Running from the finish line

Two Columbia women's stories from the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Shelly Frazier finishes the 2011 Boston Marathon. Frazier ran the marathon in in 2011 and qualified again in 2012, but deferred her entry until this year. Courtesy of Shelly Frazier

Shelly Frazier

Before she made it to the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, Shelly Frazier, assistant clinical professor at the MU School of Medicine, already knew she wasn’t proud of her race.

“I was pretty injured going into the race, so I knew it was going to be bad,” Frazier said. “This was going to be my last (marathon) no matter what, and I knew it wasn’t going to go well. But I wanted to go. I qualified for Boston, and that’s what you do when you qualify for Boston. You have to go.”

Frazier is a veteran marathoner — she ran in Boston in 2011 and also qualified for the 2012 race. Frazier intended to run in 2012 and flew to Boston, but due to excessive heat, the Boston Athletic Association allowed marathoners to withdraw from the 2012 race and defer their entries until 2013. Frazier took the deferral, but knee problems and recovery from Achilles tendon reconstruction plagued her 2013 training season.

Her 2013 finishing time of 4:11:20 was disappointing compared to her 2011 time of 3:39:39. But still, she had finished, and she knew she was done with marathons. Exhausted and barely able to walk, she went to collect her well-deserved medal, blanket and snacks from the block-long finisher’s chute at the end of the race.

About five or 10 minutes after Frazier’s finish, the first explosion rocked the finish line. Although the cause of the explosion was unknown at the time, investigators have since determined that the bombs resembled improvised explosive devices. The pressure cookers were likely filled with nails, hidden in backpacks on the ground and detonated remotely. Frazier was a few hundred feet away from the site and wasn’t immediately sure what had happened.

“I had just turned around to grab a banana from one of the volunteers, and it sounded like a cannon,” Frazier said. “And then I saw the smoke go up in the air.”

Frazier and those around her were confused but not worried about the source of the noise.

“It was odd, I didn’t hear anything like that the last time I ran the Boston Marathon, but we thought maybe it was a celebration,” Frazier said, comparing the noise to the sound of the cannon MU ROTC fires whenever the Tigers score a touchdown.

But with thousands of runners still finishing, Frazier knew that probably wasn’t the explanation.

“That didn’t really make sense,” Frazier said. “So some people were speculating that maybe it was an electrical problem or something. It was more confusion at that point.”

About 10 seconds later, the second explosion made the runners realize something was amiss.

“When the second one went off, everyone knew something was wrong,” Frazier said. “I saw the explosion, but there were so many people in front of me that I couldn’t really see the casualties on the ground.”

Runners in the finishing chute were far enough away to be more bewildered than panicked. But knowing something was wrong, they worried more explosions would follow.

“Right where it happened, I knew there was chaos and panic,” Frazier said. “But back where I was, there was a little panic but more confusion. We had no idea what was going on.”

Within seconds, sirens began to howl as dozens of police cars, fire trucks and ambulances arrived at the scene. Although she could barely walk after finishing the marathon, Frazier said she knew she had to get off the street.

“It’s tough to walk at all after you’ve finished a marathon,” Frazier said. “We were mostly trying to get out of the way to let the emergency vehicles through. And we knew we were too far back for them to want us to run toward the emergency.”

Frazier managed to pick up her checked bag before the lines were shut down, and she had volunteers point her in the direction of her hotel. Despite the circumstances, Frazier said wading through the crowds was no more difficult than it was in 2011.

“It was chaotic, but it’s always chaotic at that point,” Frazier said.

With spotty cellphone service, Frazier had been back at her hotel for about an hour and a half before concerned texts from her family and friends started to trickle in. By then, Frazier had turned on the news and filled in the gaps of her own experience.

“I knew I had friends behind me, and that was pretty tough,” Frazier said. “One of my friends did not get to finish. Marathoners in particular have very one-track minds. You’ve been working sometimes your whole life to get to the finish line, and to be stopped at 25 miles; I can’t even imagine what that was like.”

