Munro had run 3:30:22, subpar for him. Worse, he was nauseous, having thrown up on the course, dehydration complicating his condition. While waiting to collect his clothing bag, his head began to spin. "I could feel the world closing in, my field of vision narrowing, like someone pulling a curtain."

Munro knew the feeling. One time at the Rome Marathon, he had passed out to awaken in the Medical Tent. He decided to skip the passing-out part of that experience and head to the Medical Tent while he could still get there on his own. He grabbed the first volunteer, explained how he felt, and "the system took over."

A wheelchair suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Munro slumped into the chair, somewhat embarrassed at being pushed past other finishers, not realizing that since all of them were at various levels of collapse and exhaustion, they couldn't care less who was being wheeled past them. Munro would describe his medical experience:

"Upon arriving at the tent, the bar code on my bib number was scanned, providing the medics with details on who I was. I was led to one of 40 or so cots laid out in rows on either side of the tent. There was a doctor assigned to each group of a half dozen beds. The doctor took my blood pressure and stuck a thermometer into my ear to check my temperature."

As a veteran of 25 marathons, Munro had suffered most postrace problems and suggested that he was a victim of postexercise hypotension. "The doctor agreed with my self-diagnosis. My problem could be easily cured by elevating my feet, keeping me warm, and waiting until my blood pressure returned to normal." They wrapped him in blankets to combat his shivering.

Munro joked with the doctor: "Make sure to note that I was coherent."

"Don't worry," she said. "That was the first thing I wrote down."

"Thank you." Munro would note that despite there being a number of runners being administered to with IV drips, the atmosphere in the tent was "busy but good-humored," punctuated occasionally by screams of runners suffering from muscle cramps. Since it was a relatively cool day, unlike the previous year with temperatures peaking in the high 80s, it looked like the Medical Tent volunteers would have an easy day.

"Did you want to contact anyone?" asked the doctor.

Munro said he would wait, because if he told his wife, Helen, he was in the Medical Tent "again," he would be in big trouble. Eventually, he texted her of his whereabouts, and they agreed where to meet.

"In hindsight, this would be a stroke of luck," Munro would recall. "She had spent most of the day standing cheering and waving a Scottish flag near where the second bomb would explode."

John Munro lingered in the tent, sipping water, in no hurry to join the scramble outside, aware that it would take Helen time to pick her way through the crowd to their agreed meeting point. And then it happened!

"Two loud bangs," Munro would remember. "No echo or reverberation. Bang! Silence. Bang! In the windowless environment of the big white tent, there was no idea initially of what happened. Word finally filtered through of an explosion, and even then the initial assumption was of an accident.

"Then came the call to free up the beds!"

Kate Johnson had a good race, finishing in 3:39:03, a time fast enough to qualify her for next year, if she chose to run Boston again. "It was the hardest race I have run, and by far the most exciting. Only about 30 percent requalify at Boston, and I had done it!"

This was Johnson's first large marathon, so she had no idea what to expect. "There was a lot of stop-and-go to get water, snacks, a blanket, and, of course, our medals. Then we had to walk even farther to get to the school bus and reclaim our gear. I was cold and tired and ready to collapse, but still had three more blocks to walk to the Family Meeting Area."

It was then that the first bomb went off. "I didn't know what it was. Neither did anyone else. No one reacted. We just kept walking."

After finishing in 3:53:08, Terry Carella, 53, director of communications for the Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan, had almost reached the bag retrieval area, when she realized that somehow she missed collecting her finisher's medal. She turned and began to move her way back against the stream of finished runners. "When I finally reached the medal table, about a block away from the finish, I heard an explosion, looked up, and saw billowing smoke everywhere."

Carella looked at the woman next to her and said, "That's not good." Immediately, she heard the second explosion.

Diane DiStefano finished in 3:32:20, but then had difficulty finding her family. Everybody else seemed to be using their cell phones, but her calls would not go through. She finally reached her family and learned they were stuck on The T because of heavy marathon traffic. She suggested they get off at the Arlington Street station, and she would meet them there. After connecting, they decided to get back onto The T and travel several stations farther to where they had parked their car.

