Kerry Seal, a Cary resident, was in a medical tent near the Boston Marathon finish line when the first explosion sounded.
The 53-year-old coach and fitness specialist at Fleet Feet Sports in Raleigh had just finished his race and was getting extra liquids to drink.
There had been much commotion in the tent before the blast, with runners coming in for help and people inside loudly assigning health-care workers to each athlete.
“When the first explosion happened,” Seal said, “it was dead silent. You could hear a pin drop.”
Seal, a runner who brims with optimism, thought at first the loud boom might have been thunder. But in the back of his mind, he knew that did not make sense.
A doctor broke the silence, telling the medical workers to stay where they were, to wait until they had more information.
Then a second blast sounded, and the injured began arriving in the tent. First it was people with abrasions and cuts from shattered glass and flying debris, then an elderly woman covered in blood.
Michelle Ames, 36, a pharmacist from Raleigh, was on her way to check on Seal when the explosions sounded. She had logged a personal best for her second time running the Boston race — finishing in three hours and 33 minutes. She was about two blocks away from the finish line. “No one really knew what was going on down there,” Ames said.
She found Seal at the medical tent. They decided it was best to get out of the area as quickly and safely as possible. They shunned the idea of taking a train or other public transportation to their hotel. Even with weary legs, they decided to walk the two to three miles.
Nearly 400 runners from North Carolina participated in the Boston Marathon — the world’s oldest annual marathon, which pulls in a big field of amateur and professional runners. Qualifying for the race can be a hurdle. Completing the 26.2 miles is no easy feat.
Though several dozen racers from the Triangle were elated to make it across the finish line, many found it difficult late Monday to celebrate their accomplishments.
Raleigh residents David Meeker and his fiancée, Kimberlie Fowler, said they “were feeling pretty good hobbling back to the hotel.”
Fowler, a real estate broker, ran the route in two hours, 46 minutes and 37 seconds, making her the 13th American woman to finish and the 29th overall female finisher.
Meeker, former Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker’s son and a Raleigh developer, had finished the race, too.
“We were really on cloud nine,” David Meeker said.
But after family and friends left their hotel room, the couple turned on the TV and watched the horror unfold five blocks away. Their hotel was put on lockdown for precaution.
“The night after the marathon is usually a big night,” David Meeker said. “This has dampened the celebration.”
‘The scariest thing’
Esther Dill, 62, a retired kindergarten assistant teacher from Cary, was a half mile from the finish line when she suddenly hit a wall.
“I hadn’t finished yet, and they put barricades up to stop the race,” a shaken Dill said several hours later. “It was the scariest thing.”
Dill had no idea what was happening until she received a text from her husband.
“The message was basically: ‘Two explosions. Two dead and lots of people injured’ ,” Dill recalled.
The runners still on the course were herded onto buses, cold and shivering – many without phones, keys or clothes to put on after the race.
“Military vehicles were coming through,” Dill said. “I knew it wasn’t good, that it was something serious.”
One runner from the Charlotte area was injured in the blast and was in surgery late Monday.
As the chaos grew, Triangle marathoners and their friends were checking Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites.
Though marathoning is a solitary sport, the participants are a tight-knit crew.
Some had trouble making mobile phone calls, but they could text, tweet or post to Facebook to let others know how they were and where they were.
“That’s when social media comes in pretty handy,” said Ron Wahula, an organizer of the City of Oaks Marathon.
Wahula said many of the runners he had communicated with were incensed by the explosions and were determined not to let the actions of others deter them from competing in future races.
Allen Baddour, a Superior Court Judge in Orange and Chatham counties, had finished his race in just under three hours and had been given a bottle of water, quick-energy snacks and the traditional blanket at the finish line and was on his way to Heartbreak Hill to find his family and friends when his phone started buzzing with texts and phone calls.
“It’s pretty weird,” Baddour said. “I felt pretty good about my finish. The mood is pretty electric when you cross the finish line. It’s a big thing. Then you hear about what happened, and the celebration pales. You think, ‘Did I run a good race?’ Then you think, ‘Who cares?’ after you realize what happened.”
Théoden Janes of The Charlotte Observer contributed to this report.