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Local Boston Marathon reactions: Midlanders run into history

Local Boston Marathon reactions: Midlanders run into history

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Local Boston Marathon reactions: Midlanders run into history

This photo by DeDe Johnson of Omaha shows hundreds of ambulances outside the Marriott in Boston. Johnson's daughter, former Omahan Emily Johnson Beale ran in the marathon.

Guide runner hailed as a hero

Everett Spain

A runner who guided a visually impaired Omaha man through the last stretch of Monday's Boston Marathon is being hailed as a hero.

Everett Spain, a 42-year-old U.S. Army colonel who is attending Harvard Business School, helped Omahan Steve Sabra navigate the final 10 kilometers of the marathon and was with him when bombs exploded near the finish line. Video shot by a Boston Globe journalist shows Spain, Sabra and Scott McBride, another Harvard Business School student, running toward the finish line after the blasts.

Everett Spain, at right, gave the shirt off his back to help a victim. BOSTON GLOBE

As Sabra recounted Monday for The World-Herald, Spain told McBride to stay with Sabra after they crossed the finish line. Spain then rushed toward the closest explosion site to help. Other video shows Spain removing his shirt to help a blast victim.

An article on NBC News' website refers to “the man who gave the shirt off his back.”

In a speech Tuesday, President Barack Obama also made a reference to “stories of heroism and kindness, and generosity and love” coming out of the marathon. He mentioned “runners ... who stayed to tend to the wounded, some tearing off their own clothes to make tourniquets.”

Spain didn't respond to a text or voice mail seeking comment. A former White House fellow, Spain served as the aide-de-camp to the commanding general of the Multi-National Force in Iraq and as an assistant professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

Sabra, a bridge designer for the Nebraska Department of Roads, has tapped Harvard Business School students to serve as his race guides since his first Boston Marathon in 2011. Sabra, who has retinitis pigmentosa and is legally blind, has friends whose son attended the school.

He was stopped short of the finish line

Pete Crawford, Red Oak

Pete Crawford's legs were hurting so badly that all he could think about was hitting that finish line, only about a tenth of a mile in front of him. Then he heard a blast and saw smoke billow up ahead of him along Boylston Street. He kept running.

The second blast, a flash just 200 feet ahead, stopped him in his tracks.

“It was right on the sidewalk where there were people five or six deep,” said Crawford, 62, from Red Oak, Iowa. “I saw things flying in the air. I'm sure I saw people flying in the air.

“That's when I knew someone was bombing the Boston Marathon.”

Crawford never reached the finish. He watched the chaos as people fled from the second blast and police and rescue personnel moved in.

Back in Iowa, Crawford's nephew was on his computer at work watching the live camera feed of the finish line, looking for his uncle.

But strangely, Mark Crawford didn't see anyone crossing the line, and he could see a flurry of police activity. There was a Twitter feed alongside the screen, and he saw references to bombs.

He clicked on a photo and immediately recognized one with his uncle, in his white cap and yellow T-shirt. Just in front of Pete in the distance he could see the burst of the second bomb going off.

Back in Boston, Pete watched the chaos and eventually found his wife, Jolene. He felt cheated that he never got to throw his arms in the air at the finish line. But he felt even more for the families of those killed and injured.

“The more I think about it the more anger sets in,” he said. “I don't understand why anyone would do something like this.”

'It was awful. The whole day's awful.'

Kim Moore, Treynor

Kim Moore enjoyed the euphoric rush that comes with crossing the finish line in the Boston Marathon.

Despite an aching hip, the Treynor, Iowa, runner tingled with excitement over conquering the legendary 26-mile course, that killer Heartbreak Hill and all. All around her, complete strangers bound by shared experience were beaming and slapping high fives. And then a woman draped a hefty pewter medal on a royal blue and yellow ribbon around Moore's neck, the reward for all finishers.

That's right when the air all around her rocked with a tremendous explosion.