Abruptly, a transit worker informed them that there had been an emergency, and everyone needed to evacuate the station. DiStefano, still hobbling from the marathon, did not think much about what that emergency might be: "We followed hundreds of people up the stairs to the street. As we surfaced, it was immediately apparent that something had gone horribly wrong!

"Throngs of people were running in all directions. The look in their eyes was one I will never forget: a mixture of disbelief, terror, and shock. Helicopters were flying overhead, and numerous police vehicles went streaming by, lights flashing, sirens going."

DiStefano stopped a man wearing a finisher's medal. "What happened?" she asked.

The man had a blank stare. His lips were quivering. "There were explosions at the finish line. There is blood everywhere."

"Were any lives lost?"

"People must have died."

The man started to cry, then said he had to find his family. DiStefano apologized for taking his time, then turned to try to explain the tragedy to her family, still not sure what had happened.

While crossing the finish line, George Karaganis had automatically tapped his watch to record his time without looking to see what that time might have been. "I felt too sick to worry about time," he says. While he was accepting water from a volunteer, his cell phone rang. It was his sister Panagiota calling him from Athens. She had been tracking him online and informed him that his time was 4:00:46.

Karaganis thought it funny that he should receive news of his finishing time from someone halfway around the world. He shouted: "Yes!"

He heard the first blast and laughed again, his reaction as he turned around being that it was silly and odd for people to waste their time shooting off fireworks to celebrate four-hour marathoners. "Seeing the cloud of smoke wiped the smile from my face."

After checking her watch to see she had run 4:05:47, Pam Tymchak, 51, a stay-at-home mom from East Amherst, New York, began the typical marathoner's postfinishing routine of accepting handouts from volunteers. She recalls: "The runners all were congratulating each other for finishing when the first bomb went off. What was that? We saw the smoke, but could not really understand what we were seeing. Then we heard the second explosion."

Someone shouted, "Get the hell out of here!" Tymchak was not certain whether it was another runner, a volunteer, or one of the police who were running past them heading to the finish line. Some of the policemen, photos later would show, had guns drawn.

Regardless of the seriousness of the situation, none of the just-finished runners reacted. Maybe they were too tired. Tymchak says: "We began to walk quickly up Boylston to the buses to collect our bags. We were all relatively calm as we waited by the buses for our phones and belongings."

"Maybe a transformer blew," suggested one runner.

Tymchak thought: Let's go with that.

It was only after she retrieved her cell phone and saw the urgent texts from friends and family did Pam Tymchak begin to realize what she had witnessed. She tried to return calls, but could not get through. Early reports suggested that maybe the police had ordered telephone service cut to prevent terrorists from detonating more bombs electronically, but, in fact, the system was being overwhelmed by everyone using their cell phones.

For Kara Thelen, running the race had been a triumph: "I felt that rush of euphoria that every Boston Marathon finisher feels." She had finished in 3:44:03, a minute faster than the BQ she would need if she wanted to run Boston the following year. She followed the crowd of runners collecting food and medals, stopping briefly to check on a friend, who had felt faint, being wheeled into the Medical Tent. She met two other friends and walked with them to the buses.

"Suddenly, I heard a loud boom, looked back down the street, and saw brown smoke billowing from the sidewalk. At first, I thought the bleachers near the finish line had collapsed, but then I heard another boom and saw the smoke." Thelen and her two friends grabbed each other.

"Oh my God. There were people there," she said in horror.

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About the Author

Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon has been running and writing for half a century. A runner since high school, Hal achieved his greatest successes as a masters runner, including a world record in the steeplechase and American masters records. Higdon is the author of 36 books and a longtime contributor to Runner's World. One of the founders of the Road Runners Club of America, Hal was inducted into the club's hall of fame. He provides interactive training programs through TrainingPeaks. Learn more at
Hal Higdon has been running and writing for half a century. A runner since high school, Hal achieved his greatest successes as a masters runner, including a world record in the steeplechase and American masters records. Higdon is the author of 36 books and a longtime contributor to Runner's World. One of the founders of the Road Runners Club of America, Hal was inducted into the club's hall of fame. He provides interactive training programs through TrainingPeaks. Learn more at

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