Bombed off the course at the Boston Marathon

Loping down Commonwealth Avenue Monday afternoon in a sea of fellow runners, I peered ahead toward the long-awaited right turn onto Hereford Street, the last intersection before the final hook onto Boylston Street and the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon.

"Less than half a mile to go," I told myself. "Stay focused."

Suddenly, a knot of shorts-clad men and women milled about in the middle of the street, blocking my path.

"Hey! Do you mind getting out of the way?" I cried, or words to that effect.

They ignored me and I had to swerve sharply to avoid a collision – something the legs don't enjoy doing after they've been running steadily for nearly 26 miles over the past four and a half hours.

Then I could see the entire roadway was clogged with stationary marathoners. What the heck was going on?

"What are you guys doing?" I asked, grinding to a halt.

"There's been some kind of explosion at the finish," somebody on a cellphone reported.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.

"Anybody hurt?"

"Hard to say. It just happened."

Another runner who had been ahead and then forced to reverse direction had a first-hand report.

"I heard two blasts, one right after the other."

"Oh my God!"

College kids, spectators with smart phones and apartment-dwellers who had been following the news came out to fill us in on the horrible details, and to offer us water, snacks and garbage bags to wear as windbreakers against a chilly breeze while we shivered.

Just ahead I saw my buddy, Phil Plouffe of Mystic, with whom I'd been running side-by-side since the starting line in Hopkinton until he pulled slightly ahead going up Heartbreak Hill at Mile 18 when I made a short detour to a Porta-Potty.

"Hey, Phil! What's going on?"

He muttered something unprintable.

Phil had wanted to run the Boston Marathon for as long as I've known him, more than 30 years, when we met while training for our first long-distance race, the East Lyme Marathon. Over the years we've hiked, mountain climbed and kayaked together extensively. Monday was to be his first Boston, and it was to be my 10th and last.

I thought 10 was a good, round number to end on, since it would coincide with the first for my son, Tom.

By dint of a speedy qualifying time of 2:45 at the Denver Marathon last year, Tom was given a low starting number, 685 in a field of some 28,000, while his old dad had number 20,458 and had to wait 40 minutes for the staggered start to begin.

Tom finished in a personal-best time of 2:42:20 and had already showered and changed at a friend's apartment when the bombs exploded, I learned in a relieved phone call to my wife, Lisa, using a borrowed cellphone while we runners huddled so close to the finish line.

After more than a half hour of confusion and chaos, compounded by hundreds of emergency vehicles roaring past, sirens blaring, a Boston Athletic Association official shouted above the din that we should continue on foot on Commonwealth Avenue, but instead of turning onto Hereford we should walk another mile or so all the way to Arlington Street near the Boston Common, where buses with dry clothes and other gear we loaded in Hopkinton would be waiting.

Police barricades and emergency vehicles blocked every intersection leading to the finish line.

The cheering throngs of spectators that normally greet finishing marathoners either disappeared or, like us runners, shuffled away ashen-faced. Some sobbed.

At this point I certainly don't care much who won the race, and care even less if I ever do earn that 10th finishing medal. Monday's tragic murders and maimings overshadow any such considerations.

As of this writing authorities don't know who is responsible or why, so it's pointless to speculate on motives or to pontificate other than to say we are shocked, angry and horrified.

The Boston Marathon has always been a joyous event, even for those who have struggled to cross the finish line.

The deafening exuberance of the crowds, the non-stop cheering from Hopkinton to Boston, the live bands, the front-porch parties, the kids begging for high-fives and handing out cups of water and orange slices – we'd hate to all see that lost.

At the same time, the victims of Monday's bombs are no different from those at a school or a shopping center or a movie theater. They all died or were injured by incomprehensible acts.

We mourn them all.

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

Go Ahead Hornet, Make My Day: Dispatch from the Front Lines of the Bug Wars

Every year at this time, just as we’re enjoying favorite outdoor activities after having been bundled up, hunkered down or cooped up all winter, a Pandora’s Box of stinging, blood-sucking, destructive, disease-spreading insects...

Swimming and Kayaking Among Snapping Turtles: Be Glad At Least There Aren't Any Komodo Dragons or Saltwater Crocodiles Nearby

While kayaking on Bush Pond on the Ledyard/North Stonington border the other day I noticed something thrashing around among the lily pads.

Kayaking With a Migrating Son Amid Migrating Seals on Fishers Island

With our son, Tom, back home in Connecticut for just a week from Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, we’ve tried to pack in an abundance of such favorite activities as whitewater kayaking, frigid plunges in the lake and running with...

Who Needs Clean Air and Pure Water? Bring Back Unrestricted Strip Mining, DDT and Toxic Waste Dumps to Make America Great Again

The main problem with President Donald Trump’s efforts to boost the economy by eliminating oppressive environmental regulations is that they don’t go far enough.

The Good Book Has It Backwards: To Every Season, There Is More Than One Thing

Forget about what Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says (and Pete Seeger sang) about "To everything there is a season.' As far as I’m concerned, it’s always the right time for fun and adventure.

Kayaking Over the Falls on the Salmon River

The thunder of tumbling water roared as I gripped my paddle the other day, waiting my turn to plunge over a 4-foot drop at a broken dam on the Salmon River in East Hampton.

Home Is Where the Hut Is (Warning: Don't Read Part of This if You Have a Weak Stomach)

Embarking on a winter expedition to Mount Katahdin a few years ago, I hooked up with a few casual acquaintances accompanied by other climbers I only met just as we began the long drive from southeastern Connecticut to northern Maine.

Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing in New Hampshire's White Mountains, Part I: A Voice in the Wilderness Saves the Day

While snowshoeing on a tamped-down section of the Ethan Pond Trail in New Hampshire’s White Mountains the other day, our group approached an untrammeled stretch of the Zeacliff Trail that descended into a ravine below frozen-over Whitehall...

Who Doesn't Love a Blizzard? (OK, Maybe a Few Softies and Killjoys)

I know there’s a good chance I’ll be eating these words when I’m shoveling, shoveling, shoveling, or huddled with a candle next to the wood stove while melting snow for drinking water after the power has been knocked out for...

Destructive Deer, Bugs, Vines and Snow: It's Always Something

In a "perfect" world – i.e., one in which all living creatures and meteorological phenomena benefited human comfort and bowed to our supremacy – there would be no need for deer fences, bird netting, herbicides,...

Prime Time for Eagle-Watching by Kayak on the Connecticut River

While kayaking just north of Lyme’s Hamburg Cove on the Connecticut River the other day, Robin Francis, Phil Warner and I watched a wildlife drama unfolding above us.