“Oh, my gosh, what was that?” she asked the woman who'd given her the medal.

Moore looked behind her and saw billowing smoke about a block away. Seconds later, she heard another blast.

Kim Moore

Someone yelled “bomb!” She saw people running toward her, and she joined the panicked crowd in flight. She would then wander the streets of a strange city, lost, crying and wondering if her friends were OK.

“People talked of seeing limbs fly,” the 45-year-old said in a Monday night interview from Boston. “It was awful. The whole day's awful.”

Moore, who works as an analyst at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, was among hundreds of Midlanders to endure the tragedy of Monday's bombing at the Boston Marathon.

Race records show there were 77 runners from Nebraska on the course and 132 from Iowa (63 from Nebraska finished, as did 120 from Iowa). And dozens of their family members had come out to Boston to cheer them on.

It wasn't known if any Midlanders were among the reported three dead and more than 100 injured.

But nearly two dozen interviewed Monday described how a scene of celebration and joy suddenly turned to one of horror, panic, confusion and disbelief.

They had been drawn to Boston to live out a dream, for pride and the pure and simple delight of running in one of America's most iconic athletic events. They instead left with memories of a different kind of heartbreak. Here are some of those stories.

Visually impaired runner saw enough

Steve Sabra, Omaha

Steve Sabra

The first of the two bombs exploded up ahead and to the left of Steve Sabra and his two guide runners as they neared the Boston Marathon finish line.

Sabra, 57, was within 30 seconds of completing his third straight Boston Marathon when the bomb went off. The Omaha man is visually impaired, but he can see shapes and colors. And he can hear just fine.

"I could see this big plume of dust," Sabra said. "People started screaming."

You can see Sabra in a video shot by a Boston Globe reporter and picked up by news websites. About 20 seconds after the first blast, you can see Sabra in his hunter orange ballcap on the left side of the screen. When the camera turns toward the finish line five seconds later, you can see Sabra's back.

Sabra grew up in Lebanon, where terrorist attacks were common. "The first thing that came to mind was, 'Oh, dear, it must be a car bomb. Back home, that's what they used to use a lot."

The marathon volunteers "stood their posts," Sabra said, but obviously were distraught.

"One gal, her hand was shaking trying to put the medallion around my neck. I said, 'I'll just take it'" and he put the ribbon around his neck.

Sabra's official guide for the last leg of the race was Col. Everett Spain, an Army Ranger.

His guide from the 20K to 30K mark, Scott McBride, a Harvard Business School student and Navy veteran, decided to tag along to the end.

After the blast, Spain told McBride to accompany Steve. Spain went back to the blast site to see if he could help. Other video from the aftermath shows Spain tearing up his shirt to use as a tourniquet on a wounded man.

Sabra's wife, Pat, their son, Danny, and some friends were waiting for Steve in the "S" corral of the family reunion area past the finish line. "We heard the explosion," Pat said.

"We saw cops running. They were pale and shook up."

"There's a lot of ambulances going by," Pat said shortly after the blast. "It's pretty chaotic. People are upset."

Sabra and McBride headed to the family reunion area, passing tables — manned by no one — full of bananas and bagels. Sabra hoped that his family hadn't come closer to the finish line to look for him.

When Danny saw his dad, he "jumped out, hugged me and embraced me," Sabra said. "We were all happy."

Sabra, who is a bridge designer for the Nebraska Department of Roads, has retinitis pigmentosa, a progressive eye disease that he has been battling since his youth. He first ran the Boston Marathon in 2011, and ran it again in 2012.

"I'm glad I wasn't hurt," Sabra said, "but I kind of still feel bad. It's uncalled-for violence.

"It's cowardly. You know all those people are unarmed. Just innocent bystanders."

This was his last marathon; Mt. Denali is next goal

Kent Irwin, Omaha

Boston was Kent Irwin's last marathon.

His next goal is climbing Alaska's Mount Denali, North America's tallest peak, with a son next month.

