Surreal and tragic is how the events of yesterday feel. Surreal in that you’re watching an event play out which you’re a part of, yet you don’t know what’s going on. Tragic in that such a happy event has been twisted into an act of terror. While not of the same scale as 9/11, it played out the same in that we didn’t know what was happening, there was panic everywhere and friends and family at home knew more about it than we did.
I’d finish the race 2 hours earlier, and was on such a high after running a PB (2:46). The wall of noise from the crowds lining Bolyston St was deafening. I was on my way up that stretch of the route about 30mins before the explosions. It could have been any of us runners or spectators. We were sitting in a restaurant, we’d ordered food and I’d taken the first sip of a nice cool beer. Then we saw people running up the stairs and security running out towards the street. Everybody got up to look out, but didn’t know what was happening. More panicked faces were running away. Within minutes the restaurant was evacuated and we were told to go out the back of the shopping mall.
At this stage, there were noisy ambulance and police sirens everywhere. Helicopters overhead. Still nobody knew what was going on. Some people said a gunshot, others said an explosion. It was clear something terrible was happening, as there were countless women crying and looking so shocked they’d obviously seen something sickening. Police kept moving thousands of people away from the area. Still we didn’t know but at least 20 ambulances passed us. Cops on motorbikes, flashing blue lights whizzing by. It really was like watching a Bruce Willis movie, except we were involuntary extras on the set.
One girl in her 20s was shocked when we spoke to her. She’d been at the finish line. There was a huge bang and a cop shouted “everybody get outta here as fast as you fucking can.” Even 30 mins later she was still shaking and struggling to her the words out of the lump in her throat. Everybody was on their phone, trying to call loved ones, or let people know back home that they were ok (I heard the phone network was shut down by the police immediately after, in case more bombs were going off by remote mobile signals).
At this stage our phones were hopping, with texts and calls from home. It was amazing how fast news travels. People in Ireland could watch this live on TV, yet we were 500 yards away and didn’t really know what was going on. At this stage the race was stopped, so runners who had been on the course were wandering around in the crowds. They were getting cold and worse still their loved ones didn’t know where they were, as they didn’t have phones.
Over 90 mins later, it was still a panic with people walking around, not knowing where to go. We decided to try get back to our hotel in Cambridge. The subway was shut down, and our bus was also not running. So we started walking over the Charles River. The streets were free of traffic, but cop cars would fly by every 5 mins with sirens blaring. Eventually we walked for ages and saw some of the coverage in a bar. That horrible feeling in our stomachs didn’t go away. The elation of the race was for another day.