Dean Festa couldn't sleep Monday night. Festa, a longtime runner from Montville, and four of his friends go to the Boston Marathon every year to watch the race while stopping at bars between Coolidge Corner and Boylston Street.
At 2:50 p.m. Monday, everything changed. Two bombs exploded near the finish line on Boylston Street, killing three and injuring nearly 200 people. Festa was a mile away from the finish but what he saw scarred him deeply.
"I'm stunned, angry and wanting to cry," he said. "Why do people have to mess with one thing that's the love of my life? And it's forever messed up.
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"We ran into runners who were completely disoriented. They had nowhere to go. One girl was distraught. [His friend] Tommy [Lee] gave her his shirt. She was walking in zig-zags, saying, 'I can't finish. What do I do now?' That was everybody. Nobody knew what to do. The girl, she was the marathon to me. She was the whole thing."
Running is therapy, an escape for many, from the problems of life. When Festa's best friend, Steve Hancock, died of pancreatic cancer a few years ago, Festa ran.
And the marathon is a celebration of life, for both those who complete the 26.2 miles and those who watch their friends and loved ones run.
So how do we, as runners, escape from what happened at the Boston Marathon Monday? And will runners feel safe in the future at big marathons?
"The last thing on your mind is violence — you get into a state of mind that's euphoric, there's a sense of accomplishment, your family is cheering for you," said Jane Reik, a runner and triathlete from West Hartford who has run half-marathons. "It's exhilarating. To throw in what just happened going forward — I don't know how I'll feel."
Reik will compete in the ITU World Sprint Triathlon championships in London in September. She is nervous about going to the race.
"Why would they target our little event?" she said. "I don't know. London has had bombings in the past. It will definitely be on our minds. But we are still going to go."
Reik also voiced some concern that charities, which rely on marathon participants, would suffer. Many of the charity runners are casual runners who might decide not to do a marathon after Monday.
Dr. Laura Nowacki, a pediatrician from Newtown who lost eight of her patients in the Sandy Hook shootings and has a fourth-grader at the elementary school, ran Monday for the Newtown Strong team. She finished in 3 hours, 28 minutes, and heard the bombs explode when she and her family were arriving at their hotel. Her children, hearing the sirens and seeing the police cars racing about, were traumatized all over again.
But she said Tuesday that she will be back, especially after all the Boston Marathon did in honoring Newtown.
"I hope to be back next year," Nowacki said. "I'm not quitting, there's no way. It's sick and awful, but we have to stand up to it."
Her voice broke a little as she talked about what happened.
"We tried to make it a good thing," she said. "We tried really hard. During the race, I thought about the kids, the teachers, I hit the hills hard … and then it went bad. I'm thankful we're all alive."
But Jo Marchetti of Newington, who ran with her niece Monday in celebration of her 70th birthday, isn't so sure she'll be back (although she was thinking that before Monday because she doesn't like big races). And her niece, Melissa Greene, who lives in Manhattan and experienced the 9/11 attacks, told Marchetti she won't run Boston or New York anymore.
Greene, who was ahead of Marchetti, had just crossed the finish line and was getting her medal when the explosions occurred.
"Marathons, maybe, but those, no," said Marchetti, who had to stop running after 25 ½ miles Monday when the explosions occurred. "She [Greene] was so traumatized last night. After all the 9/11 trauma, everything came right back."
Marchetti, like Festa, didn't sleep well Monday night.
"When we got to the Back Bay, that's when I was most scared," Festa said. "We were waiting for the train. You couldn't get on the platform without a ticket. There was a big crowd of people. I was thinking, 'This place would be perfect for something like that.' What if there's a bomb in this train station? I'm done. I'm thinking of my family, my kids, I was all over the place.
"The train was pulling out and I looked back. I saw all the helicopters. I kind of lost it. I thought, 'Oh my God, it's never going to be the same. It's never going to be the same.'"