Irwin, an engineer at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Station, isn't giving up marathons because of Monday's bombings at the Boston Marathon. He said two Boston runs and 10 total marathons is enough for his 61-year-old legs.

Irwin was about a quarter mile from the finish line when police officers stopped the throng of runners. He and thousands of others were at the first of two 90-degree turns before hitting the final few blocks to the finish. He didn't see or hear the explosions.

His wife, Mary, stood near the finish earlier but moved up the course a few blocks for a better vantage point to see her husband when he ran by. The bombs interrupted that plan.

Kent Irwin said the stranded runners milled about for roughly two hours. Someone brought them bottled water. He used a plastic garbage bag to try to ward off a post-run chill. A woman opened her apartment to Irwin and three other runners to warm up and use the telephone.

The Irwins eventually walked separately to their hotel. They passed bomb-sniffing dogs and law enforcement SWAT teams.

Kent arrived first.

“I had nothing. No money. No hotel key. Just a T-shirt, shorts and shoes,'' he said.

The clerk gave him a new key to his room.

Irwin said he wishes he had run harder and finished before the explosions stopped the run.

“I'm the lucky guy,'' he said, “but I feel bad that I didn't finish.''

Wrong-way runner first sign of trouble

Carl Godwin, Lincoln

Carl Godwin knew there was something different about his 22nd marathon when near the finish he came upon a panicked runner going the wrong way.

“The whole city is turned upside down,'' Godwin said Monday.

Godwin, the 65-year-old pastor of Calvary Community Church in Lincoln, was in the 25th mile and looking forward to turning onto Boylston Street and the home stretch. Having run Boston once before, he knew what an amazing feeling that is.

But about a mile from the finish, runners started to stack up in front of him. And then everyone stopped.

A race director on a bullhorn asked for patience, saying there was “an event” at the finish. By then, runners with cellphones had told Godwin about the bombs. They were soon told the race was off.

“I was absolutely disgusted,” he said of being unable to finish. “We didn't know the magnitude of it all.''

He soon found out. Making his way to the heart of the city, he saw six blocks of waiting ambulances. He saw police helicopters. He was interviewed by both the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

“I thought, 'Wow, this is incredible.'”

His wife, Gayle, had tried to take a train to the finish after cheering him out on the course. But police flushed everyone out of the station. The Godwins eventually met up.

Godwin, who has led his congregation for 40 years, said he and his wife were protected by prayers from Lincoln.

He tried to put the day in perspective for other runners he met who didn't get to finish.

“This is disappointing for you, not able to have that finish line feeling going down Boylston Street,'' he said. “But in light of what happened to some people, we're very blessed today. We have so much to be thankful for.''

Iraq War veteran 'knew what it was'

Heather Judy, Omaha

Runner Heather Judy of Omaha knew precisely what she heard when the explosions hit as she neared the finishing stretch. Judy, 29, served eight months as a sergeant with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq.

“I knew what it was, but I didn't know where it was,” she said of the blasts.

For a few minutes, the run continued. Runners rode the wave of cheers from hundreds of thousands lining Beacon Street.

When the explosions rocked the finish area, Judy was about a half-mile from the final turn below the Massachusetts Turnpike. She saw police cars and motorcycles with sirens screaming racing up the turnpike.

Minutes later, race officials stopped Judy's group at the turnpike turn. The runners stood for a little more than an hour.

“We couldn't see the finish line,” Judy said. “All they told us was that there had been an incident at the finish line, and we weren't allowed to go there until we heard otherwise.”

Runners with cellphones tried to make calls. Few got through.

A marathon volunteer provided limited information updates about every 10 minutes, Judy said. At one point, Judy and the others were told that no runners were known to be injured in the blasts. Volunteers provided water.

Judy was a logistical sergeant in Iraq. She has spent the past few years in the inactive Ready Reserve and recently received a commission as a second lieutenant. She reports to Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia next week.