Becky Bond

One runner stopped was Becky Bond, a third grade teacher at Cedar Ridge Elementary School. Bond, who trained with Frazier’s group and was running her second Boston Marathon, started with the third wave of runners and was less than half a mile from the finish line.

“I was near the front of the group when we got stopped,” Bond said. “I thought maybe someone had gotten hurt. We started asking questions, and they said there had been an explosion at the finish line.”

Bond said the gravity of the explosion didn’t dawn on her until she heard news of the second bombing. She assumed the first explosion was something small and accidental, perhaps a trashcan fire.

“When they told us of the second explosion, that’s when fear set in,” Bond said. “Because all of us as runners had our family and friends down there (at the finish line) waiting for us to come in. Not being able to know that they were OK was very hard.”

Bond had her phone with her while she was running. Although calls wouldn’t go through, she was able to send a text message after 10 or 15 minutes of trying. She shared her phone with the runners around her so they could contact their family and friends as well.

The runners ended up staying right on Boylston Street, where they were stopped. Bond said she couldn’t tell how long they were there, but guessed it was at least 45 minutes or an hour.

“We knew by how much emergency equipment was going past us that it was bad, and we had heard other things from people that were coming in,” Bond said.

Bond’s group was eventually diverted up to Marble Street, which runs parallel to Boylston.

“It took more than half a mile to walk,” Bond said. “Once my husband knew I was released, then he came and was walking and found me.”

Bond’s husband was waiting for her at the finish line, on the same block as the explosions, but was uninjured.

After the fact

With subway stations near the finish line closed and cabs unavailable, Bond and her husband had to walk more than a mile to Cambridge to catch a train back to their hotel near the starting line.

“The Red Line where we needed to get on was running, but it should have been a 17-minute ride, and it was over an hour because of safety issues,” Bond said.

Frazier’s hotel, which was mere blocks from the finish line, went on lockdown for the rest of the day. Marathoners were told to return to their hotels, keep out of the streets, avoid crowds and stay off their cellphones. Armed guards and police patrolled hotel entrances and the streets as the investigation began. Frazier was hoping to meet up with Bond and other runners in her training group, but they were denied entrance into her hotel.

“They weren’t allowed in, and I wasn’t allowed out, so I didn’t get to see them at all,” Frazier said. “It was very upsetting.”

Bond, however, was far enough away that she was allowed to come and go, but her husband was unable to pick up Frazier from her hotel downtown.

“She was in my group, but she stayed by herself and had her own hotel,” Bond said, explaining that her group had split up into three different hotels. Many group members were staying at the Taj, which was allowing people to come and go.

“With the Taj, we could get in as long as we were with other people that were staying there,” Bond said. “So we went and sat in there and we just stayed there until we knew everyone was OK and kind of settled.”

Neither Frazier nor Bond’s travel plans were interrupted, and they both headed back to Columbia on Tuesday. But streets remained deserted, which Frazier said she found unsettling. Downtown Boston is normally bustling, but Frazier said the marathon crowd normally makes the traffic and business even worse.

“I didn’t have any problems trying to get out,” Frazier said. “Actually, it was disturbingly simple.”

Although Bond, who ran in the sweltering heat of the 2012 Boston Marathon, said she plans to continue running marathons, she won’t come back to Boston in 2014.

“I’m 0 for 2 in Boston,” Bond said. “First I ran in the 90-degree heat, then I ran in this. I’ll possibly do it some other time, but I won’t go next year.”

Bond said her 2013 experience isn’t the only reason she won’t return, but it was certainly a factor in her decision.

“Going back next year would be too surreal,” Bond said. “With my husband, I think it would be too hard on him. But we have other marathons we want to do with my group, so I think we’re going to just take a break.”

The 16 Columbia runners who signed up to run in Boston have received extra attention in the past week, but Bond believes their experience is just a tiny part of the story.

“We’re not the big part of all this,” Bond said. “We know those people who were killed and injured are really much more the story. We’re just very thankful that we’re all safe, and we need to remember all those other people who were impacted much more.”

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