Eastern Iowa Runners Talk About Boston Marathon Bombings

By Erin Jordan, John McGlothlen and Scott Saville, Reporters

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By Grant Burkhardt

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Sick with a bad cold, Rob Hartkemeyer finished the Boston Marathon Monday about an hour slower than his usual time in the 26.2-mile race.

He’s lucky it wasn’t an hour and five minutes.

Hartkemeyer, 52, of Hiawatha, missed the explosions that struck the finish line of the world’s oldest, and arguably the most prestigious, marathon by a few minutes. He was one block away when he heard one blast and then, about 15 seconds later, another.

He took off in the opposite direction, surrounded by a mass of people, and couldn’t help but think of how terrorists used airplanes as weapons in the 9/11 attacks.

“This may sound silly, but I kept looking up,” he said a couple of hours later, safely back in the hotel room he walked 10 miles to because public transportation had been shut down.

Hartkemeyer and other Eastern Iowa runners described a scene filled with confusion, but in some cases relative composure.

Jim Davis was photographing runners at the finish line for Fairfield-based MarathonFoto and was 50 feet away from the first explosion.

“Felt a concussion toward the explosion, looked up and a lot of debris was flying,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was at first. I thought it was maybe a gas line. And then there was a second explosion, and then I realized it was something else.”

Davis, who is a vice president with the company and has photographed hundreds of marathons over a 35-year career, said police officers, firefighters and medical personnel along with wheelchairs and gurneys were on the scene immediately. While some of the people on the periphery were distraught, the people who responded to the victims were calm and went to work, he said.

MarathonFoto had about 80 photographers at the Boston Marathon, including 20 at the finish line. They were all OK, Davis said.

Grace Durian, a 9-year-old from North Liberty, had just watched her aunt Leah finish the marathon a few minutes before the explosions, her father, Tom, said from home. Grace was with her grandparents and heard, but did not see, what happened.

Tom’s other daughter, 11-year-old Emma, and wife, Lori, ran a few miles with Leah in the middle of the race. All of the family members were OK.

“It’s kind of wild. You kind of forget about this stuff, and then it pops up,” he said, assuming the bombings were an act of terrorism.

Kelly Sorensen, 43, of West Des Moines, finished her first Boston Marathon just minutes before an explosion near the finish line.

“They say it went off at 4:09 race time, which would only have been a few minutes behind me,” said Sorensen. “To think about it being that close…”

Sorensen, a seasoned marathoner, said the crowd at Boston was unlike anything she’s seen. Fans cheering for runners – all runners – were likely among those injured by the blast.

“To have someone come in here and take away its (the run’s) innocence is just horrible,” said the mother of three children.

After her run, Sorensen and others were channeled away from the finish line, as is customary at large races. She got some water, a blanket, her medal and started walking back to her hotel. On the way, she started seeing text messages from friends across the country asking if she was O.K.

Sorensen turned on the T.V. in her room and saw reports of the bombings. She heard sirens outside her hotel, but did not go back onto the street. She expects social events scheduled for Monday night will be canceled.

Craig Brophy, 52, of Cedar Rapids, crossed the finish line 19 minutes before the explosions. A few hours later, he couldn’t help but wonder, What if?

“I have no idea why they set it off at that time, if they wanted to set it off at that time,” he said of whoever is responsible.

Sam Houston, 46, of Cedar Rapids, also finished the race ahead of the blasts and said his first reaction was it could have been him caught in the carnage. Then he thought of the people who were injured, noting that the area was where family and friends would have been cheering on loved ones.

He ran by them a short time before the bombs went off.

“I can still picture the crowd, the people’s faces in that area,” he said. “That’s spooky, because they didn’t know what was coming.”

The runners also spoke of what it meant for something like this to happen at the Boston Marathon. Most runners have to meet tough qualifying times to gain entry, and Boston is the ultimate goal for many in the tight-knit running community.

Juerg Tschirren, 43, of Iowa City, finished an hour and 10 minutes before the blasts and described the 20,000 entrants as “one huge family.”

“I really feel it personally,” he said. “I feel personally attacked.”

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