Judy was running her third Boston Marathon. She was on pace to finish.

She didn't get the chance.

Anxious time for husband and wife

Gretchen and Brent Herron, Omaha

Gretchen and Brent Herron

Neither Gretchen Herron nor the other marathon finishers around her knew what they were hearing when the bombs exploded.

“Someone said, 'Maybe it's for Patriots Day,' a cannon going off,” she said. “There was a sense of calm, almost. Then you heard the sirens. You figured out it was obviously something very serious.”

Gretchen, 40, an attorney at First Data in Omaha, had carried her cellphone during the marathon. As she stood in line for her bag of clothes, about 100 yards from the finish line, she called her husband, Brent.

“I knew exactly what it was,” said Brent, 41. “I saw the smoke. I knew it was a bomb. It was two bombs. I said, 'Get out of there.'”

Brent was about 75 yards from the explosion site. He had been waiting for Gretchen at the 26-mile mark, but he didn't see her run by. He received a text message from the marathon website telling him that Gretchen had finished. The explosions rocked the buildings around him.

“It was mass panic,” he said. “I had visions of 9/11 all over again.

“There were people falling. A 60-year-old woman got pushed down. ... People were crying and upset.”

A Massachusetts state trooper stopped the couple at the airport today after he saw a marathon poster sticking out of Gretchen's bag. He asked them if they had seen anything near the finish line that might be helpful with the investigation. Brent emailed the trooper videos and photos he had taken. “I imagine they're exploring everything they can,” Gretchen said.

Subway stopped; station cleared

Dan Fucinaro, Omaha

Marathoner Dan Fucinaro, 45, of Omaha had already showered and was at a subway stop when passengers were ordered off the train and out of the station without explanation.

He was one of 16 members of the Omaha-based Ndorfnz Racing team running the marathon. He estimated that it was about an hour after he finished.

Fucinaro was at the Hynes Convention Center station when the subway shut down. So he walked along Commonwealth Avenue, part of the marathon course. That's when he learned from others about the explosions. He saw race officials funneling runners toward the curb and sidewalks to allow rescue and law enforcement vehicles to pass.

“At one point, they just stopped the runners,” he said.

'I didn't care that I didn't finish'

Kurt Davey and Joseph Townley, Omaha

Omahans Kurt Davey and Joseph Townley got to run only 25 of the 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon.

Davey, a pediatrician, and Townley, an ophthalmologist, had covered only about 21 miles when the bombs exploded. They were allowed to run most of the way to downtown Boston, but the finish line area was blocked off.

That was OK, Davey said. Their biggest concern was the safety of their family members, including their nonrunning spouses and two college-age children — Davey's son and Townley's daughter — who did run and finished earlier.

“I didn't care that I didn't finish,” said Davey, 48. “You realize how insubstantial a marathon is in the grand scheme of things.”

'Right now, I just want to go home'

Betsey Berentson, Omaha

Suddenly, the tone of the text messages changed.

Immediately after Omahan Betsy Berentson finished the Boston Marathon, she got congratulatory messages from family members and friends asking about her time and how she felt.

Within minutes, the texts were expressing concern after bombs exploded nearby. “People were asking, 'Are you OK?'” Berentson said. “We were texting back, 'Can you tell us what happened?'”

Berentson, 42, soon reunited with three other women on the Omaha-based Ndorfnz running team — Kaci Lickteig and her mother, Lori Leonard, and Shamali

Vithanage. The four struggled to find their way to the airport hotel where they were sharing a room.

Shivering, they wandered around downtown Boston for a couple of hours before flagging down a passing car and begging for a ride from “a kind Bostonian” who took them out of his way to their hotel.

Cellphone service was spotty after the bombing, but Berentson managed to send a text telling her husband, Brad, that she was safe. In turn, the good news was relayed to her son and daughter at their schools.

Pretty quickly, the marathon became secondary to things like safety and family.

“Right now, I just want to go home.”

