Kevin Hennessey of Bel Air started running four years ago, just so he could qualify for the Boston Marathon. Monday's race was his first.
"It's the only race you have to qualify for. It's very prestigious," he said Tuesday. "It's probably as close to something like the Olympics the average person can do."
His family, wife, Candice, and their daughters, Olivia, 11, Abigail, 9, and Phoebe, 6, made the trip to Boston to cheer him on and Hennessey, 40, finished in 3:03:49, a record time for him.
But the achievement is somewhat bittersweet given the explosions that rocked the city about an hour after he finished, killing three people and injuring more than 180 others. Two bombs were detonated on the street near the finish of the race and are being investigated as a possible act of terrorism.
"I'm definitely proud of myself for finishing. I set a new record for myself, so I'm definitely excited and will definitely be back next year," Hennessey said. "But I'm probably less excited than I would have been if this hadn't happened. I'm still excited and proud, but this just took the air out of the balloon."
Fortunately, no one was hurt among those with Harford County ties among the 17 runners who started the marathon and the scores of well-wishers who traveled to Boston to watch them, many of them close by when the bombs went off.
Like Hennessey, several of those who could be contacted had stories to tell about the chaos and fear that took over at what has traditionally been a celebration of athleticism and personal triumph.
'What was that?'
"It's really tragic, and I can't imagine why anybody would ever want to do something like this," said Mary Hastler of Bel Air, the director of the Harford County Public Library, who traveled to Boston to watch her daughter compete in the 26-mile race.
Hastler and her husband, Mark, as well as the boyfriend and friends of her daughter Samantha, 29, were sitting along Hereford Street in Boston Monday. She spoke to The Aegis by telephone while traveling back to Harford County Tuesday.
Their cameras were ready and waiting for Samantha to come down the street with her team and make a left turn onto Boylston Street for the final run to the finish line.
"You want to capture that moment when all the runners make that last right turn on Hereford, and it's just a really big moment and the crowd's there cheering them on," Hastler said.
Samantha, a 2001 graduate of The John Carroll School in Bel Air and a resident of Boston, had told her family and friends just where to be, so she could greet them with a quick hug and take pictures.
Hastler said each runner had a chip in their shoe which would show observers exactly where they were on the course. She was tracking Samantha with a smartphone app, which showed her daughter was about three minutes from the finish line when the explosions went off.
"We heard the explosion, and we looked at each other and said, 'What was that?' " she said.
Hastler said Boston police officers stationed along the race course quickly reacted, and soon told spectators bombs had gone off.
The Hastlers gathered their belongings – some in the party returned to Samantha's nearby brownstone and others, including her father and boyfriend, went looking for her.
They located her within a few minutes, crying but unharmed and with her team.
"It's just really sad; it's just really tragic and I have never been so happy to see her in my life," Hastler recalled. "It was the longest few minutes until we found her."