RALEIGH — Kazem Yahyapour tossed and turned most of Monday night after returning from Boston and his ninth consecutive marathon there.
The 58-year-old North Raleigh resident had finished his race about 12 minutes before the bombs exploded. His feet were achy, but his wife was right there at the finish line under the letter “Q,” a favorite meeting spot because so few racers congregate there.
Their car was in the Prudential Center parking deck, several blocks away. They had a flight to catch several hours later out of Boston’s Logan International Airport, and they were hoping to beat the traffic.
“I picked up the medal, the Gatorade and the snacks and went around the block,” Yahyapour said.
Within minutes, he heard the loud cannon-like boom that muted the celebration of finishing a 26.2-mile run.
“I thought the bleachers collapsed,” Yahyapour said.
But after living in Iran during the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s, Yahyapour feared it was a different kind of disaster. The dark white smoke choked the air, and people were crying and running in chaotic desperation. Sirens started to blare.
“People were coming at us, saying, ‘Two bombs, two bombs,’ ” Yahyapour recalled Tuesday. “At the same time, people said, ‘Take the shelter, take the shelter.’ ”
Yahyapour, who started marathoning after a heart attack in 2002, ducked inside a stairwell under the Prudential Center with his wife and others, waiting and waiting, for information.
“It was chaos,” he said.
More than 24 hours later, those troubling images raced through Yahyapour’s mind. As the director of the Tobacco Road Marathon, a Cary road race, he reached out to his fellow runners and helped set up a three-mile run that will start Sunday afternoon at Raleigh’s Tir na nOg bar on the edge of Moore Square. The route circles through downtown. Those who have run the marathon in Boston, this year or previously, are asked to wear the blue and gold T-shirts from the race. The racers plan to collect donations to send to those affected by the bombing.
“I just woke up to this idea that I had to do something,” Yahyapour said. “If I say I slept two hours last night, I would be exaggerating. You don’t expect that you see something like that in America. It’s a lot of innocent people injured.”
On Tuesday, Triangle runners faced stepped-up airport security as they caught flights home from Massachusetts. Travelers in long lines were greeted by dogs sniffing their luggage and officers scanning the crowds for suspicious activity.
Celia Mitchell, a 56-year-old marathoner from Raleigh, got out of the city Monday night, but she, too, was on Boylston Street, running toward the finish line when the bombs blew shards of glass and debris into the gathered crowd.
“It was just a big boom, and then it went silent,” Mitchell said.
For much of the last leg of the race, Mitchell had been running alongside a man from Colombia.
“He said, ‘That’s a bomb,’ ” Mitchell recalled, “ ‘Let’s get the hell out of here.’ ”
Their adrenaline kicked in, and they ran to the finish line, letting out expletives the whole way, she said. She was running about 8 minutes slower than her target time, but had she been on pace, she said, she might have been closer to the explosion.
Mitchell rushed out of the area and caught a flight home Monday, greeted by TV crews who were eager to hear about her trip.
On Tuesday, the Cardinal Travel Service corporate sales manager’s legs were aching a little less as she went up and down stairs. She planned to take part in the Sunday run to show support for the victims and a resilience that no such terror act will deter marathoners from the storied Boston tradition.
Triangle marathoners say they shudder at the innocent lives lost and the maiming that occurred around them.
They say their thoughts and prayers are with the Charlotte fitness expert and her Maryland-based sister who were injured while waiting for their mother to finish her race.
“What I would say to every runner,” Yahyapour said, “is, ‘Don’t let your dream die with something like that.’ Otherwise, we give up too much.”