From one tragedy to another

Shawn Palandri, Omaha

There had been both tension and a festive feeling in the air as Shawn Palandri joined the thousands of other runners for the start, on the outskirts of Boston.

Sunny and cool, it was an absolutely perfect day to run.

Then just before the start, all the gathered runners paused in a moment of silence to remember the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings.

That's what Palandri found most ironic about it all hours later.

“Every runner was there remembering this tragedy,” said the 36-year-old Omaha engineer, competing in his third Boston race. “It's incredibly strange and incredibly ironic that the race ended with another tragedy and these dark undertones.”

Palandri had finished more than an hour before the blasts and never heard anything. But the satisfaction of having run the course in under three hours, beating his wildest expectations, didn't seem to mean as much after he'd learned what happened.

“You feel so much happiness and excitement that you did what you set out to do,” said the Elkhorn Mount Michael graduate. “And then you're sad and worried and making sure your friends are OK and trying to get word back to everyone in Omaha you're OK.

“How could this possibly happen?”

Joy from run 'all so meaningless now'

Peter Duryea, Omaha

About 20 minutes before the explosions, Peter Duryea of Omaha crossed the finish line waving a Husker flag over his head.

“That seems so trivial now,” he said Monday night while driving across Pennsylvania on his way home.

“You get a Boston Marathon jacket before the race starts. I felt like turning my gear back in. It seems like black day not worth celebrating,” he said.

Duryea is a 55-year-old consumer safety officer for the U.S. Agriculture Department. He was running his first Boston Marathon and third overall.

Less than a half-hour after finishing the run, Duryea posed for photos with his finisher's medal two blocks from the finish line.

After the explosions, Duryea went to his assigned bus for the 26-mile ride back to the starting line. It was an hour before authorities released the bus. Duryea eventually reached his Jeep and started driving to Omaha.

“I thought the best thing for me was to get in the car and leave,” he said.

Duryea listened to radio accounts of the explosions as he drove out of Massachusetts and across corners of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey before continuing west on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania. Not until he stopped for coffee at a McDonald's in Danbury, Conn., did he see television images of the explosions and the chaos that followed.

“It's a day I'll never forget,” he said. “I was a minute and a half off my personal best (marathon time). But that's all meaningless now. I'll never be able to say I did a good race. None of that matters anymore.”

'We're all here, and we're all alive'

Emily Johnson Beale, Boston

Former Omahan Emily Johnson Beale, a graduate of Duchesne Academy, had a goal of finishing under four hours, and she did by mere minutes.

She met up with her family — parents Will and Dede Johnson of Omaha, her husband Jon and two kids, ages 5 and 2 — back at the Copley Marriott, the gathering place for runners like Emily.

When the family tried to leave by car, they found streets so clogged with emergency vehicles that the hotel valet told them to repark in the underground lot and then get out of there as fast as they could. The family juggled suitcases and children over a three-mile route out of downtown to where Emily's in-laws waited to take them all to their home.

“It's sort of sinking in now,” Dede said. “We're all here, and we're alive.” exclusive — More reactions from Midlanders

Danielle Martin, Omaha

Elkhorn kindergarten teacher Danielle Martin was about a block away from the explosions, having finished the race about a half hour earlier.

“It was really loud and sounded like something had collapsed, we could feel the ground shake,” Martin said.

“I thought the bleachers or something had collapsed,” she said. “Then we saw all this smoke, and the police and firefighters started running.”

Martin, 22, who teaches kindergarten at Spring Ridge Elementary in Elkhorn, had connected with her parents, Becky and Kevin Martin of Omaha, and her brother, Alex, a Lincoln firefighter.

Martin's family members tried to get close enough to see her cross the finish line but couldn't because of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds. Instead, they went to a designated waiting area for family members, effectively keeping them outside the blast zone.

* * * * *

Al Koontz, Lincoln

Lincoln runner Al Koontz, 58, grabbed water and picked up his clothes. He met up with his wife, Mary, and a fellow marathoner in a designated meeting area.

“Everybody was talking. Then we heard a kaboom, and it just went silent. A few seconds later, we heard another kaboom.”

Someone said, “Maybe it was a sonic boom.”

Along the way back to their hotel, people started coming over from the finish-line area and saying, “We think there was a bomb.”

* * * * *

Eddie Walters, Omaha

Eddie Walters of Omaha had finished the run and was in a subway car passing under the marathon finish line area when he heard explosions.

“There were two booms,” said Walters, a sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

At the next stop, passengers were told leave the cars and the station.

Walter said it took about four hours for he and his parents to find a subway line that would take them to their bed and breakfast in Wellesley.

* * * * *

Jon Callahan, York

The best news Winifred Callahan of York heard Monday afternoon was that her marathon-runner son was probably lost somewhere in Boston.

Callahan was anxiously waiting to hear if her son, Jon Callahan of York, was anywhere near the explosions. He wasn't.

Callahan, 56, finished the marathon in 3 hours, 38 minutes and 16 seconds and was on a train with his wife, Connie, and 10-year-old daughter, Hannah, to their suburban motel. The train stopped and all passengers were ordered off. That's when they learned of the explosions.

Connie Callahan posted a note on Facebook that the family was safe.

“As far as I know, they're stranded somewhere,” Winifred Callahan said at mid-afternoon. “That's wonderful news!”

* * * * *

Bryan and Lisa Sypal, Lincoln

Lisa Sypal and her husband's parents met up with Bryan in the family greeting area about three blocks past the finish. There were lots of smiles as they shot pictures of Bryan with his medal for finishing his first Boston Marathon.

That's when the blasts went off. They didn't think much of it. Then they heard all the sirens.

“I heard a gentleman on a cell phone say it was two bombs,” said Lisa. “That's when I started to panic and freak out.”

Back at the hotel, it was scary to look at the footage of the blast site and know that Lisa and Bryan's parents had been sitting near there not much more than an hour before the blasts.

* * * * *

Ryan and Katie Zulkoski, Omaha

Ryan Zulkoski was standing on Boylston Street near the finish line when he was caught between the two blasts — the first across the street just to his right, the second to his left.

“It sounded like a cannon going off at a football game,” he said. “All the sudden we saw people running from it and smoke coming out. Everyone started tipping over the barriers by the edge of the road. It was crazy.”

His wife, Katie, who had finished minutes earlier, also heard the thunderous booms back behind the finish line. Sending texts, she was later able to meet up with her husband. But then they found there were no subways running or cabs to flag down.

So after running for almost four hours, Katie walked another two hours to get back to their hotel. She was wondering if they'd be able to fly out of Boston as planned Tuesday.

“I definitely want to go home,'' she said.

* * * * *

Andy Holland, Omaha native

Andy Holland

Andy Holland was celebrating his 24th Boston Marathon at a bar at the corner of Stuart and Berkeley Streets when bar patrons started moving toward the TV.

Maybe, the Omaha native thought to himself, the local TV station's marathon coverage was focusing on a close duel between two runners.

If only.

All the casualties, he said, "made it hard to complain about your blisters or your cramps.

It was pretty sobering.

"It's similar to when you have something stolen. You feel pissed off, violated."

Holland, 56, works as a physician's assistant in Fairbanks, Alaska. He said he usually feels nauseated after running a marathon when he's not well-conditioned. On Monday, though, "I felt absolutely fine.

Within seconds of realizing it was "some type of explosion," he said, "I got sick."

Stunned race spectators later walked past the bar, led by medical volunteers. "They weren't obviously injured," he said, "but they were shaken."

It was fortunate, he said, that so many physicians, paramedics and nurses were stationed at the finish line to help any struggling runners. "It's a controlled mass casualty at the end of the marathon," he said. "This was an unplanned mass casualty."

* * * * *

Pete Crawford, Red Oak

A bomb blast goes off just ahead as Pete Crawford of Red Oak, in the yellow T-shirt and white hat at left, approaches the finish line. Photo is from Twitter feed of @bostontoat.

Pete Crawford's legs were hurting so badly all he could think about was hitting that finish line, only about a tenth of a mile in front of him.

Then he heard a blast and saw smoke billow up ahead of him along Boylston Street. He kept running.

The second blast, a flash just 200 feet ahead, stopped him in his tracks.

"It was right on the sidewalk where there were people five or six deep,'' said Crawford, 62, from Red Oak, Iowa. "I saw things flying in the air. I'm sure I saw people flying in the air.

"That's when I knew someone was bombing the Boston Marathon.''

Crawford was running his sixth Boston Marathon, his first in 14 years, telling his wife he wanted to run it one last time.

He never reached the finish. He watched the chaos as people fled the second blast and police and rescue personnel moved in.

Back in Iowa, Crawford's nephew was on his computer at work watching the live camera feed of the finish line, looking for his uncle.

But strangely, Mark Crawford didn't see anyone crossing the line, and he could see be a flurry of police activity. There was a Twitter feed alongside the screen, and he saw references to bombs.

He clicked on a photo and immediately recognized one with his uncle, in his white cap and yellow T-shirt. Just in front of Pete in the distance he could see the burst of the second bomb going off.

Back in Boston, Pete watched the chaos as the emergency crews moved in. He eventually found his wife, Jolene, a happy reunion.

He felt cheated that he never got to throw his arms in the air at the finish line. But he felt even more for the families of those killed and injured.

"The more I think about it the more anger sets in,'' he said. "I don't understand why anyone would do something like this.''

Brian Harrifeld, Lincoln

It was a tale of two marathons for Brian Harrifeld of Lincoln.

Harrifeld ran his eighth consecutive Boston Marathon --- his 18th overall marathon --- on Monday.

“I was walking on Cloud 9,'' he said from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport while enroute home. “I was praying to the running gods for one more really good run … hoping for a return of my glory years. And that's exactly what happened.''

It was one of the 54-year-old postal clerk's best marathon experiences --- other than dressing as Elvis and working as a course volunteer near Memorial Stadium during the Lincoln Marathon every year. He finished in 3 hours, 32 minutes and 31 seconds. The weather was ideal. Everything was perfect. He bought ice at a convenience store to apply to his sore legs. He texted and called friends across the country that he was OK. He was ecstatic.

“I was smiling like an idiot on the subway with my (finisher's) medal around my neck'' Harrifeld said. “People congratulated me.''

Then he showered for prepare for post-race parties with friends. That's when his cellphone started ringing and he learned of the two explosions that rocked the finish line about an hour after he completed the 26.2-mile run.

“I turned on the TV and it was wall-to-wall coverage,'' Harrifeld said. “It was disbelief. It was like I wasn't at that event. I can't reconcile why I had such a great experience and now this marathon will go down in infamy.''

Harrifeld's earlier texts ultimately puzzled the recipients, who were confused about when he finished and when the bombs exploded. They wondered if his “OK'' meant that he had a good run or that he survived the blasts.

Harrifeld thought of people he encountered during the weekend and at the run.

“You don't know their names, but you think about other runners you met on the subway or at the marathon expo,'' he said. “You wonder if they were on the course, or whether their kids were at the finish line. Or the volunteer I high-fived at the finish line. I hope they were OK.''

Harrifeld wore his blue and yellow marathon jacket home Tuesday. It invited strangers at airports in Boston, New York City and Chicago to ask him about his experience.

“It was a disaster I wasn't part of,'' Harrifeld said.

World-Herald staff writers Jeanne Hauser, David Hendee, Bob Glissmann, Paul Hammel, Paul Goodsell, Erin Grace and Mary Rezac contributed to this report.

* * * * *

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